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September 12, 2013

Taiwan Steps Up Anti-Corruption Work

by Ralph Jennings

Taiwan is stepping up anti-corruption efforts to improve its image at home and among offshore investors. The government in Taipei has banned bribery, pledged to follow up daily citizen complaints about graft and make it easier for foreign companies to report wrongdoing.

Taiwan, an old manufacturing base and the 26th largest economy, today competes against China, South Korea and Southeast Asia for new investment. But in July, the nongovernmental group Transparency International said perceptions of judicial, legislative and political party graft in Taiwan had exceeded global averages. It said the perceptions also had worsened since 2010.

Taiwan rejects the Berlin-based NGO’s findings as excessive, but officials acknowledge growing public anger about corruption and fear that investors will be deterred. Chu Kung-mao, director-general of the Justice Ministry’s two-year-old Agency Against Corruption, has commissioned a poll for later this month to gauge public opinion on the issue. He says the poll, carried out by Transparency International’s Taipei chapter, is aimed at building confidence in Taiwanese investors who have moved offshore.

He says the main reason is to offer a clean environment and make Taiwanese investors want to return from offshore without worrying that public servants will ask them for money. He says the agency is doing both administrative and substantive work, including letting people know where graft complaints stand, to make the public service climate cleaner. In that way, he adds, businesses local and foreign will want to invest.

Chu’s agency, part of a democratic government that prides itself on a reliable business climate, looks into every complaint from the public. It has reported receiving 5,937 allegations since 2011. On top of those, the agency has launched 2,190 inquiries into corruption practices based on in-house information.

The agency also increasingly warns officials about potential breaches before they happen.

Two years ago the government outlawed bribery, including small transactions such as buying tea for a customs agent. By the end of this year it will meet with multinational firms about graft and give them a special channel to voice any complaints.

Liu Yi-jiun, a public affairs professor at Fo Guang University in Taiwan, says people in Taiwan generally suspect the judiciary and elected officials.

“What I see is that most of the people still have very little confidence in judicial independence. Civil servants, I think they are fine. I think right now the problems usually focus on the elected officials,” says Liu Yi-jiun.

Transparency International found that perceptions of judicial bribery in Taiwan had risen from 12 to 36 percent since 2010, putting Taiwan on a level with Ghana and Mozambique. The NGO’s Global Corruption Barometer also gave low marks to Taiwan’s legislature and political parties.

In a case just this week, Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party expelled parliament speaker Wang Jin-pyng over suspicion of influence peddling. But Chu’s agency says the largest share of corruption in Taiwan stems from government procurement, with 164 cases since 2011, and construction contracts with 137. Those cases often involve local officials with small budgets.