Sat, Dec 30, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Foreign minister sorry over botched passport

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee yesterday apologizes to the public for a passport debacle during a visit to the Bureau of Consular Affairs in Taipei.

Photo: Peter Lo, Taipei Times

Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee (李大維) yesterday apologized to the public on behalf of the ministry amid a snowballing controversy over its new passport’s misuse of a photograph, adding that whether he would resign is a decision to be made by the president and premier.

It was the first time Lee publicly responded to the mishap, an incident that has resulted in the reprinting of 200,000 passports at an estimated cost of NT$80 million (US$2.68 million) and the demotion of former Bureau of Consular Affairs director-general Agnes Chen (陳華玉) and her predecessor, Representative to Canada Kung Chung-chen (龔中誠).

The passport, which went into circulation on Monday, mistakenly included an illustration of Washington Dulles International Airport instead of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

“Regarding the misused photograph in our new version of the biometric passport — which has prompted the nation, the government and the ministry to engage in self-reflection and has caused inconvenience to the public — I hereby offer my sincere apology on behalf of the ministry,” Lee said.

“We are willing to conduct a thorough reflection,” Lee said yesterday morning as he visited bureau officials in Taipei to boost morale following the ministry’s punitive measures.

Lee said he made the visit to show bureau staff that they have his support and that he understands the amount of effort they put into their work.

However, there is still room for improvement and reflection at all levels of the ministry “from the bottom to even myself,” he said.

Lee’s remarks were perceived as a response to Kung’s protest against his pending removal from office.

Kung on Wednesday told reporters that it was “the foreign minister himself” who signed off on the final design, not him while he was bureau head.

Asked whether the punishment was disproportionate and lacked prior communication, Lee said his decision to let both the incumbent and former bureau heads take administrative responsibility over the incident was not hastily made, but was decided after thorough consideration.

“This is my decision. Of course, it still needed to be approved by my superiors, but they signed off on it after listening to my explanation,” Lee said. “[The punishment] is absolutely proportional.”

However, he expressed hope that Kung — who has threatened to retire after his scheduled return to Taiwan in February as a form of protest — would remain a civil servant.

As to whether he would also take political responsibility for the botched passport, Lee said it is up to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Premier William Lai (賴清德).

“They are aware of my thoughts ... that I should shoulder my share of responsibility and that my leaving or staying is never an issue,” Lee said.

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