ST Forum Jul 2009: Case of Taiwan’s Chen shows ensuring a clean govt isn’t easy


I READ with sadness about the conviction of former Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian and his family members for corruption and money laundering (“Chen’s key legacy suffers a blow”) last Saturday.

The court verdict summed up the case: “He (Chen) should have been noble, but he served himself.”
It is a painful reminder of the saying: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

There have been many national heroes who rose to power on the back of reforms, who carried the aspirations of an entire nation. Yet often, when leaders settle into positions of great power, they fall prey to temptations to financially better themselves and those belonging to their inner circles. In the process, they destroy the legacies they have worked so hard to leave behind.

I am glad that our founding fathers have largely been selfless and worked to institutionalise a clean government. But we have to accept that conditions that drove our founding fathers against all adversities into public office do not exist today. Hence, it is better to do our best to enshrine a culture of clean government and reasonable compensation to prevent corruption.

People in public offices are in a unique position to leave a strong legacy for the country and for themselves. I hope this case will serve as a reminder all over the world that politicians need to have self discipline not abuse their powers. Better still, there should be some institutional checks and balances to also prevent abuse. (this last paragraph was deleted by the ST editor)

Yee Jenn Jong

Footnote: While I support reasonable compensation, I feel the current Ministers’ and President’s compensation are unreasonably high and breaks the spirit of public service. It makes one doubt if the Ministers have genuine passion for the country. Benchmarking them against the pay of Ministers in first world countries is a better option than the current benchmarking against top private sector pays.

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