The Asian Voice

Boosting China-Taiwan ties, anti-corruption in Indonesia and wealth distribution in the Philippines

Commentaries and insights from newspapers from the Asia News Network (ANN).

1. New travel rule to boost cross-Straits ties
The new permit policy for people from Taiwan is a milestone in ties between the two

By Li Zhenguang 
China Daily/ANN

Two copies of entry permits for Taiwanese issued by China's Public Security Ministry. PHOTO: EPA

The Chinese mainland will remove the entry permit requirements for Taiwan residents from today. This means Taiwan residents won't have to apply for a visa-like entry permit to visit the mainland; only a travel pass will do.

The policy revision will also ease the document requirements for Taiwan residents applying for a travel pass, providing them with a new type of pass which would be valid for three months. Taibaozheng, an identification document that carries the entry permits for Taiwan compatriots, will now be made into a card for self-entry service through designated airports and ports.

Aimed at making the exchange of personnel between the two sides of the Straits easier, the new permit-free policy is already seen as a milestone in the mainland's efforts to deepen cross-Straits relations, which is undergoing crucial changes at present.

Indeed, the two sides have experienced unprecedented peace and economic integration over the past seven years. But some worrying trends have also been seen, with the stalled commodity trade agreement and anti-service trade agreement movement in Taiwan, and the ruling Kuomintang Party's defeat in the island's biggest local elections last year being examples.

Coming six months before Taiwan's 2016 leadership election, the favorable entry-permit policy for Taiwan residents that is expected to boost cross-Straits exchanges shows the mainland's determination to safeguard the hard-won cross-Straits stability.

The favourable policy is expected to prompt more Taiwan residents to visit the mainland more frequently. Taiwan residents reportedly made more than 10 million trips to the mainland in 2014, reflecting the importance of easier entry regulations. Therefore, it is highly likely that the new policy will inspire more Taiwan compatriots, including youngsters and irregular visitors, to choose the mainland as a major sightseeing and holiday destination, and even for economic, cultural, and academic exchanges.

The simplified procedure for entering the mainland will benefit the taibaozheng holders, who can easily travel to their destinations so long as their documents are valid. Earlier, they were required to apply for a visa-like entry permit to visit the mainland that cost 100 yuan ($16), which despite being a small amount might have created a sense of distance among many applicants. But from this month, they no longer have to do so.

Moreover, the permit-free travel facility conforms to modern travel norms. On one hand, it recognises and adapts to the global permit-free trend to boost people-to-people exchanges. On the other, it honours modern governance by making taibaozheng an integral part of a card.

Being convenient, identification cards have played an indispensable role in managing the flow of people in the age of information. The new taibaozheng, therefore, will not only make it easier for Taiwan compatriots to stay and work in the mainland, but also enable them to get temporary residence permits more easily if the process is bonded with the mainland's ID system.

And in the long run, the mainland's attempt to improve cross-Straits personnel exchanges will inject vigor into the ongoing integration process between the two sides.

The author is a professor at the Institute of Taiwan Studies of Beijing Union University.

2. A better anti-corruption agency in Indonesia ? Let's see 
The anti-corruption agency will need to be insulated from political interference to allow it to deliver 

Hendi Yogi Prabowo
The Jakarta Post/ANN 

Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigator Novel Baswedan, who was detained by the police over his role in the deadly shooting of a thief more than a decade ago. PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST

While waiting for the new commissioners to be selected, the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is facing a new challenge as the House of Representatives have officially proposed a revision of KPK Law No. 30/2002. According to the House, the amendment is nothing more than part of the efforts to strengthen the country’s anti-corruption agency. 

Opposition has loomed against the initiative for fear that it will only weaken KPK as it will strip it off its powers in uncovering corrupt acts in Indonesia. On the other hand, a number of anti-corruption scholars are willing to give the revision a chance so long as it actually strengthens the commission. 

Without debating the motives behind the House’s move, the most crucial issue, however, is what strengthening the KPK truly means.

Every anti-corruption agency (ACA) in the world is essentially a demonstration of its government’s commitment to addressing corruption. Nevertheless, many experts still believe that the creation of an ACA is by no means a panacea to eliminate corruption. 

In fact, despite the success of Singapore and Hong Kong, as far as worldwide experience is concerned, there are only a few examples of successful ACAs on the planet.

