President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) highly touted drive to implement tough measures to root out corruption is empty rhetoric, political pundits said, as they drew on information from government databases to make their case.
When Ma first assumed the presidency in May 2008, the government drew up the Regulations on Civil Servants’ Ethics and Rectitude (公務員廉政倫理規範), which prohibited civil servants from receiving gifts or gratuities from parties with vested interests, or attending dinners or receiving entertainment hosted by such parties.
Exceptions are made for “traditional festive events” and those of “ceremonial protocol in the conduct of civil servants carrying out official duties.”
However, in these cases, they must receive approval from supervisors, report to their department’s ethics office and make an official record of attending such events, the regulations say.
However, the past six years of records held by the Ministry of Justice’s Agency Against Corruption show that while there are more than 700,000 records of civil servants receiving gifts, attending banquets and being asked to lobby on government project cases, other than receiving gifts, the Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan have made no such declarations of gratuities, critics said.
Political pundits said that at the end of legislative sessions, lawmakers on legislative committees traditionally host banquets, with top officials from the Presidential Office, Executive Yuan and government ministries in attendance.
Of the numerous civil servants at the Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan in attendance, not a single one has reported attending such banquets, critics said.
Critics said that Ma and his successive premiers have also frequented numerous banquets of various sizes and similar high-level dinner functions.
For example, they said, Ma was an invited guest at the annual European Day dinner hosted by the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT) on Thursday last week.
Over the past six years, Ma has also attended annual Lunar New Year banquet events hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce, as well as ones jointly organized by the Straits Exchange Foundation and Taiwanese business associations with investments in China, the pundits said.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) has also been a frequent guest at banquets hosted by Taiwan’s Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce, they added.
Critics questioned Ma and Jiang’s attendance at these functions after media reports about the American Chamber of Commerce pressuring the government to allow the import of US beef containing trace levels of ractopamine and the ECCT making requests to lift Taiwan’s ban on more than 2,000 products from China.
In the reports, the ECCT said the lifting of the ban would facilitate the importation of European brand products into Taiwan, via China.
“Is it not a conflict of interest likely to benefit certain parties of interest?” the critics asked, saying that the president and the premier should follow the rules for recording their participation at these banquet events.
An official with the Agency Against Corruption responded that although the president and the premier must follow regulations on ethics, each case is to be assessed individually.
“From the president and the premier down, there are several layers of civil servants. Clarification is needed about their direct influence on decisionmaking, or whether they are acting in accordance with responsibilities assigned by law. Therefore, we must not point to culpability all the way to the top,” the official said.