The prominent NGO Transparency International is now active in Taiwan, seeking to help raise standards of conduct in government and throughout society.
BY DON SHAPIRO
With the start-up in the past few years of a Taiwan arm of the well-regarded non-governmental organization Transparency International (TI), Taiwan has gained an ally in the fight against the corrosive effects of bribery and corruption. A provisional affiliate of TI was established here in 2002, and it was officially recognized last year as one of the organization's 99 national chapters.
TI does not engage in the investigation of individual cases of alleged corruption, leaving that task primarily to journalists. Instead it works on a more macro level, for example by conducting activities designed to raise public consciousness of the importance of the issue and by building coalitions with other groups in support of the cause. It also makes policy recommendations for how to better control both public- and private-sector corruption, and it offers a "Corruption Fighters' Tool Kit" outlining strategies and tactics that have proved successful in various parts of the world. Two annual surveys, the Global Corruption Barometer and the Corruption Perceptions Index, invariably receive wide media attention.
TI's international secretariat is based in Berlin, and its chairman, Peter Eigen, is a lawyer by training who spent many years working for the World Bank in Africa and Latin America. In Taiwan, the 15 board directors and five supervisors are primarily academics, but also include a few journalists and business executives. The chairman, Hung Yung-tai, is a professor of political science at National Taiwan University.
Funding has come from a variety of sources, including seed money from TI's headquarters, donations from local foundations and corporations, and research grants from the government. In addition, Shih Hsin University has made facilities available for the Taiwan branch's offices.
How does TI research show Taiwan stacking up in terms of corruption? The organization's Global Corruption Barometer 2005, issued last December, includes the results of polling of ordinary citizens conducted separately in 69 countries (in Taiwan the job was outsourced to Opinion Research Taiwan). The accompanying table shows the results in selected Asian countries for how the respondent perceives the relative degree of corruption of various institutions and sectors.
Particularly noteworthy for Taiwan is that the Legislative Yuan is perceived as the most corrupt institution (4.3 on a scale of 5, a level exceeded in Asia by only India and South Korea). Close behind are the country's political parties. The cleanest sector was the administrative offices handling household registries, with 1.8. "In Taiwan most people rarely encounter the need to pay a bribe to receive low-level government services," says Chilik Yu, executive director of TI Taiwan and chair of the department of public policy and management at Shih Hsin University. "The problem is mainly with the politicians, not the bureaucrats."
Another question asked whether corruption levels had increased or decreased over the past three years. Of the respondents, 41% said it had stayed about the same, 22% said "increased a lot," 9% "increased a little," 18% "decreased a little," and 5% "decreased a lot" (6% had no opinion). There was also an expectation that corruption would remain a problem. Only 3% expressed the opinion that it would "decrease a lot" in the coming three years and 14% said "decrease a little."
The other survey, the Corruption Perception Index, collates data over a three-year period based on input from both resident and non-resident experts and business leaders. The latest version rates Iceland as the country with the world's least corruption; its "cleanliness" score was 9.7 on a scale of 10. Taiwan's score was 5.9, tying it for 32nd place among the 158 countries included. Among Asian countries, it was fourth behind Singapore (9.4), Hong Kong (8.3) and Japan (7.3).
Another survey, last conducted in 2002, asked executives and professionals around the world about the relative propensity of foreign business people to engage in bribery in their markets. In this exercise, Taiwan came out rather poorly. Of the 21 countries covered, only business people from China and Russia were seen as more likely to pay bribes.
As for means of reducing corruption, TI has concluded that the funding of political campaigns is at the root of much of the problem in Taiwan. It therefore lobbied for adoption of the Political Donation Law, which was enacted last year to monitor and limit campaign contributions, and the NGO will now focus on how well the law is enforced. In addition, TI has called on the various political parties to sign a pledge to identify how much money is being raised in a given campaign; although the parties have concurred, more effort will be needed in future campaigns to ensure that the data supplied is indeed accurate. Another effort will be devoted to trying to change the traditional political culture that condones vote buying.
In Chilik Yu's view, the most effective vehicle to fight corruption would be passage of a "sunshine law" obligating elected officials and those holding high-level government positions to explain any substantial increase in their personal assets. "If they have unreasonably accumulated wealth without being able to identify the sources, they should be held accountable," he says. The Ministry of Justice has drafted such a bill, modeled on statutes in such countries as Britain and Hong Kong, but the proposal has so far failed to gain approval in the Executive Yuan, let alone be submitted to the Legislative Yuan. "This legislation is crucial, and we plan to keep following its progress very closely," says Yu.
For the coming year, TI Taiwan will also be turning its attention to the question of corruption in the judiciary. A paper on the subject will be prepared for inclusion in TI's 2007 Global Corruption Report.