National Science Council Secretary-General Cyrus Chu (朱敬一) yesterday said the council would review its procedures for disbursing research grants, in response to recent reports of professors allegedly using fake invoices to claim research funds.
The council asked all universities last month to adhere to a standard procedure for claiming research funds, Chu told reporters prior to a legislative report on the effects of abuses in academic funding.
University accountants would have to present written reports stating whether council funds can be claimed for an item, and if there are any doubts on expenses, the heads of the institutions would have to make an executive decision, Chu said.
If the heads of institutions are unable to decide, they should consult the funding agency, he said.
The council should also make improvements to the system, Chu said, promising that this would be done in the shortest possible time.
For example, taxi fares for some research assistants can be discussed since some types of research cannot be interrupted and therefore assistants are required to work late at night.
“If the money is really needed for research purposes, we will have to allow more flexibility in claiming research funds,” said Chu, who was grilled by ruling and opposition party lawmakers over the alleged use of fake invoices.
In an investigation, Taipei prosecutors found that an Academia Sinica researcher and professors at several renowned universities had claimed reimbursements from the council last year with the use of fake invoices.
Prosecutors charged 22 professors and more than 20 research assistants in March with corruption and forgery.
In response, Academia Sinica, National Taiwan University and National Tsing Hua University issued a joint statement on Saturday, saying they were “very distressed and very anxious” about the cases.
They said that they supported the investigation into the alleged illegal practices, but at the same time would like to see an overhaul of the government’s disbursement and accounting system for research funding.
Meanwhile, Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ning (蔣偉寧) said the professors who were charged should apologize to the public and immediately return the funds that were used for non-academic purposes.
However, he also said he believes most professors use government grants for their rightful academic purposes and he hopes the offending researchers would be given a chance to atone for their malpractice.