When Jerome Cohen, an American professor of law and Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou‘s (馬英九) former mentor at Harvard Law School, visited Taiwan less than a year ago, Ma told him that he would “like to leave a legacy of building a country based on the rule of law”. Is the president moving closer toward this goal?
On a press conference on Tuesday, he announced that a new agency exclusively responsible for fighting government corruption would be established under the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Chinese media quote Ma as saying that
“Taiwan is a country under civil law, different from Hong Kong and Singapore (with common law). Therefore, Taiwan’s ‘independent commission’ won’t copy Hong Kong or Singapore. It will take its own approach, to make sure that it won’t disrupt the framework of existing investigation bodies’. Creating the independent commission against corruption is no repetition. Rather, it can, with other units in charge, develop a ‘cross-fire effect’. Creating the commission will enhance anti-corruption’s best-practise capabilities, and, unlike the Government Ethics Division, will be no ‘toothless tiger’ without the powers to investigate.“
BBC reporter Lin Nansen (林楠森) writes that if the new commission will be able to achieve its goals remains an open question. It is going to be an agency under the ministry of justice, rather than an independent body like Hong Kong’s ICAC, and another criticism in Taiwan is that there is already a number of units with the task of fighting corruption, leading to duplication or overlapping of work.*)
The current oppositional Democratic Progressive Party (民进党, DPP) had plans to create a dedicated independent commission against corruption during its eight years in government from 2000 to 2008. President Ma’s KMT, then the opposition party, but with a majority in the Legislative Yuan, blocked such plans, writes Lin**). There are KMT legislators who hold views different from Ma (who is also the KMT’s chairman). Besides the likelihood of functional conflicts with the commission placed under the ministry of justice, interference from the government’s executive branch could hardly be avoided – and it could become a tool to eliminate political opponents (使其成为政治上铲除异己的工具). Mind you, the BBC quotes KMT legislators here.
It will be interesting to see just about how much of the new agency’s investigations will be left to chances.
If the new agency shall indeed have teeth, whom will they devour? And whom will they spare? In December 2008, the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office had announced that it would investigate former president and KMT chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) on suspicion of money laundering. But apparently, the Ma government, not exactly in love with the country’s first democratically-elected (and independently-minded) former president, found that the SIP better limit its research to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the DPP. After respectful visits to Lee’s home by president Ma Ying-jeou and vice president Vincent Siew, there was no more talk about Lee’s records as president being investigated.
Maybe the elder statesman simply knew too much about his heirs at the KMT. Putting him on trial could have had unpredictable effects.
*) 迭床架屋 (dié chuánɡ jià wū) – to put one bed onto another, and to put one room onto the other, i. e. to repeat the wheel.
**) The China Post quotes DPP legislator Lin Yu-cheng as pointing out that KMT legislators, when in opposition, blocked government initiatives for the establishment of a specialized anti-corruption agency 173 times.
Related / Update
“Stale Wine in a New Bottle”, Taiwan News, July 22, 2010