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Sun, Nov 19, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Peng's fall from grace draws mixed reactions

COMEUPPANCE Some were shocked by the Nantou County commissioner's imprisonment on corruption charges, but others say he has received his just deserts

By Jou Ying-cheng  /  STAFF REPORTER

A large group of Peng Pai-hsien's supporters, including his wife Wu Wen-wan, second from right, protest outside the Nantou County District Prosecutor's office yesterday.

PHOTO: LU CHANG-PING, TAIPEI TIMES

The court ruling which ordered Nantou County Commissioner Peng Pai-hsien's (彭百顯) detention on corruption charges may have come as a shock to the many people conscious of Peng's image as a clean politician and distinguished legislator.

The prosecution suspects that the 51-year old commissioner of the county worst hit by the devastating 921 earthquake has misappropriated post-quake relief donations and unlawfully manipulated the contracting process for reconstruction projects.

While the truth remains a matter for judicial investigation, to the local communities of Nantou Peng's current troubles are not news and have their origins in his tough personality and governing style, although his supporters and adversaries have different accounts of how these have conspired to cause him trouble.

Withdrawing from the DPP in 1997, Peng -- the three-term legislator who enjoyed a nationwide reputation as a financial and economic professional -- won the election for commissioner as an independent candidate by a tiny margin ahead of KMT and DPP candidates.

After becoming commissioner he soon removed councilors' traditional entitlement to "small construction funds" (小型工程款).

These are a long-standing feature of Taiwan's local politics. To gain support from county councilors, county governments allocate money from their annual budgets to councilors for construction work in their constituencies.

In practice, however, the money often ends up in corrupt councilors' pockets, is used to benefit supporters, or even buy votes. It is, therefore, a much criticized practice.

"Peng is a person with ideals. He has a deep hatred of corruption. His decision to remove unearned profits from some councilors displeased them," said Peng's close aide and secretary, Yang Shun-ming (楊順明).

The County Council Speaker Cheng Wen-tung (鄭文銅), however, disagreed with this assessment.

He said that conflict between the commissioner and the council started when Peng stopped paying salaries to county government officials for several months, in a bid to stress to the central government how financially deprived the county was when he first became commissioner.

"The council disagreed with the drastic measure but he was too persistent with his own ideas," Cheng told the Taipei Times.

He attributed the government-council tension that has existed ever since to Peng's tough and persistent personality. It is for this reason that Peng has been nicknamed "His Majesty" (皇上) in the council.

The speaker has been a keen political enemy of Peng. The council is apparently divided between the commissioner's faction and the speaker's faction, with the support of 15 and 22 respectively of the total 37 councilors. The factions cut across party lines. Both the commissioner and the speaker have KMT and independent adherents, while all four DPP councilors are considered to be in the KMT speaker's faction.

The "small constructions funds" are just one example of the changes Peng has made to the way public construction projects are contracted. Peng's opponents claim he took total control of almost every project and always awarded the contracts to certain businessmen he favored. His supporters say that is an exaggeration and that integrated planning and contracting were necessary for the sake of efficiency.

Lise Lai (賴麗如), a councilor and Peng supporter, said that, for the sake of the county's development, it is better for the county government to carry out integrated and macro-planning, than have all aspects of a construction project carried out separately.

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