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Wed, Nov 15, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Peng's detention a mixed blessing

EARTHQUAKE RELIEFThe fate of the county commissioner might keep others' hands out of the relief funds but his case has hurt the functioning of the county government

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

The detention of Nantou County Commissioner Peng Pai-hsien (彭百顯) by local prosecutors might deter others from stealing 921 earthquake relief funds but might also throw the county government into chaos and hold up the reconstruction and recovery process, non-governmental organization (NGO) activists monitoring relief efforts said yesterday.

Peng's detention by prosecutors came a day after he presented himself for questioning over his suspected involvement in the misappropriation of relief funds.

Hsieh Kuo-hsin (謝國興), executive director of the National Alliance for Post-Earthquake Reconstruction (全國民間災後重建聯盟) an alliance of NGOs which monitors relief efforts, said prosecutors' actions in investigating Peng's possible unlawful behavior may frighten some would-be predators away from the relief funds.

Hsieh said that he was aware that many Nantou County residents had been complaining about Peng's handling of matters relating to the appropriation and allocation of relief funds.

"I would say that most residents in Nantou must have been greatly excited by the news that Peng is under serious investigation as they have long been waiting for this moment," Hsieh said.

Good chance for a fresh start

"The action of prosecutors may serve to teach the county government a lesson that they should handle reconstruction affairs well ... It's a good chance to examine and restart the recovery exercise," he said.

Hsieh, however, warned that there was a possibility that the detention of the head of the county government may further drag out the already sluggish post-quake reconstruction effort.

"Some county government staff may feel intimidated in carrying out their duties particularly when they are related to the allocation of funds," he said.

Staff of the 921 Earthquake Disaster Reconstruction Foundation (九二一震災重建基金會), which allocates funds donated to the central government to assist quake victims, also expressed similar concern.

Chang Shao-nung (張邵農) from the foundation said that whether the deputy county commissioner, who now takes over Peng's role, is capable of taking full control of the reconstruction work in Nantou remains to be seen.

Fear may slow reconstruction

"Most important of all, although there should definitely be some investigations to get to the bottom of the situation, many staff of the county government may become over-cautious when handling cases involving relief funds, severely dragging out the whole reconstruction effort," he said.

"They may tend, for example, to be more conservative in granting aid to victims if they are not sure which regulations should be applied to the case ... They may hesitate to sign the documents in fear of being suspected of mishandling funds," Chung said.

Huang Jong-tsun (黃榮村), executive director of the Executive Yuan's 921 Earthquake Post-Disaster Recovery Commission (九二一震災災後重建委員會), said he was not in a position to comment on disputes about Peng's performance at this stage. But he said that the investigation has already eroded the morale of staff of the county government.

Previously some employees there would work overtime until 8pm but now most of them just leave the office at 5pm.

"All the documents have been piling up on Peng's and the deputy commissioner's desks."

Huang said the suspicions of possible misappropriation of relief funds have also made fund-raising for relief efforts difficult because many have lost confidence in the efficiency and effectiveness of government agencies in handling such funds.

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