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Facebook remarks land official in hot water

TAIPEI -- Premier Sean Chen said yesterday that he will ask the agency responsible for civil servants to investigate if a health official's posting of controversial remarks on Facebook violated the Public Functionary Service Act.

At issue was a Facebook post by Shih Wen-yi (施文儀), the deputy director general of the Centers for Disease Control, who contended that the United States did not grant Taiwan true visa-free privileges because Taiwanese still had to register online.

In fact, citizens of all countries admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, including Taiwan, must apply online for an electronic travel authorization and pay a US$14 fee before traveling to the United States for business or pleasure.

Shih also expressed opposition to allowing Chinese students into Taiwan's national health insurance program by writing that foreigners have not paid even a penny in taxes and therefore are very different from the national citizens covered by the program.

“I've asked the Directorate-General of Personnel Administration to study whether such remarks have violated the Public Functionary Service Act,” the premier said.

Chen said that everyone is entitled to freedom of speech but that a review is needed to see if Shih, as a civil servant, made remarks that were not directly related to his duties.

Embroiled in controversy, Shih decided to close his Facebook account Thursday, saying that he didn't want to cause any inconvenience for his superiors or his team.

Huang Fu-yuan, personnel head of the Directorate-General of Personnel Administration, said the administration will consider Shih's rights and civil servant ethics in investigating Shih's posts.

The Department of Health, which supervises the Centers for Disease Control, said Friday that it supported the government's policy and expressed the hope that department personnel will be more cautious when they speak publicly.

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