REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Ma’s efforts to fight corruption questioned

By Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - Page 3

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has become increasingly desperate to restore his popularity rating and his administration’s reputation in the wake of corruption charges involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世).

Presiding over a Cabinet integrity forum on Saturday, Ma described the corruption scandal involving Lin as a humiliation for the administration, blaming one of his most trusted aides for undermining public trust in the government and damaging the nation’s image.

“When I learned that Lin was involved in a corruption case, I was shocked and saddened. I was really saddened,” he said.

Ma’s comments on the 44-year-old former Executive Yuan -secretary-general came as Lin was listed as a defendant for allegedly accepting NT$63 million (US$2.1 million) in bribes from a businessman to help him secure a contract from a subsidiary of China Steel Corp, while later asking for NT$83 million more.

The scandal has sent Ma’s popularity ratings, which were already low, plummeting even further, with the latest poll released by TVBS last week, after the scandal broke, showing an approval rating of just 15 percent.

Ma spoke to officials and -participated in discussion sessions during the two-hour forum, as he worked to restore the administration’s reputation.

“I have made integrity a top priority since I served as minister of justice in 1993 and under my administration fewer public servants have been involved in corruption cases. However, our hard-earned achievements have been overshadowed by the Lin case,” he said.

While Ma vowed to support prosecutors’ efforts to uncover the truth in Lin’s case and continue to defend clean governance, many considered the forum to be yet another occasion marked by empty slogans and pointless discussions on existing anti-corruption measures.

Political analyst Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒) of National Tung Hwa University said the Lin scandal has not only damaged Ma’s reputation as a politician of integrity, it also highlighted his abuse of authority in appointing a trusted aide to the Cabinet, as well as poor crisis management after the scandal broke.

“It is an open secret that Lin was appointed by Ma to the Cabinet, not Premier Sean Chen (陳冲). As a result, when allegations surfaced of Lin’s involvement in corruption, the premier could not deal with the matter himself because Lin was Ma’s aide, and the Executive Yuan had to wait for the president’s approval before deciding whether to ask Lin to step down,” he said.

A KMT Central Standing Committee member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ma had his own small coterie of trusted aides and his trust in those individuals made it very difficult for anyone else to advise the president.

“Take Lin’s case, for example. There were numerous complaints from KMT legislators about Lin’s arrogance and unwillingness to talk to fellow lawmakers when he served as KMT caucus whip. However, no one warned the president about Lin’s behavior or how much he was disliked because he was one of Ma’s trusted aides,” he said.

When Lin was first accused of corruption by the Chinese-language Next Magazine on June 27, both the Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan failed to launch an immediate probe into the matter. Rather, they first asked Lin to clarify the situation and did not ask him to step down until the second day, when prosecutors launched a probe and more evidence started to emerge.

In the face of growing discontent over the Ma administration’s poor crisis-management skills, the government’s integrity forum on Saturday was attended by 44 top-level Cabinet officials, who discussed anti-corruption measures.

Amid challenges over the impact of the forum on anti--corruption work, the Ma administration is planning an “anti-corruption” marathon later this month as part of a wide ranging anti-corruption campaign.

Agency Against Corruption Deputy Head Yang Shih-chin (楊石金) dismissed criticism of the agency for organizing the run.

The event was planned months ago, long before Lin’s corruption scandal broke, Yang said.

“Combating corruption is the collective work of every citizen and the marathon is aimed at raising public awareness of anti--corruption work,” he added.

In response to the agency’s failure to uncover Lin’s alleged involvement in corruption before the magazine broke the story, Yang said that Lin accepted the bribe when he was a KMT legislator and it was “beyond the agency’s authority” to probe the integrity of non-government officials.

However, that statement only served to highlight the Ma administration’s failure to put a proper ethics mechanism in place. Existing anti-corruption measures failed to expose Lin’s corruption and many find Ma’s pledges on reinforcing such measures and promoting clean government lacking in persuasion.

Unless Ma can present practical strategies to combat corruption and expand his circle of trusted lieutenants, there is every chance that Lin will not be the last corrupt official to be uncovered before the end of his second term.