About 7,500 civil servants, government and party officials involved in more than 200 cases of possible abuse of special allowance funds will avoid prosecution after the legislature yesterday voted to decriminalize special fund abuses.
Under the revised Accounting Act (會計法), potential civil, administrative and criminal liability over disbursement, handlings, reimbursement and the use of special allowance funds granted to government chiefs and deputy chiefs before Dec. 31, 2006, as well as the financial responsibility of related personnel, will be forgiven.
Administrative and civil sanctions for officials under suspicion will no longer be pursued and those with criminal liabilities will not be disciplined, the amendment said.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supported the passage of the amendment, which will clear the names of some of their parties most prominent members, such as former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), former foreign minister Mark Chen (陳唐山) and former premier Yu Shyi-kun .
The two caucuses managed to talk down the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (NPSU) caucus after it proposed on Friday that local elected representatives, such as city or county councilors and borough or village wardens, be included in the bill in relation to abuse of discretionary funds given to them.
The NPSU’s initiative would have absolved independent Legislator Yen Chin-piao (顏清標) of charges of embezzlement and fraudulent acquisition of public money. Yen has been indicted on charges of spending public funds in nightclubs when he served as Taichung Council speaker from October 1998 to December 2000. Yen denied the initiative had been tailor-made for him.
KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) said passage of the amendment met the public’s expectations, adding it was the fact that the funds were so loosely regulated in the past that had caused the problems.
However, its passage angered city and county councilors, township representatives and borough and village wardens, Yen said, because it showed the KMT cares about only top government officials and their deputies, while ignoring lower-level officials. The move could hurt the KMT’s chances in next year’s legislative and presidential elections, he said.
A political furore erupted in 2006 and 2007 when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), then KMT chairman, was accused of misusing special allowance funds during two terms as Taipei mayor from 1998 to 2006. The DPP and the KMT ended up filing legal complaints against each other in connection with Ma’s case.
Ma was found not guilty in 2008, but Yu Wen (余文), a former Taipei City Government staffer, was jailed for nine months after being convicted of forgery in handling Ma’s expense account.
The DPP first proposed amending the act in 2008, suggesting the use of the state affairs fund granted to presidents be decriminalized so former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) could avoid charges. It later agreed with the KMT to confine the scope to the special allowance funds of government chiefs and deputy chiefs.
Both DPP officials and party lawmakers reacted positively to the passage of the amendment — for the most part.
“The KMT agreed to decriminalize special allowance funds only. We respected its views because we also wanted this historical glitch to be resolved as soon as possible,” DPP Legislator Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) said.
DPP spokesman Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) said the amendment was “a good result” — adding that the judicial system had wasted too many administrative resources dealing with the controversial legal issue.
“The DPP thinks that it’s good that the legislature dealt with this problem systematically,” he said.
However, Lu said the revision came too late, adding “justice delayed was justice lost.”
A Central News Agency report quoted her as saying the amendment also failed to tackle legal issues involving low-level public employees, referring to the exclusion from the amendment of local civil servants.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Panel said prosecutors would close cases involving government officials’ use of their allowance funds after the amendment takes effect.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT Y. CHAO AND RICH CHANG