Who's afraid of the Control Yuan?

Monday, September 14, 2009
By Joe Hung, Special to The China Post

There was no separation of powers in imperial China. The emperor was the law-giver, supreme enforcer of laws and head of government. Most of the emperors had their prime ministers who were charged with the governance of the empire, and from time to time, poor or corrupt administrations gave rise to complaints from among the discontented or oppressed subjects that, more often than not, never reached the imperial court. In time, an office of imperial censors and remonstrators was created to hear and investigate the complaints. They would recommend punishment after they found officials at any level, including prime ministers, derelict of duty. Punishment, including the death penalty, would be meted out with the approval of the emperor. Government officials who did not do their duty feared imperial censors and remonstrators, many of them men of probity.

That was the reason why Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Chinese republic, made five separate powers in the constitution he wished to write for modern China. In particular, he wanted the power of control to carry on the work of imperial censors and remonstrators. The five-power constitution was adopted by the National Assembly on Dec. 25, 1946. The Constitution of the Republic of China, which he founded, was promulgated on Jan. 1, 1957 and went into force on December 25 of the same year. That constitution, with amendments, is in force in Taiwan.

The Control Yuan, according to the Constitution as amended, is still the highest control organ of the country and exercises the powers of impeachment, censure and auditing. It was entrusted with the power of consent or confirmation over the appointments of the president and vice president of the Judicial Yuan and grand justices. That power was handed over to the Legislative Yuan or Parliament. Members of the Control Yuan are now responsible for hearing and investigating complaints from among the people, proposing corrective measures and forwarding them to the Executive Yuan, or the Cabinet, and its agencies, and directing their attention to effecting improvements. Of course, the ombudsmen may start investigation on their own accord to ascertain whether or note any public functionaries are guilty of violation of law or neglect of duty. Before the constitutional amendment, they might impeach all public office holders, including the president and vice president of the republic. They still can, save the head of state and his deputy. Their power of auditing is exercised by the auditor-general, who heads the Ministry of Auditing.

Constitutional amendments de-fanged the Control Yuan. Now, ombudsmen can just propose corrective measures and forward them to the government agencies that are found derelict of duty or in violation of laws. If no corrective measures are taken, they may institute an impeachment. When an impeachment is adopted, it has to be referred to the Commission on the Discipline of Public Functionaries under the Judicial Yuan. The commission shall hear the other side of the story and decide to discipline the errant public office holders. It may fire or demote those who it rules are derelict of duty. But no disciplinary action can be taken if those to be punished are already retired. In case officials are found in violation of laws, ombudsmen can refer them to a court of law.

President Chen Shui-bian purposely made the toothless Control Yuan cease to function by refusing to nominate all its members again, after his first list of nominees had been turned down by the Legislative Yuan mandated by the Constitution to exercise the power of consent or confirmation of the nomination. The watchdog body started functioning again after remaining idle for two years on confirmation by the Kuomintang-dominated legislature of its 29 members by President Ma Ying-jeou at the end of the last summer.

Wang Chien-hsien, president of the Control Yuan, calls his ombudsmen “tigers wearing dentures,” pledging his honor to carry on the duties of an imperial censor the best he could. He seems unaware of his limits and those of his staff. They all know the Control Yuan impeached President Chiang Kai-shek's premier O.K. Oui in 1954. Oui was fired and succeeded by C.K. Yen, who was elected vice president in 1972 and succeeded Chiang as an accidental president two years later.

Probably with that successful impeachment in mind and seeing how the worst flood disaster of August 8 wreaked havoc, Wang hastily organized a working group consisting of 20 of his 28 ombudsmen to call all errant officials to account. There can be little doubt all those responsible can be singled out; and the government agencies they serve, including the Ministry of National Defense, will be told to take corrective measures. Wang, who even said President Ma Ying-jeou may be questioned, proclaimed these agencies would be impeached if they did not take those measures. “We'll continue to impeach them,” he said, “until they do what we want them to do.”

Wang went a bit too far. Ma cannot be impeached by the Control Yuan, but only by the Legislative Yuan.

Earlier, however, Wang promised to impeach Premier Liu Chao-shiuan if the law-enforcement authorities could not put a halt to rampant fraud. Rightfully irate over the police impotence to curb fraud, swindles, con games, impostures and all other scams, Wang declared he will impeach the nation's chief of police, then the minister of the interior and then the premier, until the runaway fraudulence was rooted out. Liu has already stepped down. Wu Den-yih has taken his place. Will our top ombudsman ask Wu to bow out if all the scams cannot be prevented in a year or so. If fraudulence isn't halted, Will Wu's successor and the successor's successor be impeached and forced to leave office?

That, of course, may not happen because Wang won't be the chief ombudsman for that long.

A man of proven probity, Wang was popularly referred to as the Saint, when President Ma named him to the job of chief ombudsman. He perhaps forgot he isn't an imperial censor. He is more like an ombudsman in the United Kingdom or Australia, whose job is to resolve complaints and foster good government administration. Worse still, he may lack common knowledge that scams are the most cost-effective crime — ten times more lucrative than robbery but as many times less severely punished when offenders get caught — which can never be stamped out in any modern society.

The threats sound hollow. Any official, if he knows he is going to be fired or demoted, will ask for an early retirement to enjoy his pension. No harm will then come to him. The fact is that nobody is afraid of the Control Yuan any more.

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