A legislative committee yesterday approved amendments to an act regulating legislators’ powers that would allow the legislature to investigate civil servants as well as mete out financial penalties to those refusing to cooperate.
The Judiciary, Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, dominated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), passed the preliminary review of legal revisions to the Act Governing the Legislature’s Power (立法院職權行使法) yesterday morning.
Cross-party negotiations must be held to reach a consensus on two controversial articles before the amendments proceed to a plenary legislative session for a second reading.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus said during inter-party negotiations that it would like to see a proposal that any legislative caucus would have the power to request the formation of an investigation committee win the support of the KMT and other smaller parties.
Despite concerns voiced by the Control Yuan, the Judicial Yuan and the Ministry of Justice, KMT Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑), who chaired the committee, steamrolled through the three amendments proposed by KMT legislators.
The amendments that passed the review yesterday would empower the legislature to form an investigation committee if a full-house legislative session gave it the go-ahead. A legislative committee could also assemble an investigation task force if the committee reached a resolution to do so.
The investigation committee or investigation task force could hold hearings and ask civil servants to testify and provide classified documents. The legislation, however, would not be applied to government agencies that exercise their power independently, such as judges, prosecutors, the Control Yuan president or its members.
Government agencies could not refuse to be investigated by the committee or task force without good reason. However, committee members yesterday failed to reach a consensus as to what constituted a “good reason.”
Nor could the committee members see eye to eye on the procedure should government agencies refuse to cooperate. They did, however, agree to impose a fine of between NT$20,000 and NT$100,000 on those who refused to cooperate or hid evidence. Those who lie at a hearing would be subject to a fine of between NT$300,000 and NT$3 million (US$90,500).
Witnesses testifying at a hearing would be entitled to hire legal counsel. The counsel would be allowed to offer opinions on the witness’ legal rights, but would be banned from telling the witness how to testify or when to refuse to testify.
Political parties would be able to recommend candidates for members of the investigation committee or task force in proportion with the number of seats each party has in the legislature, but each party would be entitled to recommend at least one member. Outside experts could also be hired to serve as advisors, if necessary, should the legislative speaker give consent. The number of members on the investigation committee or task force should not exceed 15.
Their tenure would end when the investigation was inconclusive, terminated or an investigation report was presented, but the investigation would have to be completed within a four-year legislative term.
The investigation process would be recorded, in audio and video forms. Any discussions before a judgment is made would be kept confidential.