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Mon, Jan 24, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Anti-corruption drive renewed

UNDERWORLD POLITICS A culture of bribery and the large number of convicted criminals among the island's lawmakers is an accepted fact of life for many, but new laws and renewed zeal by the Judicial Yuan offer some hope for radical change

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Under the existing rules, those who are appealing conviction can still run for public office. As a result there is the phenomenon widely seen on this island, of public representatives who have been convicted but are still appealing to higher court.

The Justice Ministry, coincidentally, uses Wu as an example of this kind of representative to highlight loopholes in the existing rules. It has thus recommended that anyone having been convicted of a crime, which is punishable by death, life, or above ten-year imprisonment, be prohibited from running for any public office, whether appeals continue or not.

While law-enforcement officials themselves have high expectations for these legal changes, critics cast doubts over their impact on the mafia politics of Taiwan.

"What could the changes do with people who are mafia leaders but have never had criminal charges brought against them?" said DPP legislator Chiu Tai-san (邱太三), who was a convener of the judicial committee of the legislature last session.

"It might help deter some bad guys from running for public office. But it can do nothing about the mafia leaders whose election is secure as long as they have got the money and the power," Chiu said. "As far as I'm concerned, vote-buying is everything that makes our political environment such a mess."

"We're assured from time to time that the government is doing something to fight election bribery. But the result is that we've always been disappointed and now I don't even have the minimum of faith in pledges of this kind," Chiu said.

VOTE BUYING

Justice Minister Yeh Chin-fong (葉金鳳) has recently talked about law-enforcement achievements in cracking down on election bribery. Over 9,000 people have been prosecuted for taking or giving bribes during election campaigns since 1993, she claimed. This figure, however, does not entail it was a result of the government's determination to crack down on election bribery, critics said.

"I was a prosecutor before and I know prosecution doesn't imply determination. The real determinant is how the prosecutor wins a conviction in the particular case," Chiu said.

The conviction rate in election briberies is too low in this country and too few elected public representatives have ever been found guilty of bribery. The more evidence the prosecution can present to court, the more secure is the chance of conviction. Nevertheless, most of those charged with election bribery have been acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

"The Justice Ministry is responsible for that," Chiu said. "The low conviction rate is expected as the prosecutors don't do enough to collect the evidence. And the real irony to me is the ministry has been producing a sort of certificate by which these mafia can assert their `innocence.'"

It is not unusual for those from the prosecutorial system to face such stinging criticism as that from Chiu. They do feel that, however, the general public does not assess their work fairly.

"It's not an excuse but a matter of fact that tracking the act of election bribery is extremely difficult," said Yen Da-ho (顏大和), director of the department of prosecutorial affairs, under the justice ministry.

Yen said vote-buying often takes the form of oral agreements, without any written records. And the bribe money can easily be disguised as personal loans, he said.

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