Spy-catchers turn fortune-tellers as island army goes soft
Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Warming ties with the mainland and a long spell of peace have taken their toll on the discipline, morale and professionalism of the Taiwanese army, with scandal after scandal breaking out within the military.
In the latest such incident, a military security and anti-graft unit, which apparently had too little work to do, recently started offering fortune-telling services to soldiers. It is reportedly doing a roaring business.
'It is just too ridiculous, and if they really have nothing to do, the defence ministry might as well consider shutting down itself,' Lee Chun-yi shouted at a legislative meeting yesterday.
The special unit, formed four months ago to crack down on security and intelligence leaks and bribery within the military, offered the free fortune-telling services through its internal website - accessible only by soldiers. Because of its accuracy and swift responses, the website has provided more than 1,000 services since opening in December.
A military spokesman, Yu Sy-tue, said the fortune-telling service was merely one of many topics in public discussion areas for servicemen and that the officer who provided the service did not do it during office hours.
'But to avoid creating misunderstanding, we will make sure that the discussion areas only involve official businesses in the future,' he said.
The latest fiasco is just one of many blunders and scandals that have come to light since Ma Ying-jeou, of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang, became president in 2008.
The first to attract public attention was a video aired by a cable news channel in June last year which showed two soldiers clad in camouflage uniforms apparently engaged in oral sex while 40 other servicemen looked on and laughed.
Although the military later disciplined 13 members of a reserve brigade and sent four others to prosecutors for involvement in public obscenity and spreading an obscene image, sex scandals have continued unabated. Female soldiers posted revealing photos on a website in December, with one sergeant lifting her uniform to show her brassiere and two others preparing to French kiss, forcing the military to apologise to the public.
A month later, about 20 personnel, including a lieutenant colonel and an army captain, were caught by police for engaging the services of underage prostitutes.
A female officer was sexually harassed by her superiors and a naval petty officer exposed himself in a women's underwear shop. Even military police, who are supposed to discipline military personnel, were allegedly involved in a sex scandal, with a senior officer taking his cadres to a girlie bar.
Besides sex scandals, there have also been reports of corruption, including embezzlement by senior officers. Last month, military prosecutors indicted Lieutenant General Ho Yung-chien, a former head of the military police, on charges of embezzling NT$3 million (HK$738,000), and two other army colonels for helping Ho.
In September, a court sentenced Yuan Hsiao-lung, a retired lieutenant-general, to 10 years and four months in jail on charges of bribery, blackmail and leaking secrets.
In addition to scandals, the military has also been hit by a series of blunders, including warplanes failing to hit the drones and torpedoes missing their targets during military drills.
The military came under fire last month for failing to intercept a Russian bomber which entered Taiwan's airspace.
Although air force Major General Wang Hsuan-chou later explained that the bomber had only briefly entered Taiwan's airspace and had left immediately after it was warned, the incident provided a much-needed ammunition for the pro-independence camp to criticise Ma's mainland engagement policy.
'Taiwan cannot continue the Ma government's China policy, or its military would stand to lose its combat readiness,' said Lai Ching-te, a legislator from the Democratic Progressive Party.
The party has attacked Ma's engagement policy, saying it is tantamount to a 'surrender' policy, aimed at dismantling the morale and professionalism of the island's military.
'Ma's China appeasement policy only serves to crack the military's morale and professionalism,' DPP legislator Tsai Huang-liang said. 'This explains why there is such a serious lapse in discipline.'
Even KMT lawmakers have expressed their concerns over the problems within the military. 'The defence ministry must step up efforts to discipline its troops and sharpen up the morale as well as professionalism within the military, while continuing to maintain an effective defensive force,' said Shui Hua-min, a retired general.
He said such efforts were important, given that the military was adopting an elite force policy - cutting troop numbers to 215,000 by 2015, down from 350,000 in 1997.
KMT lawmaker Lin Yu-fang accused the former administration, led by the DPP's Chen Shui-bian, of corrupting the military system by tolerating senior officers bribing their superiors for promotions.
Ma ordered a clean-up campaign a year ago and military prosecutors have indicted 13 officers for alleged corruption.
Scandals, from sex to corruption, have affected the Taiwanese army
The amount Ho Yung-chien, a former head of the military police, is accused to have embezzled, in NT$: $3m