Sun, Dec 31, 2017 - Page 3 News List

IN FOCUS: Diplomat’s dismissal not political ploy: source

By Lu yi-hsuan  /  Staff reporter

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ swift demotion of incumbent and former heads of the Bureau of Consular Affairs over a mistake in the ministry’s new biometric passport has fueled conspiracy theories that the punishment was politically motivated, but sources said that the personnel adjustments affecting Representative to Canada Kung Chung-chen (龔中誠) were already being planned long before the controversy erupted.

One day after the ministry’s acknowledgment that it had made a mistake in the new passport, which went into circulation on Monday, the ministry attempted in vain to assuage public fury by demoting bureau director-general Agnes Chen (陳華玉) to a ministry counselor and recalling Kung, who was her predecessor.

The attempt failed primarily because Kung protested the punishment in the media, where he contradicted the ministry’s claim that he was the one who signed off on the final design of the passport’s inner pages and said that it was approved by Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee (李大維) himself.

As Lee’s punitive measures came close on the heels of the legislature’s passage on Tuesday of an amendment to the Act on Recruiting Diplomats Dispatched Overseas (駐外外交領事人員任用條例) — which raises the maximum number of overseas senior diplomats the president can directly appoint — speculation arose that Kung’s recall might be a ploy by the Democratic Progressive Party administration to plant its own person to head the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada.

Plans for a personnel reshuffle at the Ottawa office indeed already existed, but the new passport’s inner page design was finalized during Kung’s term as bureau director-general from 2013 to September last year, a source told the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper), speaking on condition of anonymity.

Controversy broke out when someone on Tuesday posted a photograph of an inner page of a sample new passport on Facebook, saying an illustration mistakenly depicted Washington Dulles International Airport instead of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

As Lee had a packed schedule on Tuesday, when he was expected to attend a Presidential Office meeting on foreign trade strategy chaired by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), his aides decided not to disrupt his schedule and only notified him of the incident in the evening.

The bureau initially decided to correct the mistake in future copies, but not to recall passports that had already been printed, on the grounds that the misused photo did not undermine the passport’s effectiveness.

However, upon learning of the matter, Lee instructed the bureau to call a press conference to acknowledge and apologize for the mistake, at which it announced that it would recall and reprint the problematic passports.

To determine responsibility, Lee went through ministry documents before deciding on the punishments, the source said, adding that a final draft of the passport’s inner design was sent to government agencies for approval on May 26 last year.

Kung’s signature, placed on May 30 that year, is the last one on the document, the source added.

Lee called central bank Governor Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南) on Friday to discuss follow-up measures, said another source, who also requested anonymity.

The bank’s affiliate the Central Engraving and Printing Plant was responsible for the passports’ design and manufacture, and initially vowed to shoulder all necessary expenses to correct the mistake, but the two have reached an agreement to share the cost, the source said.

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