The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday filed a lawsuit against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and one of his former top aides, accusing them of corruption for turning the management of Ma’s Facebook page over from the Presidential Office to a private organization without following proper procedures.
“It is ridiculous to turn a -government-funded program into a private asset. President Ma and his re-election campaign office should be held accountable,” DPP spokesman Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄) said outside the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office.
On Thursday, the DPP held a press conference where it said Ma and former presidential spokesman Lo Chih-chang (羅智強), the deputy executive of Ma’s campaign office, had violated the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例) and the Public Procurement Act (政府採購法) because they turned the president’s Facebook fan page into Ma’s campaign tool without going through open tendering procedures.
The transfer of the operation of the Facebook page also violated the National Property Act (國有財產法), which prohibits state property from being put to private use, Chuang said yesterday.
Ma’s Facebook page, which was set up in January and the administration of which was transferred to the campaign office on July 2, was “customized and tailor-made,” Chuang said, as the page features special applications to enhance the president’s communication with his supporters.
The Presidential Office has spent considerable money on hiring engineers and marketers to host and manage the page, he said, adding that the marketing of the page was outsourced to a contracted marketer, according to a report published in the April edition of the Business Today weekly magazine.
Noting that Ma had said that the page was set up with the “objectives of policy promotion and opinion exchange,” Chuang said the operation of the page was funded by the government and run by public servants, which means it is state property.
“Before the July 2 transfer, every penny the Web site spent was taxpayers’ money. It has never been a personal page nor private property from the very first minute,” Chuang said.
DPP spokesman Liang Wen-jie (梁文傑), citing statistics from vitrue.com, a social media publishing software provider, said the estimated value of each fan on a Facebook fanpage is US$10.80. That means the 680,000 fans of Ma’s Facebook page are worth about NT$200 million (US$7 million), Liang said.
Yin Wei (殷瑋), spokesman for Ma’s campaign office, dismissed the DPP’s allegations as groundless and illogical.
“Ma was not a presidential candidate yet before the July 2 transfer. Before that day, Ma used the page to communicate with people in his capacity as a public servant. It’s only natural to transfer the operation to the campaign office after Ma received the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) nomination,” Yin said.
Ma’s campaign office has never placed advertisements on Facebook to promote his page, Yin said, adding that the office “does not view Ma’s fans as ‘property’ because fans can decide to join or withdraw from the page any time.”