The Executive Yuan yesterday established a task force to study how to deal with alleged irregularities related to the use and reimbursement of public money involving more than 1,000 academics and elected officials, with Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) instructing Cabinet members to study the issue.
Jiang designated ministers without portfolio Lo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) and Schive Chi (薛琦) to lead an inter-agency panel to prepare an amendment to the Accounting Act (會計法) after several Cabinet members voiced their concerns at a Cabinet meeting, Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) told a press conference.
National Science Council Minister Cyrus Chu (朱敬一) said the Executive Yuan should “actively get involved with the issue to set forth the reasons” it is necessary to decriminalize the involvement of professors and researchers at colleges and academic institutions in the issue, Cheng said.
Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) seconded the idea, Cheng added.
Hundreds of professors have been indicted for illegally falsifying receipts to account for research grants from the government.
Chu and Chiang have been advocating that professors be pardoned as long as the funds were used for research purposes and not for their personal use, in light of the excessive rigidity of the reimbursement system.
An amendment, which was designed to exempt elected officials and academics involved in such irregularities from being charged, cleared the legislature about 20 minutes before the close of the legislative session on May 31, catching many lawmakers off-guard and sparking a public outcry.
Under the amendment, elected officials involved in the misuse of public funds would not be charged regardless of how the funds were spent, while professors involved in irregularities in reimbursement for research grants would face prosecution if the funds were used for purposes other than their research.
Although the amendment was initiated by lawmakers, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Jiang both gave their consent.
Had the amendment been promulgated by Ma, jailed former Non-Partisan Solidarity Union lawmaker Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) would have been released.
Yen began serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence in February for using nearly NT$20 million (US$668,500) of taxpayers’ money to visit hostess bars when he was Taichung County Council speaker between 1998 and 2000.
Public discontent over the amendment grew, especially after it was found that the word “teaching [faculty]” was missing, meaning that professors could still face prosecution.
On Thursday last week, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) apologized for his party’s involvement in pushing the amendment through.
Ma on Friday also offered an apology and instructed the Executive Yuan to issue a reconsideration order for the legislature to correct the amendment.
The Executive Yuan approved the proposal for reconsideration of the amendment at yesterday’s meeting scheduled especially for the purpose.
There were two reasons for the reconsideration proposal, Cheng said.
First, it was against the principle of fairness that professors misappropriating public funds for personal use would be charged, but elected officials would not; second, the omission of “teaching [faculty]” constituted “vagueness” whether professors could be exempted from charges, Cheng said.