Thursday, March 15, 2007

Confluence of Interest

Last week I had to give a presentation in Business Research Methods class. There were three presentations due that day -- one on the philosophy of science as it related to research, one on qualitative methodology, and one on research ethics. Here's a test to see whether you really understand Taiwan: if you can spot which presentation was given to the foreigner without having to think about it, congratulations, it's time to go home. You've been here too long.

After I gave the presentation on research ethics the teacher gave a short talk to the whole class. Americans, he said, have a good handle on the ethical problem of conflict of interest, while Chinese are not apt to see it in places that Americans might. Why? Guanxi networks. Relationships in Chinese society are fed and watered by reciprocal exchanges of gift and favors, and because there is no civil society where people are expected to interact with each other while maintaining a proscribed distance, everyone, especially in the upper levels of society, is busily establishing, maintaining, and cultivating their guanxi, regardless of who with. Conflict of interest is simply not an issue. Thus, it is no suprise to read in the Taipei Times today that a prosecutor appears to have taken a gambling vacation to a foreign casino with an alleged mobster. The article is a classic and every sentence is pregnant....

Minister of Justice Morley Shih (施茂林) said yesterday that the ministry had launched an investigation against a senior prosecutor who was reported by local media to have frequented a South Korean casino with a gangster.

Next Magazine reported yesterday that Shen Ming-yen (沈明彥), 65, of the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office, had engaged in gambling activities at a casino on Cheju Island, South Korea, in December 2002 accompanied by suspected gangster Huang Ju-yi (黃如意).

Former speaker of the Taiwan Provincial Assembly Liu Ping-wei (劉炳偉) was also on the trip, the report said.

Shen lost more than NT$5 million (US$151,000) at the casino, while Liu lost about NT$100 million, the report said. The report added that Huang allegedly lent NT$5 million to Shen to cover his losses, of which Shen has only returned NT$1 million and refused to repay the rest.

Shih told a legislative judicial committee meeting yesterday that Shen would be severely disciplined if it was discovered that the casino trip in the company of a suspected gangster took place.

In November 2002, Huang also organized a gambling trip to Cheju Island for former deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office Chen Che-nan (陳哲男) and former Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp vice chairman Chen Min-hsien (陳敏賢).

Chen Che-nan, accompanied by Chen Min-hsien, was photographed gambling at the casino and the publication of the picture by media in October 2005 triggered a probe into Chen Chen-nan's activities.

The two Chens were subsequently found guilty of corruption.

In 2003, then Taipei prosecutor Ko Chin-chu (柯金柱) launched an investigation into Huang over suspicions of his criminal activities, but asked Huang to pay him a bribe of NT$1.2 million in return for the promise that Huang would not be indicted.

Ko was indicted earlier this month on corruption charges related to the bribe.

Taipei prosecutors said Huang was currently in China.

Conflict of interest? What conflict of interest? Here is a rich array of connections -- Huang takes prosecutors and DPP politicians out for a gambling expedition -- a month after that, he is the object of an investigation by the Taipei prosecutor's office -- who ask him for a bribe to forget the case. Where is Huang? China, of course.

This kind of relationship is par for the course. The prosecutor who investigated Ma Ying-jeou and recommended leniency had the former mayor and KMT chairman as a witness at his wedding. During the Chen Shui-bian investigation, the lead prosecutor had dinner with Lee Teng-hui at his home, to question him there, instead of bringing him into the office to question him formally and with witnesses. And a couple of weeks ago the nation's top prosecutor enjoyed a four hour dinner at the home of a man who is an important suspect in the Chen Shui-bian mess:

Lawmakers across party lines criticized the nation's top prosecutor for dining with the the first family's former doctor, Huang Fang-yen (黃芳彥), a suspect in the Sogo voucher scandal.

"It proved that state public prosecutor-general Chen Tsung-ming (陳聰明) has close ties to political figures," Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Kuo Su-chun (郭素春) said yesterday.

The KMT legislative caucus questions whether Chen is able to fairly lead prosecutors in the fight against political corruption, she added.

In response, Chen told reporters he thought there was nothing wrong with dining with Huang, an old friend, saying they talked about private matters only.

Chen dined at Huang's residence on Monday evening, staying there for four hours.

A neighbor who is a Taipei judge saw Chen enter Huang's residence and later told the media about the visit. Chen admitted he met Huang at his home.

It's OK. I can visit because the man our office is investigating is "an old friend."


Anonymous said...

Well done. Chinese culture runs counter to good business practices by Western standards and morals.

So are we to believe the Chinese are immoral? Or is that just our barbarian slant?

Michael Turton said...

Well done. Chinese culture runs counter to good business practices by Western standards and morals.

I didn't say that. Any such judgment exists solely in your own head. The person who pointed out that guanxi relationships are almost by definition conflict of interest relationships by western standards was a local and the dean of the department. Each side sees the other's behavior as wrong. Do you know of some objective moral position that enables us to pass judgment?

I can't help it if you're touchy, unable to read, and apt to see criticism where there is none intended. But it might be better to stay off a blog like this if you can't handle discussion of the differences between Chinese culture and American.

So are we to believe the Chinese are immoral? Or is that just our barbarian slant?

I dunno. Do you believe that when the Taiwan association for prosecutor reform criticized these practices, they were saying that Chinese are immoral or that they are barbarians? Do you believe that when legislators from both parties criticized these practices, they were saying that Chinese are immoral or that they are barbarians?

Time to grow up, doncha think? Not every critique is some kind of neocolonialist hack.