Lessons from Antonio Chiang's disgrace: The China Post

In its editorial on Aug 14, the paper says the delay in removing Taiwan's envoy to Singapore has taken a heavy toll on the image of the government.

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen speaks at a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) meeting in Taipei, Taiwan.
Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen speaks at a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) meeting in Taipei, Taiwan.PHOTO: REUTERS

Taiwan may have one of Asia's toughest drunk-driving laws, but it apparently isn't enough to deter people from getting behind the wheel after drinking.

At least it wasn't enough to deter Taiwan's envoy to Singapore Antonio Chiang from driving under the influence. 

The legal penalty for him may have been lenient — a NT$60,000 (S$2,569 ) fine plus deferred prosecution — but the case has taken a heavy toll on his political career and the image of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government.

Chiang had to resign as Taipei's representative to Singapore, shortly before his scheduled departure for the South-east Asian country to take office.

The DPP government had waited several days before making the decision to axe Chiang in an apparent attempt to wait for the controversy to die down and keep him in the job.

We can understand the rationale behind the attempt; after all, it is not easy to find a candidate to fill one of Taiwan's key diplomatic posts, or any key government posts. Any last-minute change would disrupt the DPP administration's personnel arrangements and would also damage its image and credibility.

But the DPP administration made a poor judgment in this case, miscalculating the impact of the controversy. The delay in taking an unavoidable action did more damage.

The tough drunk-driving law was introduced three years ago to show the government's determination to curb driving under the influence (DUI) — which sadly has remained one of the major causes of traffic accidents in Taiwan.

By trying to extend protection to Chiang, the government was sending out the wrong message, seemingly telling the nation that DUI drivers might not have to face the grave consequences as expected.

We are not saying that DUI drivers cannot be forgiven; the prosecutors have already shown Chiang leniency over his first DUI offense, on the grounds that he did not cause an accident. He was pulled over by police during a routine inspection.

But the government should have acted swiftly to ax him, showing the nation that it was serious about tackling one of the country's major traffic problems. Its inaction, indecisiveness and lack of sensitivity to public opinion has fueled skepticism about President Tsai Ing-wen's leadership.

Chiang may have the experience and tact to serve the country in the Singapore post, but the nation simply cannot trust a person who neglected the legal, political and social consequences of an act that he might have considered inconsequential. 

No one is perfect, but as a veteran journalist, a well-known political commentator, and a former secretary-general of the National Security Council, Chiang should have had the political wisdom, social awareness and moral capacity to understand the implications and consequences of drunk-driving.

Chiang may have the political wisdom, social awareness and moral capacity to handle many other issues, but apparently he did not have them for responsible driving.

For Chiang and many other drivers in Taiwan, the tough drunk-driving law — which could put a driver in prison for 10 years if the DUI case causes deaths — has not driven home the message.

The political hype surrounding Chiang's case should not blur the focus. The drunk-driving law is not about politics; it's about protecting lives.

The law is meant to prevent tragedies from happening to drivers, passengers and any other people on the streets. 

Some criminal laws mainly seek to protect the victims and punish the offenders (such as the theft law), but the drunk-driving law is meant to be a pre-emptive measure to protect both parties by deterring would-be drunk drivers.

The message of the law is clear and simple for anyone to understand. But it seems many drivers simply refuse to heed the message.

In the statement announcing his resignation, Chiang said he was sorry and could blame no one else but himself. He apologised for creating trouble for the government. Chiang may have learned the lesson from a political perspective and may never drink and drive again. 

But we wonder whether he really understands the message of the drunk-driving law.

The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.