ECCT seeks legislators’ review of Lobbying Act

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s new Lobbying Act, which became effective last month, may have been conceived with good intentions but may wind up less than it’s cracked up to be.

According to Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Chang Chia-chun and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Huang Sue-ying the new act has a number of grey areas and potential loopholes that may hamper its effectiveness.

Speaking at a special luncheon arranged by the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT) yesterday, the two lawmakers presented their views of the new act to some 60 ECCT members and guests. Touted as a “sunshine” bill, the Lobbing Act is ostensibly aimed at making transparent lobbying activities, the lobbying process, parties involved and to prevent bribery and corruption.

Taiwan is only the third country in the world after the United States and Canada to implement a lobbying act. Under the new law, lobbying on matters related to certain areas — such as national defense and security, foreign affairs, China policy, civil servants’ duties, or the activities of foreign governments or international non-governmental organizations in Taiwan — is now prohibited.

Furthermore, the law requires lobbyists to register and agencies that are potential targets of lobbyists to designate a special unit or official to accept the lobbyists’ registration. In addition, lobbyists and concerned agencies need to report related expenditures.

The new law also prohibits convicted criminals from lobbying, while recently retired senior government officials are prohibited from engaging in lobbying activity within five years of leaving office (or within three years if they resign from office).

Legislators are also prohibited from lobbying or commissioning lobbyists for an enterprise run by themselves or related parties or an enterprise in which they own a stake of 10 percent or more.

But there are a number of grey areas and loopholes in the law. One of the most serious is the fact that grassroots activists, permanent civil servants and legislative assistants are not required to report on their lobbying activities.

This leaves a loophole for unscrupulous influence peddlers and complicit legislators to cooperate with impunity as long as the first point of contact is through the legislative assistants. If the legislator subsequently calls in the lobbyist, it no longer falls under the regulations.

Moreover, media manipulation, assembly, demonstrations, publications and public hearings conducted by grassroots activists (since they do not need to register as lobbyists) would fall outside the parameters of the law. Another problem is that the process and results of lobbying are not regulated, leaving the door open for unscrupulous activity after the initial registration.

It is for reasons such as these that legislators Huang and Chang both agree with comments made by academics who have studied the act that a number of amendments will need to be passed to clarify grey areas and close loopholes. Chang concluded that without such amendments, the Lobbying Act as it stands is nothing more than a moral code.