Global Ethics Corner: Taiwan: Is there a Statute of Limitation on Corruption?

May 27, 2011

Can corruption be legitimized by common usage, legal process, or subsequent legislation?

Transparency International publishes a yearly index of corruption, which measures the transparency of government activities and the accountability of public officials.

Among the 2010 rankings are: Germany at number 15, the U.S at 22, Taiwan at 33, and Italy at 67. In relative terms, Taiwan today is clean, in the top 20 percent, a model for others.

However for decades in Taiwan, tens of thousands of senior public officials received "special allowance funds." These funds, often large, were for job- related expenses. They required receipts for one-half, and did not require receipts for the other half.

In fact, standard practice treated these funds as a way of providing larger salaries without showing them on the public records, as official corruption, and receipts were often missing.

Scandals broke out in 2006 regarding almost all the major political figures. The current president was acquitted of embezzlement, and the former president is in jail for corruption.

The political defense was customary usage: "everyone did it." The legal defense often was that laws were followed, receipts were provided.

In 2011 the Legislature passed a revised Accounting Act, which absolved most officials of liability for misuse of special funds, if the misuse occurred before January 2007.

What do you think? Is "everyone did it" a legitimate response? Was meeting the technical receipt requirements enough? Should old crimes go unpunished by legislative amnesty? Or is it more important simply to correct the abuse and move forward?

By William Vocke

For more information, see:

"Corruption Perceptions Index 2010," Transparency International, 2010

"Legislature decriminalizes fund abuse," The China Post, May 4, 2011, p. 20.

Dave Graham, Reuters, and The China Post news staff, "US Slips to historic low in global corruption index," The China Post, October 11, 2011

"Taiwan opposition candidate cleared of graft charges," M & C news, December, 28, 2007

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Transparency International
Jacky Wong
Studio -Thinkstock - Court Law - 78397123
Brand X Pictures/ Thinkstock

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