Generally, an anti-corruption agency comes with a mission of combating corruption and instilling anti-corruption norms and culture in the society. 

Hong Kong’s Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), for example, is often regarded as one of the most successful anti-graft agencies in the world for its achievements in investigating and prosecuting corrupt senior officials as well as changing the society’s ethical climate by means of education, outreach and empowerment of citizens in monitoring and detecting corrupt practices. ICAC is also seen as successful in changing the moral tone of a once-corrupt government. 

Among the lessons that can be learned from successful (and failed) anti-corruption agencies is that an ACA’s success can only be attained when the supporting environment (e.g. functioning courts and a free press) and appropriate background conditions (e.g. political and economic stability and protection for anti-graft supporters) are in place and maintained. 

Many experts also believe that an anti-graft agency must be free from political interference with a clear reporting hierarchy that is under close supervision by an independent oversight committee. An important part of the process in achieving an ACA’s mission is the detection and prosecution of corruption and its offenders. 

However, in practice, due to the nature of corruption and its environment, unlike other inquiry processes, uncovering corruption cases requires a special approach by a special group of people. 

However, many have misunderstood the whole process of corruption investigation as identical to a company’s day to day activities (e.g. conducting data collection and analysis for market research). 

For example, many would say that the corruption investigation process should be fully transparent right from the start so that everybody knows everything about the whole process to ensure that at the end of the day all of its objectives are met. Well, that is just nonsense. 

First of all, unlike any other inquiries, corruption investigation is carried out within a highly adversarial environment, especially within a country where corruption has been part of the so-called “societal schemata”. The word “adversarial” simply means that many would love to see the investigators fail to perform their duties and some will actually do anything to ensure their failure. 

Due to the sensitive nature of the investigation, a proper “predication” needs to precede any corruption investigation. This includes gathering sufficient preliminary evidence on corruption allegations, which requires access to various sources of information prior to the commencement of the process. 

Even within this early stage of investigation, the pressure from the adversarial environment will be felt by the investigators, which will require them to employ special procedures to minimize the risks. Such pressure will only mount as the investigation progresses up to the point where personal safety may become an issue. 

This is part of the reason that secrecy is a key to the success of any corruption investigation, which ideally must be maintained from the start to the end, or at least until all the required evidence is gathered. 

However, the public will demand an anti-corruption agency inform them about the progress of the ongoing investigations particularly in high profile corruption cases.  This is where the agency needs to carefully select what information should best be kept secret and what should be open to public consumption for the sake of the investigation. 

During evidence gathering, especially after suspects have been named and the public begins to guess who is next, all eyes will be on the investigators and this is where things get (really) tricky. 

Unconventional means of evidence gathering may need to be employed to unearth the otherwise untouchable evidence. At this stage, the use of surveillance, such as wiretapping, could be among the very few options available for completing the evidence gathering process. 

As often mentioned in the media, KPK’s wiretapping power has sparked criticisms among some politicians for reasons such as privacy infringements. 

As far as crime investigation is concerned, surveillance programs have always been controversial anywhere in the world in particular due to the development of technology, which makes such activities easier (and cheaper) to perform. 

Nevertheless, many technology experts believe that there are over 30 important issues that can be used to challenge the use of surveillance by law enforcement institutions including anticorruption agencies, which fall into three major categories. 

The first category is means (e.g. the possibility that the technique and device used will harm the subject physically and psychologically and the possibility that the technique and device used will produce invalid results). 

The second category is the data collection process (e.g. the possibility of negative effects on those beyond the subject and the subject’s consent to the collection process). 

And the third category relates to the usage of the results (e.g. the legitimacy of data collection goals and the clarity of the link between the collected data and the predetermined goal). 

Despite the legal justification, as an institution that uses surveillance in its line of work, the KPK must be able to address all the critical issues related to its wiretapping activities. 

Should the commission lose its right to conduct surveillance it will no longer able to create the “surprise element” to maintain the natural setting (e.g. integrity of evidence) of the audited parties.

In conclusion, the KPK is unique in its missions and the way it achieves its objectives. Strengthening the KPK means we first need to understand its uniqueness that sets it apart from other agencies. 

