Tue, Sep 02, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Democracy's old soldier continues fight for change

A prominent figure in the democracy movement, Yao Chia-wen spent seven years in prison on politically related charges. Yesterday, on the first anniversary of becoming the president of the Examination Yuan, Yao spoke with `Taipei Times' staff reporter Fiona Lu about his hopes for change at the highest levels

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Examination Yuan President Yao Chia-wen says that a professional civil service, committed to serving the public, is critical to a mature society.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: Our non-Taiwanese readers are unfamiliar with your professional background and the distinguished role you played in the long struggle to establish a democratic country. Could you elaborate on how your profession has influenced you in your position as Examination Yuan president?

Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文): I was a legal practitioner who paid extremely close attention to poverty issues. Providing legal aid to social minorities had always been at the center of my professional practice before starting political life.

A stint at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1972 enlightened my interest in human rights. I learned the US view that poverty is the result of people whose lives had no access to privilege.

After returning from Berkeley in 1973, I founded a pro bono consultancy to help more civilians have access to legal aid. Working at the pro bono service center led to my later devotion to the democracy movement when I decided to defend Kuo Yu-hsin (郭雨新), a pioneer of the tangwai [outside the KMT party] democracy movement, in 1975.

A concern with the rule of law dominated my three-decade-long dedication to the democracy movement. The goal to obtain the right to a fair trial inspired my advocacy of legal reform. The idea was later developed to an extensive landscape of political reform to establish a democratic country.

In brief, the concern for justice has characterized my political career. It also outlines my plans to upgrade the civil-servant system, a system of 600,000 public employees, by prioritizing the principle of rule of law.

TT: Having presided over the examination body for one year, what's your impression of the nation's examination and civil-service system and the general competence of public employees?

Yao: As soon as I assumed office, I realized that the first step to upgrade the country's examination and civil-service system was to energize the Examination Yuan.

The 70-year-old body was too tardy and unresponsive to trends in organizational structure and it had failed to map out a plan to endorse the restructuring program of government agencies called for by the Presidential Office.

I gave priority to initiating reform within the Examination Yuan. I encouraged my subordinates to rethink the nature of the examination power and reminded them that the Examination Yuan should not just exercise power in accordance with laws promulgated by lawmakers. It is also duty-bound to remind the Legislative Yuan of timely legal amendments to related laws that are out of date.

Commenting on the general competence of our public employees, my only anxiety relates to their attitude, not their quality.

I believe that complaints of inefficiency have been engendered by public employees who misinterpret their occupation as a symbol of privilege, instead of perceiving themselves as public servants.

TT: Do you have a plan for improving the country's examination and civil-service system?

Yao: I encourage each and every Examination Yuan worker to keep reviewing laws and rules of national examination and civil-servant selection to modernize these systems based on notions of democracy, Taiwan-centered awareness and internationalization in the 21st century.

Through the formation of a new institutional culture, Examination Yuan personnel have gradually updated their thinking and ideas about planning for the national examination system and screening for qualifications and holding performance evaluations of public employees. A review is underway by the Ministry of Examination, for instance, to incorporate a test on WTO-related laws into the national examination for diplomats now that Taiwan is a WTO member.

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