The Ministry of Justice’s Agency Against Corruption said it is conducting probes into the abuse of public funds and lavish spending on so-called overseas “investigative study tours” by civil servants and local government officials.
Critics called for a crackdown on the squandering of taxpayers’ money by government officials on all-expenses-paid trips to overseas destinations after it was revealed on Thursday that Greater Taichung Councilor Tuan Wei-yu (段緯宇) of the People First Party wrote only three words in his report following his four-day trip to Japan in August.
Yao siu zan (妖受讚), which in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) means “damn excellent,” was all he wrote.
The agency said its probes uncovered a number of instances of extravagant wastage of public funds allegedly for personal pleasure tours by civil servants, with one city government having 87 such junket tours within one year, which amounted to an average of one foreign excursion every four days.
The agency’s investigation pointed to an organized 12-day overseas tour in August by a government agency for “studying control of contraband smuggling,” which had 15 officials in the group, with expenses of NT$145,000 (US$4,900) per person for the trip to Russia, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.
The itinerary mostly included visiting tourist attractions and scenic spots, while Taiwan’s consulate offices in the countries were not contacted to plan local government meetings or any “consultation and exchange of opinions,” the agency said.
An agency official, who declined to be named, mentioned the case involving Hsu Fu-nan (許富男), who was then a Taipei City councilor, as he undertook an “investigative study tour” to Russia at public expense, for which he was indicted on corruption charges by the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office in 2007.
Although he was found guilty in the first trial, the court reversed the decision to find him not guilty in the second trial. According to the judgement, even if the trip involved tourism, it could still be regarded as “field investigation,” which still conforms to civil service regulations on foreign tours.
The official said the reasoning behind the ruling for Hsu’s case has been used by most local governments as a sort of “protective shield,” enabling the abuse of public funds for foreign junket trips to continue unabated.
The official said the agency has now begun its corruption-monitoring system, with efforts to scrutinize these “investigative study tours.”
Meanwhile, although Tuan later apologized for his three-word report, the Ministry of the Interior insisted city and municipal councilors must submit a full written report for expenses-paid overseas trips.
However, information from the ministry revealed that as many as 15 of the nation’s 22 local governments did not submit any such reports last year.