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Revisions boosting Legislature's investigative powers pass 2nd reading

05/24/2024 08:11 PM
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CNA photo May 24, 2024
CNA photo May 24, 2024

Taipei, May 24 (CNA) A package of amendments to the Law Governing the Legislature's Power that would strengthen the body's investigative powers passed a second reading Friday, moving them one step closer to becoming law.

The amendments would grant the Legislative Yuan formal "investigative powers," in contrast to the existing law, which simply stipulates that lawmakers have the right to ask for documents from government agencies.

Their second readings were completed by around 4 p.m. amid ongoing strife on the legislative floor after resuming from Tuesday's session.

The amendments related to investigative powers that passed second readings Friday were all part of a chapter within the law titled "Exercise of Investigative Power," itself an amended chapter title.

One of the amendments passed dealt with how to handle information obtained during an investigation and what information should be kept confidential.

It said staffers involved in investigations are responsible for keeping all information confidential before investigative reports are completed.

Also, information that involves foreign or national defense matters, or information that according to existing law should be kept out of the public eye, shall be kept secret, according to the amendments that passed their second readings Friday.

Another amendment that made it through a second reading in the day was that those questioned during an investigation can be accompanied by a lawyer or other professionals when necessary and with the approval of the investigation committee chairperson. 

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Other amendments related to the Legislature's investigative powers passed their second readings on May 21.

These include that an investigation committee or task force can be set up and can request "government agencies, the military, legal persons, associations, or related individuals" to provide documents within five days.

Legal persons, associations, and related individuals refusing to provide, delay in providing, or conceal related information when asked can be fined between NT$10,000 (US$310) and NT$100,000 if approved by a legislative resolution.

In addition, cases involving public officials and government agencies that violate information disclosure requirements can be sent to the Control Yuan for corrective disciplines or impeachment.

Also, the composition of the investigation committee or task force is proportionate to each party's seats in the Legislature, and the committee/task force can ask questions of people testifying with the presence of one-third of its members.

Another amendment described the tone in which questions should be asked and the rights of people being questioned.

It said questioning should not be done in a forceful, intimidating or other way that would leave the person being questioned feeling psychologically coerced.

The people being questioned shall provide testimony under oath and are required to tell the truth and not conceal or embellish information, add misleading statements or omit information, the amendment said.

They shall also be told of the mission of the committee/task force and be informed of their right to refuse to testify after providing an explanation in accordance with the existing Administrative Litigation Act.

Strife on legislative floor goes on

At Friday's meeting of the full Legislature, Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers, who along with lawmakers from the Taiwan People's Party (TPP), are backing the amendments, held posters and banners saying that with the checks and balances promised by the reform bills, "fraud and corruption cases can be exposed."

Another banner read "solar power plants, egg [shortages and imports], rapid test kits, vaccines," pointing to areas where the KMT believes there was fraudulent behavior and a lack of transparency by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) from 2016 to 2024, when it controlled both the executive and legislative branches.

In Taiwan's 2024 presidential and legislative elections, the DPP kept the presidency and executive branch of government, but lost its absolute majority in the 113-seat Legislature.

The KMT now has 52 seats in the body, the DPP has 51, and the TPP eight, and there are two independents aligned with the KMT.

The DPP on the other hand held banners saying "no discussion, no democracy," and asking for the bills to be returned to the committee to be substantively reviewed.

The DPP has accused the KMT and the TPP of not allowing the bills to undergo substantive deliberation in committee before they were sent to the floor for floor votes, while the KMT and the TPP said the proper procedures were followed.

Several of its lawmakers have also questioned some of the provisions in the amendments that have passed second readings to date, citing comments by KMT Legislator Wu Tsung-hsien (吳宗憲) remarks at a press conference for international media Thursday.

One clause said officials being questioned at regular legislative hearings cannot engage in "reverse questioning," without explaining what that meant.

When Wu was asked about the term, he said "reverse questioning" was if an official did not answer a question asked but instead asked back "what are you asking about?"

He then said the party would "explain it to the public after the law is passed," which has drawn heavy criticism from the DPP, saying that answer was the definition of a lack of transparency.

According to legislative procedures, all three caucuses have the chance to comment on each proposed amendment, in what is called a "discussion" session.

Throughout the meetings of the full Legislature that have been held since May 17, only lawmakers of the DPP have registered to speak, but the number was restricted to one for each amendment, after which the "discussion" would be brought to an end by a vote.

(By Alison Hsiao)

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