With the dispute raging over the issue of government officials holding foreign residency cards, political observers have outlined the need for public hearings and rational discussion before any amendment to the Nationality Law (國籍法) is put to a vote in the legislature.
The issue came to public attention earlier this month after Next Magazine reported that Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) obtained a US green card in 2005 during his stint as Taiwan’s representative to Guatemala.
Since then, the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration has been on the defensive as more Cabinet officials, including Cabinet Secretary-General Hsueh Hsiang-chuan (薛香川), were suspected of having permanent foreign residency cards.
The Nationality Law only bars government officials from holding dual citizenship. There are no regulations governing officials who posses foreign residency cards.
While Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) defended the government’s need to recruit people with overseas working experience in an age of globalization and dismissed DPP questions about these officials’ loyalty, he nonetheless launched a probe to look into the status of all high-ranking Cabinet members and overseas representatives. He said that those who were found to possess foreign residency would have to either give it up or leave their positions.
The Presidential Office also unveiled the result of its own investigation into senior office officials under public pressure on June 9. The investigation found that National Security Council (NSC) adviser Chan Man-jung (詹滿容) has a green card, but has said she intended to relinquish it. NSC Deputy Secretary-General Ho Szu-yin (何思因) and Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Kao Lang (高朗) held Canadian maple cards, but gave them up before taking office last month.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus deputy secretary-general Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) has proposed amending the Nationality Law to ban government officials from holding foreign residency and to recall those who failed to give up their foreign status upon assuming office.
DPP deputy caucus whip Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) also proposed a similar bill that would empower the Investigation Bureau to take the initiative to probe public officials’ nationality, foreign residency status and any affiliation with China.
The whole controversy, however, highlighted the nation’s lack of a complete and effective mechanism to verify public officials’ allegiance to the country although related regulations have been in effect for years.
Article 4 of the Civil Service Employment Act (公務人員任用法) stipulates the need for government agencies to check applicants’ character and loyalty before recruitment and empowers these agencies to seek help from the Investigation Bureau to check their loyalty “if necessary.”
The Executive Yuan also established a set of administrative rules in August 2003, the “Special regulations for investigating public officials involved in matters of national security or other important matters of national interest” (涉及國家安全或重大利益公務人員特殊查核辦法) that authorizes government chiefs to request the bureau to check the loyalty of public officials whose positions involves “national security or major national interests” before they are sworn in.
The regulations state that loyalty checks should include their relations with China, their direct relatives’ past political affiliation in other countries, whether they are entitled to citizenship application in other countries, whether they hold foreign residency and whether they hold dual citizenship.
The check applies to ordinary civil servants — from section chiefs in the National Security Bureau to secretaries of the Presidential Office — but does not apply to officials on the ministerial level appointed by the premier or special envoys.
The rules, however, only allow the government to turn down their applications if the result of the check shows that their employment may “jeopardize national security or major national interests.” Moreover, the Investigation Bureau can only initiate a background check if it is commissioned to do so.
Alexander Huang (黃介正), director of the Graduate Institute of American Studies at Tamkang University, said he was in favor of prohibiting government personnel in diplomacy, national defense, cross-strait affairs and national security from holding foreign permanent resident cards because these officials represent Taiwan.
But he added that exceptions should be made for officials in other fields, such as economics, adding that the nation’s flexible recruitment rules on nationality and residency status in the 1970s and 1980s attracted many people with dual citizenship to return to Taiwan to serve in the government.
“If the [legislature] seeks to immediately push through the amendment without any public hearings or policy debate, I’m afraid the public may have to bear the consequences,” said Chen Chien-fu (陳建甫), a political commentator, referring to the possibility of overseas Taiwanese who may hesitate to accept government jobs if the rules were tightened.
Huang, who lived in the US for 15 years but never applied for citizenship or residency, said the possession of foreign permanent resident cards should not be the sole criterion for judging loyalty.
For Iris Ho (何燕青), a media worker for the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), the crux of the matter is whether these officials are devoted to Taiwan.
“If any foreign talent were to refuse to renounce his or her foreign nationality or residency to serve Taiwan, I would say he or she does not have enough passion for Taiwan and Taiwanese people deserve better than that,” she said.
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