An anti-corruption law that has proven toothless in the two years since it took effect needs to have its scope broadened to cover a wider range of officials if it is ever to achieve its goal, a prosecutor said yesterday at a public hearing on revising the law.
An amendment to the 2009 Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例) sought to clamp down on public officials with large, inexplicable increases in wealth because of the possibility that they came from bribes or other illicit dealings.
However, nobody has been charged for violating the provision since it came into effect because it only targeted civil servants and appointed officials. It also only allowed judicial authorities to go after officials already suspected of corruption.
At yesterday’s hearing on amending the law at the Ministry of Justice, Wang Nan-chun (汪南均) from the Banciao District Prosecutors’ Office, said elected officials, rather than civil servants, should be the focus of the debate.
Wang said that elected officials, such as legislators and city councilors, were involved in the exercise of public authority as much as public officials, but were far more likely to amass -unaccountable wealth.
The provision should apply not only to those suspected of corruption, Wang said, but to all public servants, elected officials and their families, whenever there is evidence that their assets have increased at a suspicious rate in an unreasonably short period of time.
“If a suspect is unable to provide a believable explanation for the source of a surge in assets, he or she should be charged with violating the anti-corruption law,” Wang said.
However, Yu Li-chen (余麗貞), a Shihlin District prosecutor in Taipei City, said that the law did not need to be so strict or all-encompassing.
“Such a rule can be added to the Public Functionary Assets Disclosure Act (公職人員財產申報法) as a tool to prevent officials from becoming corrupt,” Yu said.
Another prosecutor agreed, saying a public official could suddenly show an increase in assets from unidentified sources — such as from gambling or profiting from the transaction of illegal goods — without breaking the Anti--Corruption Act.
Also, an official involved in an extra-marital affair, for example, might not be willing to explain the source of his or her wealth for altogether different reasons — an action that would not violate the law, the prosecutor said.
Representatives of labor groups disagreed, telling the hearing that corrupt officials were worse than thieves.
“They should not only be sternly dealt with according to the law; their ill-gotten property should be confiscated,” one labor representative said.