President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has become increasingly desperate to restore his popularity rating and his administration’s reputation in the wake of corruption charges involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世).
Presiding over a Cabinet integrity forum on Saturday, Ma described the corruption scandal involving Lin as a humiliation for the administration, blaming one of his most trusted aides for undermining public trust in the government and damaging the nation’s image.
“When I learned that Lin was involved in a corruption case, I was shocked and saddened. I was really saddened,” he said.
Ma’s comments on the 44-year-old former Executive Yuan -secretary-general came as Lin was listed as a defendant for allegedly accepting NT$63 million (US$2.1 million) in bribes from a businessman to help him secure a contract from a subsidiary of China Steel Corp, while later asking for NT$83 million more.
The scandal has sent Ma’s popularity ratings, which were already low, plummeting even further, with the latest poll released by TVBS last week, after the scandal broke, showing an approval rating of just 15 percent.
Ma spoke to officials and -participated in discussion sessions during the two-hour forum, as he worked to restore the administration’s reputation.
“I have made integrity a top priority since I served as minister of justice in 1993 and under my administration fewer public servants have been involved in corruption cases. However, our hard-earned achievements have been overshadowed by the Lin case,” he said.
While Ma vowed to support prosecutors’ efforts to uncover the truth in Lin’s case and continue to defend clean governance, many considered the forum to be yet another occasion marked by empty slogans and pointless discussions on existing anti-corruption measures.
Political analyst Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒) of National Tung Hwa University said the Lin scandal has not only damaged Ma’s reputation as a politician of integrity, it also highlighted his abuse of authority in appointing a trusted aide to the Cabinet, as well as poor crisis management after the scandal broke.
“It is an open secret that Lin was appointed by Ma to the Cabinet, not Premier Sean Chen (陳冲). As a result, when allegations surfaced of Lin’s involvement in corruption, the premier could not deal with the matter himself because Lin was Ma’s aide, and the Executive Yuan had to wait for the president’s approval before deciding whether to ask Lin to step down,” he said.
A KMT Central Standing Committee member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ma had his own small coterie of trusted aides and his trust in those individuals made it very difficult for anyone else to advise the president.
“Take Lin’s case, for example. There were numerous complaints from KMT legislators about Lin’s arrogance and unwillingness to talk to fellow lawmakers when he served as KMT caucus whip. However, no one warned the president about Lin’s behavior or how much he was disliked because he was one of Ma’s trusted aides,” he said.
When Lin was first accused of corruption by the Chinese-language Next Magazine on June 27, both the Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan failed to launch an immediate probe into the matter. Rather, they first asked Lin to clarify the situation and did not ask him to step down until the second day, when prosecutors launched a probe and more evidence started to emerge.