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Thu, May 25, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Education minister raked over coals

ROUGH DAY AT WORK Ovid Tzeng, on his first appearance at the legislature, came under fire for off-the-cuff remarks about officials skimming funds

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

In his first exchange with legislators yesterday, new Minister of Education Ovid Tzeng (曾志朗) got a dose of political culture shock -- a wake-up call from the respect he had grown accustomed to in his former role as a university president. During the meeting, Tzeng was put in the hot seat and pressured to explain previous statements, which some legislator's believed to be defamatory to their reputations.

The session got off to a rough start when KMT legislator Yang Chiung-ying (楊瓊櫻) lashed out at the new minister for statements he made during his meeting with teachers at Taipei's Hsing Ya Elementary school.

"According to the newspapers, Tzeng told the teachers in attendance that certain lawmakers had informed him that 30 percent of the educational budget might go into the pockets of legislators," said Yang.

"He even said that if in the future he got hazed by the legislature, it would be because lawmakers gained no benefits from him [he would not allow such kickbacks to continue]," said Yang.

Yang demanded that Tzeng clarify the remarks and name the legislator who had given him this information. PFP legislator Lee Ching-an (李慶安), independent legislator Hsu Ching-yuan (徐慶元) and KMT legislator Mu Ming-chu (穆閩珠) echoed her views.

Mu said it was a misconception for public officials to consider it hazing when undergoing questioning by the legislature.

"Tzeng's words have slandered the names of lawmakers ? and he has to assume legal responsibility for what he said," added Hsu.

Not having prepared himself for such fierce scrutiny, the scholar turned minister appeared rather baffled. He went around the room during the break, asking for forgiveness.

"I apologize for having caused such a stir. What I said did not refer to any specific individual ? It was simply an informal discourse between me and the teachers when they were told me of the reality of bureaucratic culture," said Tzeng.

The legislators present apparently did not buy the "fuzzy" explanations offered by Tzeng.

"It was either the minister or the media who lied. But how could it be possible that dozens of journalists lied at the same time?" both Yang and Hsu were quick to retort.

Although the DPP's Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) and Cheng Tsao-min (鄭朝明) attempted to rescue Tzeng, by telling their KMT and PFP collegues not to intervene with improper procedural measures, the uproar continued.

The legislators prevented Tzeng from presenting his policy reports, insisting that a minister with credibility problems not be allowed to speak. After one-and-a-half hours of turmoil, the chairman announced that only after Tzeng qualified his remarks could he proceed with other matters. The meeting was therefore adjourned.

Tzeng said he was hesitant to accept a Cabinet position in the first place because he was not adept at politics. He later told the media that he had learned a great deal from today's episode.

"A scholar is free to speak of his own free will. But today's experience shows me that there are big differences between a scholar and a public official. I have to watch every single word I say ? I learned a good lesson today," said Tzeng.

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