Wed, Feb 21, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Interview: Anti-corruption activist upbeat about Taiwan

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan's current battles against political corruption will benefit the country in the future, an official from Transparency International (TI) said.

Liao Ran, the program coordinator for Transparency International Asia Pacific who helped establish Taiwan's chapter of the international non-governmental organization, TI-Taiwan, in September 2002, has been monitoring the country for years.

The Taipei Times interviewed Liao when he was in Taipei from Berlin to attend a recent conference on fighting corruption.

Liao said TI-Taiwan has become one of the most active chapters among the more than 160 TI chapters.

He said he was opposed to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) using what he called "various ways to block the trial of his wife Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) on corruption and forgery charges" in connection with the handling of the Presidential Office's state affairs fund, including an application for a constitutional interpretation regarding presidential immunity and invoking presidential privilege.

"The TI sees presidential immunity as a backward law and a relic from the days of kings, and is launching a campaign to persuade nations to drop it," Liao said.

He criticized British Prime Minister Tony Blair for recently asking the UK's judicial system to stop a criminal investigation into alleged corruption by an arms company that is suspected to have bribed Saudi officials.

Blair claimed the probe would endanger Britain's security if allowed to continue, Liao said.

However, Liao said such actions allow corruption to flourish and jeopardize democracy.

He said bureaucratic corruption in this country has been reduced, but political corruption remains serious.

"The democratization of the country has helped it to clean up bureaucratic corruption and it will help eliminate political corruption in the future," he said.

He said, however, that it is not democracy itself, but the establishment of an anti-corruption system under democracy, that is crucial to the elimination of corruption.

Liao also praised the recent empowerment of the nation's top prosecutor to form and lead a special investigative team probing allegations of wrongdoing involving high-ranking government officials.

He said he was impressed by Taiwan's prosecutorial system's determination to fight political corruption.

"Although a crackdown would affect perceptions of corruption both at home and abroad, it would be advantageous to the country in the long run," he said.

Asked to comment on last December's mayoral polls in Taipei and Kaohsiung, which saw the Democratic Progressive Party's best performance since the 2004 presidential election despite a series of high-profile scandals, Liao said corruption is only one factor that can influence elections, along with political parties' policies and performance.

For instance, he said, although US president Bill Clinton was allegedly involved in the Whitewater scandal and other scandal, he easily won a second term.

However, Liao warned that Taiwan's court system is ineffective, which hampers prosecutors' efforts to stamp out crime.

"Corrupt officials and white-collar criminals do not go to jail [for years] because of delayed or prolonged trials, or they flee the country during the trial," he said.

Taiwanese legislators came in last place -- 20th -- in terms of integrity, according to a recent TI-Taiwan survey.

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