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Mon, Aug 21, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Legislative aides -- uncontrolled, unsupervised and on the make

POWER AND MONEY Allegations of lawmakers' aides' involvement in stock trading scandals has exposed a system whereby aides can browbeat officials and interest groups by virtue of their proximity to power

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

`The fox borrows the awe of the tiger'

Another case unraveled by People First Party legislator Chen Chao-jung (陳朝容) last Thursday showed another version of legislative aides pedalling their influence by borrowing their bosses' names.

Lee Chung-ling (李中玲), until January this year an assistant to KMT Legislator Tsai Ling-lan (蔡鈴蘭), was accused of earning NT$250,000 in transaction fees as a middleman from a couple, surnamed Luo, after selling the couple 100 shares in Eastern Broadband Telecommunications Co Ltd (東森寬頻電信股份有限公司).

Tsai Ming-chin (蔡明欽), Lee's husband, who is also a member of staff for the legislature's Judicial Committee, allegedly even threatened the Luos, saying that "malicious power" might be used against the couple if they requested the return of the transaction fees, Chen said.

Both Lee's husband and Legislator Tsai claimed they were not in the know.

"Lee left her job as my assistant in January. I have no idea as to how she has been using my name to conduct business outside the legislature," Tsai said.

Lack of Standard Recruitment Criteria

Although records in the legislature show that certain lawmakers' assistants have conducted illegal dealings by utilizing their status as aides, many believe that such cases are the exception rather than the rule.

"The majority of lawmakers' assistants are serious about their work," said DPP Legislator Perng Shaw-jiin (彭紹瑾), a former prosecutor as well as a lawyer.

There are about 1,000 assistants in the legislature, and they perform a variety of tasks ranging from drafting bills, preparing public hearings and press conferences, serving as their legislator's "morning call" or drivers, to doing some public relations work for lawmakers and conducting "surgeries" for constituents.

"Some aides who have worked for a controversial independent lawmaker even had to visit the lawmaker's friends in the prison," said an assistant surnamed Hsiao.

While the majority of aides might be honest and hardworking, that there are some bad apples in the barrel is the unsurprising result of the haphazard way in which they are recruited. There is no standard recruitment process.

"It's up to individual lawmakers to decide who they want to hire. A law establishing standards for a qualified assistant is still lacking," said Li Kung-chi (李孔智), secretary-general of the Legislative Yuan Congressional Assistants Union (立法院國會助理工會).

When asked what criteria he has in mind when he recruits a new assistant, controversial independent lawmaker Lo Fu-chu's (羅福助) answer is direct. "I don't really have any objective criteria in mind," Lo said.

Gloomy Prospects

At the same time, however, Perng admitted that his colleagues in the legislature might not see eye-to-eye with him.

"The whole thing is contingent upon the nature of the legislator concerned. If a lawmaker is out to make money, he or she will naturally hire assistants who can help achieve that end," Perng said.

Lawmakers' lukewarm support for a draft set of regulations laying down minimum criteria for a qualified aide suggests that most are not unhappy with the status quo in which each is left with tremendous freedom to decide who they want to hire as their aides, Li said.

"As a result, among some 1,000 aides to legislators, it's hard to avoid getting some lawbreakers, isn't it?" Li added.

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