Saturday, March 13, 2010

Principled Resignation

I always enjoy reading comments from China on Taiwan's democracy, such as this excerpt from a speech from a PRC scholar on rule of law in Taiwan. Such principles were on display this week as two cabinet officials tendered their resignations over issues of principle.

First, justice minister Wang resigned over the death penalty....
Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng published an article on March 9 entitled “Rationality and Forgiveness,” articulating her view that the death penalty should be abolished and stating that she would not sign the execution order for any convict on death row during her term in office. Minister Wang’s article induced an angry backlash among the public. Wang wrote that she would insist on doing the right thing even if her opposition to the death penalty meant that she would have to step down.

However, Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang yesterday, in a press conference, stated that ours was a government of law, therefore, everything must be done according to the law. The executions of death row inmates must be carried out unless there was a legally sufficient reason for the execution to be stayed, Lo said, adding that otherwise, the Justice Ministry must carry out its duty in accordance with the law.
The local focus was on how the President simply threw Wang to the wolves, refusing to support her. Focus Taiwan translated a China Times editorial that sketched her career as an activist. The editorial observes that the Chen Administration stalled executions because it feared international repercussions. It also hints at a problem within the Administration: when it vetted its appointees for the justice post, didn't anyone ask about this key issue? D'oh.

The Wang resignation also highlights another problem endemic with Ma: the appointment of individuals to high position who come from academic backgrounds and have little political experience. This pan-Blue papers have roundly condemned Ma for this.

The death penalty is highly popular in Taiwan, with widespread public support. It make a cheap target for moralizing. But when it comes to the hard stuff.... it is a shame that Wang's high morals didn't extend to the numerous problems with the Chen Shui-bian detention and trial. Taiwan News gives another take and observes that under the law -- despite claims to the contrary by KMT officials and KMT papers -- she is not required to sign execution orders:
Unfortunately, Taiwan society remains dominated by the hoary and barbarian precept of vengeance and understandable but dangerously vindictive feelings of survivors of murder victims, which ultra-conservative KMT lawmakers are utilizing to stir a reactionary populist storm in order to turn the clock back on Taiwan's human rights progress.

The fuse was lit by Control Yuan Commissioner Chao Chang-ping and other colleagues who declared "orders for the death penalty should be approved by the justice minister and implemented within three days" and threatened to "investigate" Wang for "illegally" delaying executions.

Indeed, Article 127 of the Criminal Code mandates that public officials who do not implement legal punishments are liable for a sentence of up to five years, but this rule applies mainly to prosecutors or jail wardens and not to the justice minister who is not an "public official tasked with implementing punishment" but the chief of the highest administrative judicial agency.

Indeed, there is no article in the Criminal Code that explicitly requires the justice minister to sign such orders and it is evident that the justice minister is granted the "under the law" the discretionary power to sign or not to sign such orders.

Therefore, neither Wang or any other previous justice ministers who refused to sign death sentence orders have transgressed the law and indeed have honored the Constitution through their respect for all human life.
There were even gloating KMT legislators who said that all 44 of the prisoners currently on death row should be executed. Disgusting. The sad part, as many noted, is that with Wang calling attention to the death penalty, which has 70%+ support on the island, it is likely that executions, which had been stayed for the last five years, will resume.

Also resigning this week was the Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang, who bluntly told the Premier that his requirements to confine health fee increases to the upper income brackets wouldn't work. The Premier had wanted 75% of the population to experience no fee increases, but the math doesn't work. Yuang instead had called for 41% of the population to experience slight increases. His resignation has not been accepted.

Take note of the explosive political issue that underlies this, one that shapes so many issues in Taiwan, but often flies under the radar: local government debt. A number of local governments, including Taipei, have not paid their debts to the NHI. It is not just fees that have to rise, but enforcement of payments on local governments as well.

It is obvious to every sentient mind on the island that health fees must go up if the wonderful NHI system is to survive. It would be great if the legislature would sit down and pass a set of fee increases with bipartisan support. I think the government and both parties would be pleasantly surprised to find how quickly the public would adapt.
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Anonymous said...

"It would be great if the legislature would sit down and pass a set of fee increases with bipartisan support. I think the government and both parties would be pleasantly surprised to find how quickly the public would adapt."

That is what I would expect from an "activist: legislature.

Michael Turton said...

Hahaha. I'm sure our activist legislature will be right on it....

Shang Chien said...

Mmhh I'm not sure that Macau and HK students are considered the same as mainland chinese students. I had numerous HK and MC (as well as Chinese student by the way) classmate at the end of the 90's in NCCU.

Unknown said...

Speaking of Macau, Michael, the city, along with Hong Kong, are both now available on Google Street View. I had a gander. Fascinating. The streets look remarkably similar to the ones in Taiwan. A bit more like South Taiwan, maybe, with the flatness, wider streets, and the harbour views, but similar (aside from the Portuguese street-names, and the occasional unorthodox roundabout (definitely not the same as in Hsinchu, Chiayi, Chungwa, etc.).

Gilman Grundy said...

@Thoth - I visited Macau back in '07, and the first thing which struck me about the place was how similar parts of the peninsula were to Taiwan, even compared to Shenzhen (where I was living then) only 30~odd miles away.

Unknown said...

I wonder what the death penalty supporters are going to think when PRC laws begin to be adopted here, the courts convict 95% of all those accused, and Taiwanese advocating democracy or independence face execution on the pretext of sedition or treason...

mg said...

Slightly off topic, but isn't the best way to solve the death penalty issue is to simply let the accused settle the matter in his/her own hands?

What I mean is why not just give a convict a rope and let him make the choice for himself.

The State can even give the convict an incentive, if he takes himself out of the picture, his family or victim's family will receive 50% of the funds that would have gone into keeping him incarcerated.