ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Taiwan's academia rocked by false claims scandal
Publication Date : 20-01-2013
Over 30 professors, several from some of Taiwan's most elite universities, are accused of using fake receipts to obtain reimbursements in a scandal that may implicate more than 100 academics islandwide.
It has ignited a debate on whether stringent rules on expenditure, like having to sign off on packed lunches, are forcing cash-strapped and time- starved academics to cut corners.
The scandal broke earlier this month when prosecutors in central Changhua county indicted 12 professors, associate professors and research assistants from National Chung Hsing University, National Yang Ming University, National Defence Medical Centre and National Taichung University of Education for forgery or corruption.
Then, last week, investigators referred 21 professors and staff members from the elite National Taiwan University, National Chengchi University and National Taiwan Normal University to the Taipei prosecutor's office for possible indictment.
The professors allegedly used false receipts from two suppliers, Kuo Yang Scientific Corp and LiMing Instruments Co, to claim reimbursements of between NT$50,000 (US$1,725.50) and NT$500,000 from their respective schools, the education ministry and the National Science Council (NSC) from 2008 to 2010 for approved research projects.
In some cases, the academics are accused of submitting receipts for the purchase of supplies which do not tally with what they actually bought.
In others, the two suppliers are accused of inflating prices of their goods in tenders and giving the surplus to the professors. Sources cited by local media said some of the money was used to buy items such as bicycles, TV sets and gift vouchers.
But most of the professors insisted they used the money on research supplies such as experimental equipment and printing paper. The probe is ongoing and may implicate more than 100 academics linked to accounts seized by investigators.
The scandal has rocked Taiwan's academia. Several officials and politicians suggested the legal system was outmoded and unnecessarily draconian.
Education Minister Chiang Wei-ling, NSC head Cyrus Chu and Professor Wong Chi-huey, president of top research institute Academia Sinica, issued a statement saying the indictments would not only cripple scholars' morale but also "result in misperception in international circles that corruption is pervasive in Taiwanese academia".
They said the staff should be charged if they kept the money for personal use but it would be harsh to prosecute those who spent it on research.
Opposition leader Frank Hsieh said: "If only a few people were involved, then it would be a legal problem. If many people are involved, and all of them highly educated, then perhaps it's a problem with the system or procedure."
Two students who worked as research assistants for a National Taiwan University professor told local media the professor won a grant in January last year but the funds were not released until March.
"All our spending prior to March had to be reimbursed with the use of false invoices," said one.
But some argue that rules should be observed. Apple Daily reader Mark Liu wrote: "If the professors are let off instead of being brought to justice, where's the principle of equality under the law?"
The authorities are tweaking the funding system. The NSC said it has loosened regulations since August to give researchers more flexibility. The Education Ministry now allows researchers to claim for items such as gift vouchers for survey participants. The new rules, however, do not apply retroactively.