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Pan Shih-wei’s downfall exposes more Cabinet problems

Pan Shih-wei’s downfall exposes more Cabinet problems

Several days after resigning as Minister of Labor Pan Shih-wei went to Facebook to post what he called "the truth" about being a government official in Taiwan. Pan railed that the government is rife with what he called “systematic patronage" as officials siphon off funds from public budgets into their own "small treasuries." He warned that there are many cases of such malfeasance waiting to be exposed. Outgoing officials occasionally make allegations about what is happening, he said, but the Cabinet remains silent, drawing a heavy shade over the whole mess.

Pan called for the government to give an account of wrongdoings and clean house. The administration’s incompetence in formulating and implementing policies is widely recognized at home and abroad – and when accusations of immorality and illegal behavior are thrown into the mix, the entire Cabinet looks dodgy. The Minister of Education stepped down just a couple of weeks ago, and the Hakka Affairs chairman resigned a month ago, complaining he had not had dinner at home since taking office in 2008. Several government officials have left due to problems related to aviation flight safety and accidents, and others could bail at any moment. As a result, morale in the Cabinet and throughout the government has plummeted.

Pan charged that high-level civil servants in certain ‘cliques’ know their way around budgets and are adept at latching onto resources and shuttling them into discreet private coffers. He contended that some officials use their people to develop legitimate-looking programs that appear to be intended for the public but are in fact earmarked for their own use. He claimed the main reason he resigned from the ministry was because he "tried to stop people from taking money."

Pan said he opted to leave because he feels the Cabinet must move forward, and in his words, "it shouldn't have to scratch its head over personal issues." He added that the decision to step down was his alone, and he came under no pressure to make it.

Pan explained that his allusion to "small treasuries" refers to things like labor pension funds. He noted that labor pension funds are generated by various industries, and officials in the government abuse them regularly for personal gain. In fact, he noted, the Ministry of Labor has another "big vault" in the form of the NT$14.2 billion Employment Security Fund. Pan said the fund is rarely used to benefit workers, going instead to subsidize officials’ private projects. Pan intoned that when he says "high-level civil servants know the ins and outs of budgets and how to use them", his meaning should be obvious.

Pan has many years of experience as a teacher and in public office, and even if he is a bit down at the moment, what he says carries its own weight and logic. He is squawking about problems in areas that he had no direct control over but may be familiar with to some degree. They are not wild allegations or attempts to blackmail anyone.

Premier Jiang should be well aware that Pan is not simply spewing out accusations in disgruntlement. He must not downplay Pan’s comments and shift attention away from what the former minister says. Rather, he should strive to prevent similar problems in the future. Jiang must focus on finding whether Pan’s allegations are true. He must show he is committed to carrying out investigations where they are needed and make clear explanations to the public when problems emerge

Pan said he has more to say and will gradually disclose other things in the future from his observations on illegal and immoral behavior. He said being a private citizen again is a great relief: “Now I can say anything I want!"

Pan crows about patronage in the halls of government and officials enriching their own coffers at the public’s expense. Moreover, he says the Ministry of Labor is not the only place where this is happening. Other cabinet ministries, state-owned enterprises and government foundations may have similar problems. Corrupt officials take public funds and use it as they wish, throwing away what they cannot squander. Seeing so many officials who learned the ropes in industry or academia before landing a cushy government sinecure, then retiring in comfort and luxury, one cannot help but wonder how many of these ‘small treasuries’ Pan alludes to are hidden throughout the government.

Pan’s resignation leaves another position in the Cabinet to be filled. Given the growing number of vacancies, yet another wholesale reshuffling may be needed. Hopefully with two more years to go for the Ma administration, any new faces at the top will be officials who make it clear they will not tolerate the slightest suggestion of mishandling of public funds and can ensure that their people adhere to the highest standards in their private lives as well.

Pan was magnanimous in a farewell party arranged by his colleagues in the Labor Ministry last week. He choked up recalling his six years in the old Council of Labor Affairs and its transition to the Ministry of Labor. He had no regrets over his behavior and nothing but praise for his former bosses. He expressed his gratitude to Jiang Yi-huah for his help over the years, saying Jiang was unmatched in understanding the needs and duties of officials dealing with labor policy. Regarding Ma Ying-jeou, Pan gushed that Taiwan was "really lucky to have such a leader."

Others have praised Pan for his contributions in handling labor affairs. DPP Legislator Lee Ying-yuan said it is unfortunate that Pan’s private affairs came to overshadow the good he has done in public office. Lee noted that after the CLA was upgraded to the MOL, Pan was “trampled underfoot” and finds himself with no hope for a position in government or even in academia.

DPP Legislator Liu Jianguo also had kind words for Pan even as he rebuked the Ma government for its failure to attract capable officials and its shabby treatment of officials who deserved better. The result, said Liu, is another round of musical chairs in the Cabinet and meaningless shuffles of personnel that have so far yielded only the “same old same old.”

Looking at what is happening in government, it is obvious that it is time for a new game, one with rules that favor the public and not corrupt officials.d

Updated : 2021-07-30 19:59 GMT+08:00