Tue, Feb 26, 2008 - Page 3 News List

Tsai sworn in as minister of defense

CONFLICT The KMT caucus said it may organize a 'truth investigation committee' to probe arms projects related to the company should the Cabinet fail to disband it

By Flora Wang and Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Michael Tsai (蔡明憲) was sworn in as Minister of National Defense yesterday, replacing Lee Tien-yu (李天羽) who resigned on Saturday amid mounting controversy over the establishment of a private arms firm.

The handover ceremony took place yesterday morning behind closed doors.

Ministry spokesman Yu Sy-tue (虞思祖) told reporters that Minister without Portfolio Huang Hwei-chen (黃輝珍) chaired the ceremony.

He said Tsai held his first meeting as defense chief in the ministry shortly after the ceremony.

Lee decided on Saturday to resign for failing to smoothly carry out an order to establish an arms company Taiwan Goal, incurring doubts and controversy along the way.

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) had planned to be the largest stakeholder in the arms company at 45 percent.

Tsai is the former vice minister of national defense.

Tsai, 67, who has a doctorate from the California Western School of Law, served as a legislator for two terms and as a deputy representative to the US.

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) confirmed the existence of Taiwan Goal on Feb. 15 following a report by the Chinese-language China Times that it had been established.

Since then, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers have accused the government of seeking to make a profit from the arms trade.

In a new development, the KMT caucus yesterday said it may organize a "truth investigation committee" to probe arms procurement projects related to the company should the Cabinet fail to disband it by Friday.

"Michael Tsai has been appointed new Minister of National Defense for the remaining three-months of [President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁)] term. We strongly question whether he was chosen to carry on Chen's [Taiwan Goal] policy," KMT caucus whip Alex Fai (費鴻泰) told a press conference.

Fai alleged that the company may sign under-the-table arms deals if it is allowed to exist.

"We must warn Chen's government to take care of the company as soon as possible or [the caucus] will exercise oversight of the firm by establishing a truth investigation committee," he said.

The fact that 45 percent of the newly established arms dealership's initial capital would come from the ministry had sparked speculation from the KMT that the government would seek to profit from the company's arms trading.

The KMT had also alleged that the legislature would not be able to supervise operations of a private arms company.

Opposition lawmakers also alleged that Vice Premier Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) was involved in the firm, which was founded under the order of the president, and that Wu Nai-jen (吳乃仁), a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stalwart, was appointed company president to reward him for his dedication to the party.

During his administrative report to the legislature last Friday, the premier defended Cabinet policy by saying that Taiwan Goal would not be disbanded.

However, the Cabinet announced a sudden halt to government investment in the company on Saturday while Lee surprised many by resigning.

"In terms of Taiwan Goal's establishment, we hoped the government could control it while the legislature could supervise it ... but the company did not live up to these two principles," Fai said.

During a visit to the caucus later yesterday, Tsai said the premier had pointed out that Taiwan Goal would be disbanded soon, but "the disbandment must follow certain legal procedures."

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