Legislative Yuan Benefits: No Legal Basis, No Benefits
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 1, 2012
Summary: Legislators have been receiving "nine illegal fringe benefits." What's worse, legislators have been haggling over which of these benefits they must give up. A just solution will only be found in the moral high ground, in constitutionalism and the rule of law.
Full Text below:
Legislators have been receiving "nine illegal fringe benefits." What's worse, legislators have been haggling over which of these benefits they must give up. A just solution will only be found in the moral high ground, in constitutionalism and the rule of law.
This newspaper has stressed this from the very beginning. This particular scandal involves two major issues. One. The lack of any legal basis for these fringe benefits. Legislative Yuan President Wang Jinping cited Article 32 of the Legislative Yuan Organization Law. But Wang was "pointing at a deer and calling it a horse." He was confounding right and wrong. He dismissed his blunder as a legal technicality. But these same legislators have been mercilessly slashing condolence payments for military veterans, civil service employees, and public school teachers. They essentially hoist themselves on their own petard. Two. The illegal benefits are misnamed. For example, legislators who do not live at the Taan Hostel receive a 18,000 NT monthly subsidy. They receive at least three different transportation allowances, under three different names. This is not an isolated case.
From a constitutional law perspective, we can hardly remain silent. The Legislative Yuan is the highest law-making body in the land. Can it look people in the eye and tell them the law means nothing? Can members of the highest law-making body in the land really be allowed to pocket such huge subsidies? How can they explain themselves to the people? How can they look themselves in the eye? The Legislative Yuan is supposed to provide checks and balances on the Executive Yuan. It is the main battlefield for party politics. Legislators question members of the Executive. But as the saying goes, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Is there any constitutionalism or rule of law left to speak of?
Consider the moral high ground of constitutionalism and the rule of law. The Legislative Yuan is the highest law-making body in the land. It must be the champion of justice, both substantively and procedurally. Yet every member of the Legislative Yuan has been illegally pocketing huge sums of illegal benefts. Justice, substantive or procedural, no longer exists. This scandal represents a decline in official ethics. Worse, it represents a gross violation of the constitution. But no one from the President of the Legislative Yuan on down has shown any sense of shame. Instead they have been haggling over which benefits they need not relinquish. They have been attempting to legalize their conduct, after the fact. In their eyes, the constitution is irrelevant. In their eyes, the law is irrelevant. In their eyes, the nationwide outrage is irrelevant. Is this conduct becoming of the nation's highest legislative body? Just how far do the 113 legislators of the KMT, DPP and other parties intend to go in their destruction of the constitution? Just how badly do they intend to undermine the dignity of the constitution and the credibility of the legislature?
Do legislators want to uphold constitutionism and the rule of law? Do they want the public to respect the rule of law? If they do, the Legislative Yuan has no alternative. Any benefits they have been pocketing without a legal basis must be relinquished, unconditionally. First these benefits must be relinquished. Only then may legislators begin anew. The President of the Legislative Yuan must rally the major party caucuses and offer a public apology. Current legislators must show that they still have consciences, that they still have a sense of shame. They must demonstrate their determination to uphold constitutionalism and the rule of law.
This is not a trivial matter that they can gloss over. This is landmark case that bears on constitutionalism and the rule of law. All benefits without a legal basis must be relinquished, in toto. This is substantive justice. After they have been relinquished the legislature can review them item by item. This is procedural justice. Starting over this way will uphold constitutionalism and the rule of law. How much in benefits should legislators receive? Legislators must not knowingly violate the law. They must not be allowed to enrich themselves. Only then can they rehabilitate the image of the Legislative Yuan. Only then can they ensure the survival of constitutionalism and the rule of law.
If we scrutinize the legislature's account books, we find that illegal benefts far exceed the 1.72 million NT in "nine illegal fringe benefits" per year. Altogether they amount to over 2 million NT per year. Legislators even receive "birthday gift certificates" worth 2000 NT. These too are illegal. This is not merely lawless. It is shameless. Therefore these benefits must all be relinquished. The legislature must start over, from scratch. At a minimum, it must abide by three principles. One. They cannot engage in "all you can eat." Even meals for the legislators' chauffeurs are part of the 1.7 million NT a year illegal fringe benefits. This is a case of "all you can eat" and "taking home leftovers." This is something even ordinary restaurant owners would never allow. Two. They cannot convert their illegal benefits into a slush fund. Some have proposed combining all their illegal benefits into one lump sum, with no itemization. This amounts to a slush fund with no standards whatsoever. Others have proposed passing new laws to legitimize their past and current violations. A variety of legislators have proposed a variety of ploys by which to legitimize their illegal fringe benefits. This too amounts to a slush fund. Neither of these two slush fund ploys is appropriate. Some other framework must be found that is objective and fair. Three. The solution must be transparent. Take high-speed rail tickets. Some legislators have allowed others to use their tickets on the sly. This amounts to corruption. Therefore, such write-offs must be made transparent, to prevent unscrupulous persons from misusing them. In short, ethical standards within the legislature cannot be allowed to sink to this level. Constitutionalism and the rule of law cannot be allowed to perish in this manner.
This is landmark case relevant to constitutionalism and the rule of law. The Legislative Yuan cannot treat the matter with contempt. The public must pay close attention to the matter. We look forward to the Legislative Yuan apologizing to the people. We are unwilling to see the Legislative Yuan reduced to the level of a crime syndicate engaged in embezzlement. The Legislative Yuan is the nation's highest law-making body. We call upon President Wang and every member of the legislature who cares about constitutionalism and the rule of law to solemnly confront the issue of the "nine illegal fringe benefits."