Friday, May 14, 2010

Slouching Toward Singapore

Signs of the times: the amendments last month to impose restrictions on what sort of data can be revealed about individuals:
In its second reading of the amendment to the Personal Data Protection Act (個人資料保護法), the legislature passed the new, expanded version covering medical care, genetics, sex, health checks, criminal records, contact information and financial situation, as well as social activities and other personal data.

In addition, media and elected officials publishing personal information must obtain the approval of the party concerned before doing so. Even if it is necessary and in the public interest, one cannot identify the individual concerned.

Violators face criminal charges or an administrative fine, and compensation in a civil court case may reach NT$200 million (US$6.4 million).

Maybe legislators added this text because they are tired of sensational gossip, or was it because they want to prevent other elected representatives, media outlets or pundits from exposing irregularities?

They seem to care little that there are no examples of such legislation in other countries, or that such a law will place severe restrictions on the media.
To many observers the new laws appeared to be restrictions on the media. One issue here is that the local media is like occupation troops -- wherever they appear in person, they chill potential support. A friend of mine was just relating on Facebook how media camped out, illegally, in his office and told him while they waited that they were recording him and that since he was in Taiwan, he should speak Chinese. Arrogant, illegal, and annoying -- everyone who deals with the media here has similar stories. It is hard to gin up sympathy for such unsympathetic figures, but do it we must.

This month brings us another version of the apparent judicial double standard on DPP and KMT prosecutions for the same crime. First, the bare story as reported in the Taipei Times the other day. Read it carefully, noting the prosecution's interesting logic:

Prosecutors yesterday said they had closed their investigation into Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) use of his special allowance fund, saying that three of Wang’s aides might face charges of forgery.

The Special Investigation Panel under the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said that Wang spent NT$19 million (US$600,000) on public expenses between February 1999 and December 2007, and claimed a total of NT$14 million in reimbursements. Since the amount spent was more the amount claimed in reimbursements, prosecutors said Wang did not pocket any of the special allowance fund and would not be charged.

Prosecutors discovered, however, that three of Wang’s aides may have used fraudulent receipts to claim reimbursements for Wang.

Prosecutors said the three submitted fraudulent receipts to be used in the accounting for Wang’s special allowance fund, but regulations state that such accounting matters are not required to be approved by Wang.

The Supreme Prosecutors Office in September 2007 indicted then-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), then-DPP chairman Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) and then-­National Security Council secretary-general Mark Chen (陳唐山) on suspicion of misusing their special allowance funds.
Catch that? The prosecutors say they won't prosecute because more money was spent than was claimed -- but somehow the three accountants got together for some lowdown receipt fraud. Longtime readers -- can you recall any prominent KMT official busted with government money in his personal accounts, cleared, but whose underling was sent to prison for mishandling receipts?

Now the rippin' Taipei Times editorial from today:
Critics who charge that the impartiality of the judicial system has regressed under the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) were presented with more ammunition on Wednesday when prosecutors announced the results of their probe into Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) use of his special allowance fund.

Absolving Wang of any responsibility for handling his financial affairs, prosecutors said they were instead considering pressing forgery charges against three of his aides for using fraudulent receipts to claim reimbursements.

Looking at Wang’s probe, one cannot help but feel the outcome is remarkably similar to the verdict reached in Ma’s 2007 special allowance trial, when Ma was found not guilty while an unfortunate staffer was sent off to serve time in jail.

Since then, not a single one of dozens of prominent Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) members who have been investigated over their actions as government officials has been charged with illegal use of the allowance system. Any seasoned observer of Taiwan would not expect this to change anytime soon.
Speaker Wang is a longtime heavyweight KMT politician and rival to Ma Ying-jeou within the KMT party.

To refresh your memory, Special Affairs funds are discretionary funds given to thousands of public officials in Taiwan, from cabinet ministers to elementary school principals. The trick is, only half of spending need be accounted for by receipts. The other half needs no receipts. The habit developed in officialdom was thus to keep the other half as sort of off-the-books salary -- a deliberate structure of the system to corrupt its participants and co-opt them into maintaining it. Ma's defense for downloading government funds into his own accounts was essentially just that: everybody did it, and that was the intention of the funds. Now critics are saying that the ruling party appears to have found a new use for the Special Affairs funds....
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taiwan economics said...

"Nat Bellocchi on the myth of the recent "reduction in tension"

The most direct attack on the myth of reduction in tensions is the realist perspective from political theory. In this kind of framework, you ignore the talk because it's cheap, and you look only at substantive measures, ie the military/arms balance most of all, alliances, economic costs, etc. Governments come in and out of power, and when you have the military leverage, there are very few that would ever give it up as a bargaining chip.

With this insight, Taiwan is in big trouble. China keeps increasing the number of missiles pointed at Taiwan and upgrading its military hardware specifically for the target of invading Taiwan and denying access by the US and Japan. The situation is deteriorating rapidly and alarmingly, yet Ma Ying-jeou says "no tensions, things are much better" and the charlatan Washington Taiwan/China experts forget all their basic international politics.

And this is the generation that grew up under "mutually assured destruction"! This is total madness, and I'm surprised how unsophisticated the DC pundit class has been in separating the rhetoric from the reality.

taiwan economics said...

Wait wait. One more. These same astrologer Taiwan/China experts were sophisticated enough and cynical enough to try to argue that "mad (former President) Chen Shui-bian" was driven merely by domestic politics in his quest to say the Satanic incantation "Taiwan is not a part of China", but they can't figure out that maybe Ma Ying-jeou keeps saying "things are great now that I'm in charge" because his government is deeply unpopular and believed to be incompetent, and it benefits him politically.

Come on guys, get on the ball.