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June 27, 2017

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Instead of killing it, give the watchdog back its bite

Even though he is known for his mouthiness, when the head of the Control Yuan, Wang Chien-shien, publicly advocated for the end of the government branch he presides over, it calls for attention.

Wang was criticizing the Control Yuan for being worse than useless after it failed to impeach Keelung Mayor Chang Tung-rung, who was convicted of using undue influence to facilitate the release without charge of a woman who struck a police officer during a drunk-driving bust. The Control Yuan has become a place for people who were given an official position as a political favor, Wang said. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Republic of China, would be spinning in his grave if he saw "what posterity has turned the Control Yuan into," he added.

Theoretically, the Control Yuan is a powerful branch with the authority to censure and impeach public officials as well as to audit government budgets and more. The idea of the Control Yuan was created by Sun based in part on the censure branches in Chinese dynasties. At a time when the spread of information was too slow for the rulers of a vast Chinese empire to learn about daily events or government proficiencies in different provinces, censure officials provided the much-needed service of "touring the realm for the emperor" (代天巡狩). Imperial censurers were also, in better times, the few officials who could give tough suggestions, even criticism, to the emperor. However, in a small country such as Taiwan and in a democratic society in the Internet age, the merit of such officials is much more limited.

Still, the Control Yuan, under Sun's ideals, can be an organization for good. Government officials' sleaziness has long drawn the ire of the public. The modern representative democratic system often fails to address that problem. First of all, politicians can often be sleazy themselves and modern, expensive campaigns almost guarantee the dominance of money in politics. In any case, the change of administrations often does little to alter the bureaucratic machine that operates under it. Government budgets, drafted by elected officials and their appointed ministers then approved by elected lawmakers, can also be abused and used for political gain. If given the true power to censure and audit, the Control Yuan could be a much-needed check on governmental sleaziness.

The branch, however, has never been fully given that power. The Control Yuan itself was not established until two decades after the founding of the R.O.C. Before the democratic reforms of the 1980s, the executive branch yielded most of the power. The Control Yuan's power to censure and impeach government officials was mostly symbolic. Even in that age of authoritarianism, however, the Control Yuan was at least able to stand up to the executive branch. In the case of the alleged coup plot of General Sun Li-jen (孫立人) in 1955, the Control Yuan launched an investigation and concluded that the allegations were unfounded, greatly contradicting the position of the Presidential Office. Its finding was so controversial for the executive branch that it was classified until 2001. Two years later in 1957, the Control Yuan impeached Premier Yu Hung-Chun (俞鴻鈞) for refusing its subpoena to discuss the Executive Yuan's failure to respond to corrective measures concerning the benefits handed to public servants, teachers and servicemen. While in the end Yu was given the much milder punishment of a formal warning, the event greatly damaged his prestige and he resigned one year later.

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