Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Analysis: Morality not the sole gauge for politicians, analysts say

TRAP Experts said that the scandals have highlighted the nation's impossible quest for morally flawless politicians and the systemic flaws in government administration

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Before finding himself enmeshed in the controversy surrounding the usage of the mayoral special allowance fund, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), with his squeaky clean and charismatic image, was one of the country's most popular politicians and the pan-blue camp's most likely standard bearer in the presidential race in 2008.

But with his reputation for morality and integrity now seriously damaged by the scandal, Ma's political future appears gloomy, to say the least. Still, the incident provides a good opportunity to re-examine the country's unrealistic quest for a morally flawless leader and the systemic flaws in public administration, analysts said.

"From the perspective of governmental systems, deviant behavior may help clarify obscure regulations. This scandal has highlighted the flaws in the special allowance mechanism and our auditing system," said Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), a political analyst and sociology professor at National Chengchi University.

According to public regulations, 6,500 local chiefs are entitled to a monthly special allowance fund, with the amount allocated depending on the rank and position of the official. Half of the special allowance is disbursed with no receipts required, while the other half require the presentation of receipts for reimbursement.

While some chiefs opt to cash out the portion that requires no receipts, Ma has the money wired directly into his account -- the total of which which he included when he declared his assets.

Confronted by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators' accusation that he had pocketed the money, Ma argued that government regulations allow local chiefs to deposit the money into an account designated by the official and that local chiefs have to include all assets when they declare their public finances, regardless of where the money came from.

When prosecutors started reinvestigating Ma's use of the fund, his staffer, Yu Wen (余文), was found to have substituted receipts for smaller amounts with personal receipts for larger amounts in a bid to reduce his paperwork in handling the reimbursement.

Facing serious questions about his integrity, Ma, who doubles as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, had maintained his innocence and promised to quit as chairman if he were ever indicted.

"Although I knew nothing about it and so far there is no evidence to prove [my staffer] pocketed the money, I still need to take responsibility for this blemish ... I offer my sincere apologies to Taipei residents," Ma told a press conference on Thursday at Taipei City Hall.

But the DPP, which has attacked Ma's problematic handling of the fund since July, continued to question Ma's integrity.

Although Ma claimed there were no irregularities in the handling of the fund, a city government team had conducted an investigation and concluded in a report on Nov. 3 that the fund had been maladministered. However, the city government did not make the findings of its investigation public until Tuesday.

While current regulations grant local chiefs the right to use the special allowance at their discretion, Ku said that Ma's emphasis on maintaining high moral standards has resulted in the current impasse.

"Moralization of politics is unnecessary. No politician is flawless if placed under a microscope ... Ma Ying-jeou's high moral standard is a trap and now he's walked into it himself," Ku said.

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