Saturday, July 23, 2011

An Old Whine In New Bottles: Ma to "fight corruption" with new Agency

Corruption is nature's way of restoring our faith in democracy. -- Peter Ustinov

Big news this week as President Ma has created a new anti-corruption commission. Here's the news:
Revisions to the Court Organic Act that were passed earlier this year will see Taiwan emulating Japan and South Korea by setting up a new special investigation unit under the Taiwan High Prosecutor's Office. Prosecutors with a high level of integrity and strong investigative skills will be assigned to this unit and will exclusively pursue investigations of major corruption and economic crimes that involve legislators, government ministers, high-level military officials, the heads of the five yuan (major branches of the central government), and the president and vice president. In preparation for the establishment of this unit, Counselor Shen traveled to South Korea at the end of October to gain experience by observing how prosecutors there conduct anti-corruption activities.
WHOOPS! Oh wait! SORRY! That was 2006 (here). Let's try again from the Taipei Times.....
“After the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Panel [SIP] revealed a serious scandal involving several Taiwan High Court judges, I decided to establish the nation’s first anti-corruption agency,” Ma told the ceremony.

The purpose of the AAC is to prevent corruption, because prevention should precede crackdowns, he said, adding that its creation should deter public servants from engaging in corrupt activities.

“As the agency investigates corruption cases, one precondition is that it must collect sufficient evidence [of corruption] before it makes an indictment [of a public servant],” Ma said, adding that this should increase the conviction rate.
A great idea, having sufficient evidence of corruption before indicting someone. Is Ma saying things were different when he was the Minister of Justice?

What he appears to mean, though, is that the SIP simply lost too many cases against DPP politicians....

Yes, it's looking like the rewind button, as the DPP noted after the commission was announced:
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus yesterday said it feared the new agency could represent a “second wind for the SIP, which has become a tool for the current administration to carry out political oppression.”
It's not difficult to see what is going on. The Special Investigations Panel (SIP) has basically gone dead in the water. It is now being sued by 26 civic groups for its handling of the Chen Shui-bian case:
A group made up of 26 civic organizations yesterday sued the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Panel (SIP), accusing it of forging documents, subornation of perjury and abuse of judicial power.

Led by Taiwanese National Party (TNP) Chairman Huang Hua (黃華), the groups filed the lawsuit with the Taipei District Court against the SIP, which they said cut a deal with former -Chinatrust -Financial Holding Co (中信金控) vice chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒) to testify against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in an attempt to imprison him.

Koo, who was involved in a scandal over Chinatrust’s bid for rival Mega Financial Holdings Co (兆豐金控) — known as the Red Fire Case (紅火案), after the name of the offshore company used to conduct the illegal transaction — returned to Taiwan in 2008 after evading an arrest warrant and hiding in Japan for two years.

The banker testified at the time that he had donated about NT$300 million (US$10.4 million) of his illegal profits to Chen, currently serving a 17-and-a-half-year term for corruption and money laundering, as a kickback.

Koo’s lawyers told the Taiwan High Court in May that Koo did not remit the money to Chen, adding that he testified out of fear of being detained upon his return to Taiwan.
I blogged on that testimony a little while back (a good post, if I do say so myself). The prosecutions against the DPPers mostly ran aground -- Yunlin County Chief Su Chih-fen was found innocent, the embezzlement charges against Chen Shui-bian were laughed out of court, and now the Koo family has testified that their testimony in the conviction of Chen for taking bribes from them was extorted by the prosecutors. The Special Investigation Panel was also behind the laughable investigation into Su Tseng-chang for allegedly running off with 36,000 documents from the government files.

In other words, the SIP has basically become a worn out tool that couldn't get the job done, so it looks like the KMT is now going to add another unit to go after "corruption" in the government which of course was the task of the SIP.

The Taipei Times ripped this move this week, arguing that: "In all likelihood, the AAC will become the AADPPC, or the Agency Against DPP Corruption, especially in the lead-up to January’s presidential election." More tellingly, they identified the Administration's real attitude on "corruption":
Just how determined is the Ma government to stamp out corruption? Recent moves regarding the rampant and ongoing practice of vote buying are telling. From December 2008 to May last year, 26 local officials belonging to the KMT were indicted around the nation for vote buying. How did the government reward Hsin Tai-chao (邢泰釗), the chief prosecutor at the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office, who is credited with being Taiwan’s leading prosecutor against the practice of vote buying? He was transferred to Kinmen Island. That shows real determination.
Today the DPP complained that Ma had appointed two biased individuals to head up the new AAC, confirming the worst fears of the pro-Taiwan opposition. In some one-party states I know, slander is the tool. In Taiwan, it is looking like accusations of corruption are the charge de jour.

However, the new AAC will have to move fast if it is going to affect the elections -- they are just six months away....

This is a twofold pattern -- first the typical pattern of authoritarian inefficiency, in which overlapping bodies are created to carry out identical tasks, partly because of Authority's dissatisfaction with the original and partly to keep everyone divided and competing against each other for the approval of Authority. Instead of reforming and strengthening the SIP, which is what should be done....

The other pattern is the formation of bodies to carry out tasks of political control when the original ones fail to please their masters. A good example of this pattern is the creation of the National Communications Commission (NCC) in 2006. The tasks it was charged with were already being carried out by the telecoms bureau and the Government Information Office (GIO). However, that was during the Chen Administration and those organizations were not sufficiently servile towards the KMT even though, even under the Chen Administration, the rank and file were predominantly pro-Blue bureaucrats. Hence the KMT-controlled legislature went ahead and created the NCC under its control to shape the media's presentation of politics....(from this old post):
The irony of the move against the NCC is that the NCC was created under the Chen Administration in 2006 by the KMT controlled legislature to bring mass media under the control of the government. The Executive Branch, then controlled by the DPP, argued that it should have the authority to appoint NCC commission members, but the legislature clearly intended that it would have the last word on who the commission members were. Since the legislature was controlled by the KMT and its allies, the intent of the law was obvious: it was a legislative end-run around the DPP controlled executive branch intended to restore KMT control over the media and chill pro-Taiwan speech by centralizing control of the media oversight in KMT hands.
As a commentator in the Taipei Times observed, even the utterly pro-KMT NCC was still too independent. And now the SIP, a recent invention, is being marginalized by a new body. How long before that one is tossed by the way side?

ADDED: A friend reminds me that "Mr Clean", Chen Ding-nan, who was Chen Shui-bian's first minister of justice, pushed for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission along the lines of Hong Kong`s ICAC almost as soon as he got into office. This proposal (raised in various forms by various DPP premiers) was of course totally boycotted by the KMT.
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