With regard to the amendment of the KPK law, strengthening the KPK means, among others things, providing legal instruments to support it carrying out proper investigative procedures, including, but not limited to, the secrecy of the evidence gathering process, a wider access to sources of data and information and independent and capable investigators. Freedom from political intervention and protection for its staff is also of critical importance.
The writer, the director of the Centre for Forensic Accounting Studies at the Islamic University of Indonesia, Yogyakarta, is currently an Endeavour research fellow at the University of Wollongong Australia.

3. Unprecedented opulence and remarkable deprivation 
Governance is critical to ensuring equitable distribution of wealth 

By: Christopher Ryan Maboloc
Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (right) greets Queen Maxima of The Netherlands, during her courtesy call at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines, on June 30, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

The failure of any nation is sometimes attributed to the inability of its institutions to deliver the ends of development that people expect from their leaders. The system of governance is critical in the equitable distribution of national wealth. But the ultimate question remains: Why should people value their freedom?

Freedom, according to Amartya Sen, is that capacity to achieve something and become what we desire ourselves to be. Development, in this sense, depends on people and the choices that they make. Right now, Sen says that while “we live in a world of unprecedented opulence,” we also “live in a world of remarkable deprivation, destitution and oppression.”

Why is Philippine democracy weak? Scholars often point to the apparent weakness of Philippine institutions. In A Theory Of Justice, John Rawls writes that “justice is the first virtue of the institution, as truth is in systems of thought”. But when is a society just? The Rawlsian sense of justice tells us that justice is meant to favor those who are unfortunate in the natural lottery. This means that just schemes of social cooperation are intended to benefit those who have the least in society. This should not mean, however, that any individual should sacrifice oneself for the sake of equality.

Right now, we are at a crucial juncture in terms of charting our future as a nation. Under the Aquino administration, the gross domestic product growth rates are 7.6 per cent for 2010, 3.7 per cent for 2011, 6.8 per cent for 2012, 7.2 per cent for 2013, and 6.1 per cent for 2014. The jobless rate for 2013 was 7.5 per cent, which translates to some 2.96 million unemployed Filipinos. Thus, the common criticism against any administration is that economic growth has not been inclusive, which means that the wealth created by the economy has not trickled down to the household. The evidence cited for this is that the poverty incidence, including hunger, has not actually eased.

There is truth to the claim that economic opportunities in the country are still non-inclusive. Apparently, this means that there is lack of equitability in terms of income distribution. David Crocker has argued that issues pertaining to the informational basis of equality should also consider what capabilities are for. This means that it is no longer enough to make education equally accessible to all, but, rather, it must also be asked what sort of capacities are crucial in order to advance human development. 

While parents may have spent a lifetime of savings in order to send an eldest child to college, their hope is often shattered when that child is unable to find any gainful employment.

We can look into the agriculture sector as a matter of example. We probably have the poorest farmers in the world. Agriculture is very important because the survival of more than a hundred million Filipinos depends on it. The International Rice Research Institute plays an instrumental role in terms of improving rice variety, but our problem is not only limited to the development of a science of sustainable agriculture, but also in the inability of our poor farmers to optimise their earning potential. The reason for this is that unscrupulous middle men, who offer nefarious financing schemes, take advantage of our farmers’ lack of marketing knowledge.

Ultimately, the inability of the bureaucracy to expand the services that any government is mandated to provide is not only a problem of structure. Personal interest, bad attitude and the lack of moral motive also contribute to the weakening of the bureaucracy. While growth and equity are two things that laws, rules and policies are expected to secure, the cultural dimension of the problem cannot be put aside. For instance, the prejudice against graduates of province-based schools or ethnic minorities is oppressive.

Economic injustice is often equated with the lack of income. The lack of income is generally attributed to the absence of available jobs. Some welfare states in Western Europe have unemployment rates of more than 10 per cent. Italy has 12.4 per cent, and France has 10.5 per cent, respectively. But Sen sees this double-digit unemployment tolerable. The reason is the presence of protective security in terms of government support to the unemployed. In stark contrast, during the rice crisis of 2008, the Philippine government subsidised the importation of rice to the tune of billions of pesos. Instead of our farmers being supported, traders and importers benefited from the shortage.

People in the margins are impoverished not only because of the absence of basic government services. The real culprit is their lack of empowerment. The poor are often blamed for electing useless and corrupt public officials. This perspective is insensitive and ignorant. In truth, poor and helpless voters are systematically exploited by dynasts and patronage politics. The lack of opportunities in the many rural areas simply forces them to be overly dependent on local tyrants and feudal lords.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.