Neither Prosecute the Innocent, Nor Abet the Guilty
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 8, 2012
Summary: A dozen or so professors are suspected of falsely reporting expenses. Prosecutors have indicted them on charges of corruption. National Science Council President Chu Ching-yi, Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey, and Education Minister Jiang Wei-ning have issued a joint declaration, expressing concern and making an appeal. The two sides appear to be diametrically opposed and at a standoff.
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A dozen or so professors are suspected of falsely reporting expenses. Prosecutors have indicted them on charges of corruption. National Science Council President Chu Ching-yi, Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey, and Education Minister Jiang Wei-ning have issued a joint declaration, expressing concern and making an appeal. The two sides appear to be diametrically opposed and at a standoff.
But we see no fundamental difference between the two sides. Zhu, Weng, and Chiang have long advocated cracking down on corruption while avoiding malicious prosecution. The Ministry of Justice says that it is making distinctions between minor and major offenses. It says it is letting smaller fish go while going after corruption. The public has a very different perception. As they see it, the three elders from academia are merely covering up their own mistakes. As they see it, the prosecutors are merely persecuting the innocent. These impressions however, do not necessarily reflect the truth or the whole picture.
The three elders from academia began by comparing two categories of false reporting, which they termed Category A and Category B. Under Category A, "A professor use false invoices and pockets the money, or else uses the money to purchase personal items having nothing to do with research. Examples include designer bags and refrigerators for their homes. Such cases must be turned over to the authorities, who should exercise no leniency."
Under Category B, "A professor uses false invoices to purchase other kinds of research equipment. One example would be using an invoice for three toner cartridges to purchase a computer screen. Not one dime went into private pockets. The Corruption Offences Ordinance is not aimed at cases such as this."
The three elders from academia said "Different categories of false invoices call for different attitudes."
Actually the prosecution took this into account when leveling their indictments. They apparently subscribe to the same policy. If public funds have not entered private pockets, depending on the seriousness of the offense, they may choose not to prosecute. They may charge them with forgery, a Category B offense. Other categories, such as purchasing one thing while reporting another, will also be dealt with leniently. But if the accused colluded with the vendor to pad the invoice and pocketed the difference, that will be treated harshly. That would be a Category C offense. Abusing the power of one's office to embezzle and pocket public funds is an even worse form of corruption. That would be a Category A offense. The vast majority of offenses are Category D offenses. These the prosecution chose to overlook from the very outset. It either chose not to prosecute, or dropped the cases midstream. The prosecution does have a "different cases, different attitudes" policy.
The dispute between the three elders from academia and the Ministry of Justice is merely over the wording of "Neither prosecute the innocent, nor abet the guilty." Each side has its own job description. Each side has its own perspective. The three elders from academia may stress "not prosecuting the innocent." The Ministry of Justice may stress "not abetting the guilty." Each side has its own take on the matter. This is hardly surprising.
But the controversy involves an unshakeable core principle. Under existing laws, a public university professor is a civil servant. If he pockets public funds, he can be prosecuted for corruption. That is why the three elders from academia agree that offending public university professors would fall under Category A offenders. They "should unquestionably be handed over to the authorities for prosecution according to the letter of the law. They must not be treated leniently." This is what the Ministry of Justice refers to as "no room for ambiguity." Both parties agree about the core principle. Therefore the controversy over right and wrong is already half-solved.
What concerns the public is that the prosecution may have difficulty successfully prosecuting Category B and Category D offenses as embezzlement because they involve a grey area. The three elders from academia may have difficulty interceding on behalf of those accused of Category A and Category C offenses. .
Many individuals have been indicted for these offenses. But each case is an individual case. These are not indictments of educators, academicians, and professors, per se.
Prosecuting illegal activities has nothing to with the educators as such. Nor is it right to associate Category A suspects with "distinguished researchers." After all, even a distinguished president was involved in corruption. He was prosecuted according to the law. How can professors be exempt?
There already appears to be a consensus. At first academicians said the offenses were Category B and Category D offenses. But later on they said they were Category A offenses involving embezzlement. Some even said they were Category C offenses involving collusion. One reason for this guilt by association, is that suspects often get away scot free due to dumb luck. Another reason is a systemic lack of accountability. The prosecution is merely restoring long term accountability to the system. This could be seen as a belated attempt to restore accountability to academia as a whole.
The three elders from academia have addressed Category B and Category D offenses. They do not want the public thinking they are condoning Category A and Category C offenses. By contrast, if the prosecution cites Category B and Category D offenses when prosecuting corruption, it will generate chaos. It will undermine its credibility. Therefore the three elders from academia, the prosecution, and the public, must reach a clear consensus, namely, "different cases, different attitudes."
We believe the differences between the four types of offenses must be made clear. This will not "undermine morale in academia." It will clear the air. It will exonerate academicians. It will enhance their dignity and honor.
2013.01.08 02:52 am