Sat, Dec 27, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Justice minister fending off pair of controversies

TAKING HEAT Chen faces criticism for having offered to campaign for the DPP and for having drawn pay from an election committee whose meetings he rarely attended

STAFF WRITER

Justice Minister Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) became embroiled this week in two controversies, one surrounding his proposed election activities and the other surrounding payments he has received for his membership in the Central Election Commission despite his almost never having attended the commission's meetings.

Chen, a Democratic Progressive Party member and a popular official with a reputation for impartiality and fairness, said on Dec. 23 at a press conference about vote-buying and campaign violence that he would campaign for his party during next year's presidential election.

At the press conference Chen said that he would participate in campaign activities because the presidential election was the people's final say on the ruling party's performance. He also said that for the past three and half years the opposition parties had been making accusations that his efforts against organized crime were in fact politically motivated, and that he was waging "green terror."

"It is necessary that I speak out during the campaign for people on the front lines of law enforcement, and defend our policies," Chen said.

His actions, however, generated mostly negative reaction from the public. Chen's own party said that it would not arrange for Chen to get involved in the campaign, and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) publicly expressed concerns about the justice minister's getting involved in electioneering.

"From my point of view, it is very important to maintain impartiality in justice, and the issue of the justice minister's getting involved in the election campaign needs further consideration," Lu said on Dec. 24.

Facing pressure from all sides, Chen said on Dec. 25 that he would not participate in the campaign.

"Since many people have strong doubts about the impact that the justice minister's participation in the election campaign might have on cracking down on vote-buying, I will not appear in any campaign event during the election," Chen said.

That was not the end of Chen's troubles, however.

On Dec. 24 Chen had stated his intention to resign as a member of the Central Election Commission, which is in charge of elections' administrative affairs, so that he could participate in election activities.

On the same day, media outlets reported that as a member of the commission, Chen had been paid about NT$315,000 [US$9,260] as a transportation subsidy over three and a half years, but he had attended only one meeting.

Chen said on Dec. 25 that his schedule was mostly arranged by his aides, who decided which events he should attend. He said on many occasions the commission's meetings clashed with his ministry's meetings, and so he had not attended the commission's meetings.

"I never handled the money," Chen said. "My aides took care of that."

He also said that the Executive Yuan, or the Cabinet, should decide what should be done about the money he had received.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), a former justice minister, yesterday expressed disapproval of Chen's not having attended the commissions' meetings.

"When I was a commission official, I would attend the meetings as often as possible because it was necessary for the justice minister to offer legal advice," Ma said.

"If Chen really did not show up at the meetings, returning the subsidy would be the most acceptable thing to the public."

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