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Monday, August 5, 2013

The good, the bad and the corrupt-ish

Taiwan Is Angry But Is It Also Corrupt?
Proudly democratic Taiwan with the world’s 26th largest economy is demanding that the graft-detection group Transparency International do a recount after placing it on the NGO's corruption list. It has also sent the Berlin-based NGO two letters of protest. But Transparency International, which calls its barometer the biggest ever survey on global public opinion on corruption, says it stands by its findings and has no plans to scrap or redo its research on graft in Taiwan.

The standoff between Taiwan and Transparency International leaves open the question of how corrupt this global exporter in the West Pacific really is. Public records laws let the public see a lot of government in action. The news media have ample freedom. No one is charging the government with systematically stealing wads of public money to spend on itself. Taiwan’s leaders are no African kleptocrats.

At the same time, despite the liberal democratic reforms put in motion since martial law was lifted in 1987, Taiwan is hardly free of corruption. Based on local news reports and discussions with lawyers, it’s safe to call payoffs and unholy alliances core part of government business. Government procurement is considered shady. And it’s widely suspected that contractors pay officials under the table and that some don’t even need contracts.

Some projects are so “off the wall” that the public must imagine a hidden financial motive, says Robin Winkler, who founded his Taipei-based law firm in 2002. He says lawmakers may also raise construction bid prices to get more from themselves and others in their camp.

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