Mon, Nov 05, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Hualien County acting commissioner defends actions in run-up to elections

Acting Hualien County Commissioner Tsai Pi-chung, who took office in September following Fu Kun-chi’s corruption conviction, said in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporters Wang Chin-yi and Yu Tai-lang that his priorities are to restore political neutrality and fiscal responsibility in the county administration

Acting Hualien County Commissioner Tsai Pi-chung speaks during an interview in Hualien on Oct. 17.

Photo: Wang Chin-yi, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): Before taking the position, what was your impression of [then-Hualien county commissioner] Fu Kun-chi (傅崐萁)?

Tsai Pi-chung (蔡碧仲): From the bottom of my heart, I love Hualien. It is the most beautiful place in Taiwan. As the song Hualien Harbor (花蓮港) says: “Beautiful paradise, beautiful Hualien.” Money cannot buy the mountains, water and air of eastern Taiwan. The people of Hualien are truly blessed.

As for my initial impression of Fu, I knew him mostly from how he was portrayed by the media. He was the vaunted “five-star county commissioner” [according to ratings by Global Views Monthly magazine], but also constantly embroiled in legal trouble.

Before I took office, I was told he had a theme song that he would play whenever he made a public appearance. Later I found out it was the theme for the TV show Hawaii Five-0. When he stepped in, the music would play, and everyone was supposed to drop whatever they were doing and wait at his pleasure. That was a strange thing to see in a democratic society.

LT: According to court documents on the Promised Land Resort case, Fu ordered civil servants to take money out of bank accounts on behalf of Rong Liang Real Estate (榮亮實業), and before his incarceration [on Sept. 25], Fu told county civil servants that they “just have to take it for three months.” What are your thoughts?

Tsai: Those comments are not appropriate for a commissioner leaving office. He should not have said such things to his colleagues. He was putting them under duress.

When I started, I found that Fu had left the commissioner’s office completely empty. No furniture or articles of any kind remained. He left me with only two rookie assistants. What was more, county staff were afraid to shake my hand; their hands were cold and they would only brush my hand with their fingertips.

This continued until the final flag-raising ceremony last month, when I announced that we were doing away with the ritual and county government staff need not wear uniform vests, and I asked them to relax. Only then did the fear abate.

LT: A common criticism is that you are here to audit Fu’s books and to remove the vestiges of his influence. What were your reasons for making the county government meet on a weekly basis, instead of the irregular meetings under Fu? Why did you start publishing the resolutions of county meetings?

Tsai: The sacks of rice distributed by the Hualien County Government used to bear Fu’s name and an image of him and his wife, Hsu Chen-wei (徐榛蔚), who is a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmaker and a candidate running for the commissioner’s seat [in the Nov. 24 nine-in-one elections].

With election day approaching, it would be inappropriate, even illegal, for the county to carry on that way. It might well constitute ballot-buying and exposes civil servants to risk of prosecution. So I covered Fu’s name and image with stickers. It was a lawful decision. I am comfortable with it.

Two fake news items appeared right after I took office. One said I was going to end free school lunches. Another said that removing Fu’s name and image from the rice sacks cost the county NT$1 million (US$32,533). They could not be further from the truth.

We did not end free school lunches; we were working to improve the quality of the meals. The stickers replacing Fu’s name and image cost all of NT$90,000, which was a small price to pay to restore political neutrality to public administration.

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