AnotherAccountgateinthemaking

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<>Public prosecutors in Changhua indicted 22 professors at some of Taiwan's prestigious universities earlier this month for corruption charging them with using fake receipts to claim reimbursements from research funds provided by the government. It isn't an isolated case. At least one professor at Chiayi National University was indicted, tried and convicted of buying apparatus for his laboratory using NT$340,000 from a school research fund and then making it his personal property. Professor C. J. Yu was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2010.

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<>The nation's tough anti-corruption law was applied in the conviction and sentencing of Professor Yu. But the 2010 case did not make a stir, unlike the mass indictment in Changhua that is rocking the academic community in Taiwan and jeopardizing many scientific research projects. As a matter of fact, more than 300 professors and their research assistants are under criminal investigation for what may be called another “Accountgate,” the 2007 scandal involving former President Chen Shui-bian, the then Kuomintang standard bearer Ma Ying-jeou and more than a thousand government officials who were senior enough to be entitled to expense accounts.

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<>Accountgate is a spin-off of a scandal that involved Chen and his wife misusing a “state affairs” fund. They used fake receipts to claim refunds, just like the indicted professors. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers wanted to prove Ma was just as corrupt.

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<>Ma was accused of misusing his expense account to which he was entitled as mayor of Taipei from 1998 to 2006. Officially known as “special allowance,” the expense account allowances have been awarded to every top public office holder in Taiwan since President Chiang Kai-shek moved his government to Taipei at the end of 1949. Half of the allowance could only be claimed if valid receipts were presented. The other half needed no justification. Ma transferred that half to his wife's personal bank account believing that he was doing nothing wrong.

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<>A prosecutor with the Taiwan High Court Anti-Corruption Center regarded the transfer as unlawful and indicted Ma for corruption on February 13, 2007. He resigned as chairman of the Kuomintang, but declared to run for president. In retaliation, Kuomintang leaders charged DPP leaders with corruption on similar counts and the DPP countercharged, thus opening the Accountgate scandal in which, however, nobody was convicted. Incidentally, the former president is doing time, but not for misusing his state affairs fund. Ma was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court after his election to the presidency in 2008.

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<>As public prosecutors across Taiwan look into more cases of research fund misuse more indictments are expected to follow. In turn, government research granters fear a new Accountgate scandal may eventually involve nearly every college professor. As a consequence, President Wong Chi-huey of the Academia Sinica, Chairman Cyrus Chu of the National Science Commission, and Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling issued a joint statement a week ago appealing to law enforcement authorities for leniency, claiming corruption charges would deal a fatal blow to academic morale.

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<>They insist that as the claimed reimbursements are small, ranging from NT$50,000to NT$500,000 , and few of the professors are actually lining their pockets, those indicted should be charged with fraud or forgery, not corruption. This, the trio argue, is in line with anti-corruption law, which in the initial years of its application required capital punishment for serious offenders. In other words, the three modern mandarins are saying stealing some petty cash, which many government officials are doing out of habit, does not deserve severe punishment.

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<>In response, Procurator-General Huang Shih-ming pointed out that national university professors are government employees who are subject to the anti-corruption law rather than the criminal code, but if professors did not pocket the money themselves, they might be indicted for fraud or forgery of official documentation.

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<>While agreeing with Huang on indictment for corruption if professors are not using the money for research, Wong reiterated that the offenders should be accused of forgery if they “used the public fund for research purposes.” Wong complains that the new Accountgate would wrongly make the world's academia believe scholars and researchers in Taiwan are all corrupt

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<>Chu and Chiang are positive that the indicted professors are not guilty of corruption, for the reimbursement procedure is so complicated that they were making mistakes without any intention of cheating the fund granters out of money for research.

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<>Should the defendants be indicted for corruption, Chu warned, Taiwan would not be able to retain “talent” and another brain exodus might occur. Chiang said he had urged the justice ministry not to press corruption charges, appealing for more lenient treatment of the defendants if the funds were used for research. He also called for a reform of the reimbursement system.

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<>The three top officials, all of them university professors for quite sometime, have conveniently forgotten one thing. Scholars were government officials in Chinese culture. They had to set examples of probity for all people. They were held to the highest standards of morality in society. Traditional China was a society where the dominant force was officialism, the most conspicuous sign of which was uninterrupted continuity of a ruling class of scholar-officials steeped in Confucian classics. It is this Confucian bureaucracy, together with the written language and Confucianism itself, that has bonded the Chinese nation, ensuring its survival for more than 5,000 years as the world's oldest continuing civilization. One characteristic of the Confucian model of the “great man” is, in the words of Mencius, “to be above the power of poverty and mean condition to make swerve from principle.” All scholars aspired to become such men. Not now.

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<>Of course, corruption afflicted the Confucian bureaucracy in China. But there is a difference in the attitude toward corruption. In the past, scholar-officials lined their pockets but knew they should not do it, feeling ashamed. Nowadays, technocrat officials, including the once venerated professors, do so, convinced that they are doing nothing wrong because practically everybody is making money by whatever means available, including using fake receipts to get refunds like President Chen and his wife. What the three leaders of our academia did to beg for leniency for the erring professors indicted or still under investigation accentuates this deplorable modern tendency.

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<>〈本文仅供参考,不代表本会立场〉

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