Fri, Dec 29, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Diplomat protests recall over botched passports

By Lu Yi-hsuan and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Representative to Canada Kung Chung-chen, second left, and Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly, second right, pose for a group photograph on Nov. 3 at an event to unveil the site where the Memorial to the Victims of Communism is to be built in Ottawa, Canada.

Photo: Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada, provided by CNA

Facing imminent recall for approving the design of the nation’s newest passports, whose inner pages mistakenly feature a depiction of a US airport, Representative to Canada Kung Chung-chen (龔中誠) has protested the decision, saying he did not have the authority to make final decisions on issues regarding passports.

On Tuesday, a photograph was posted on Facebook showing inside pages of the new passport, in which the Bureau of Consular Affairs had mistakenly based an illustration on Washington Dulles International Airport instead of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

After acknowledging the mistake, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would recall passports issued since Monday, when they went into circulation, and would create a corrected batch.

As part of the ministry’s punitive measures announced on Wednesday over the incident, Kung, the former director-general of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, has been recalled, while his successor at the bureau, Agnes Chen (陳華玉), was demoted to ministry counselor.

Kung on Wednesday told the Chinese-language Liberty Times (sister newspaper of the Taipei Times) by telephone that he was informed of his reassignment early on Wednesday Canada time and was thoroughly shocked.

“I had no forewarning,” Kung said.

The passport’s design had not been authorized prior to his being tapped to be the nation’s envoy, he said, adding that the project had not been ready for production.

“Who do they think I am to make the final decision on the design?” Kung said, adding that such responsibility belonged to the foreign affairs minister.

The bureau simply delivers the opinions of agencies responsible for the design to those in charge, he said, adding that those actually involved were the design units and the bureau’s deputy director-general.

“How could I make the decision? Whoever made such allegations is entirely without a conscience,” Kung said.

Bureau Deputy Director-General Christine Tsai (蔡幼文) said that Kung oversaw the design of the passport as head of the agency from 2013 until he left for his current post in September last year, adding that he was the one responsible for approving the final design.

The disciplinary measures were cold and indiscriminate, Kung said, adding that he is mulling tendering his resignation after his scheduled return to Taiwan in February.

“I stand by my principles and remain the same upright man I was when I first began my civil service career more than 30 years ago,” Kung said.

A source who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the ministry’s punishments were disproportionate to the incident.

Former ambassador to Panama Jose Maria Liu (劉德立) remains the vice minister of foreign affairs, apparently surviving with no reprimand the unexpected break of diplomatic relations with Panama, despite the Latin American country switching recognition to Beijing months after Liu returned to Taiwan, the source said.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela announced the switch on June 12 in a televised address. The decision had left Taiwan with 20 diplomatic allies, 11 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

By the same standard, recalling Kung from Canada is completely disproportionate, the source said.

Ministry spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) yesterday said the ministry’s decision regarding Kung’s recall has not changed.

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