Shining a light on graft in Taiwan
The so-called Sunshine Acts has been part of Taiwan's legal system since 1993 - laws aimed at stemming government corruption. But they were so loosely enforced that Taiwan has been mocked as the 'island of graft'.
President Ma Ying-jeou, the leader of the Kuomintang who is dubbed 'Mr Clean', pledged to tackle graft when he took office in 2008. He succeeded so well that his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, president from 2000 to 2008, is now serving a 17 1/2 year jail sentence for graft.
Transparency International, a global anti-corruption group based in Germany, rates Taiwan as the 32nd-least corrupt of 182 nations - or No 6 in Asia.
The ranking, released in December, is Taiwan's best in 17 years, thanks to Ma's anti-graft efforts - especially his insistence on the strict enforcement of the Sunshine Acts.
Analysts say these laws, based on the principle of transparency, enabled the judiciary to convict Chen. Under the acts, any government official above the level of township chief - including the president - must declare all their assets, in Taiwan and overseas, annually. That includes senior military officers, judges and even presidential advisers. The same goes for their spouses and dependants, so as to prevent anyone from hiding illegal assets in a relative's bank account.
The laws were crucial in Chen's prosecution, analysts say. They enabled judicial officials to discover that Chen held extensive assets abroad that he failed to declare. The Control Yuan, a government watchdog, keeps track of the assets of officials and their families - including personal savings, shares, jewellery, paintings, antiques and other valuables. Officials must provide an explanation if their assets have ballooned abnormally in the previous year. Failure to declare assets or failure to account for abnormal asset growth can lead to a maximum three-year jail term and a fine of up to NT$4 million (HK$1.05 million).
In addition, government officials - from the president to mayors and magistrates, as well as their family members - must place their assets in trust.
Members of the public can apply to the Control Yuan to check the assets declared by any officials and report on any discrepancies that they've found.
Wang Wei-che, a pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker, recently accused Ma of failing to declare a high-value painting among his assets. It followed a claim by a television shopping channel that Ma has a collection similar to what it was selling.
In response, Ma's office said he did not possess any such paintings and that the claim was merely a sales gimmick.
To make the Sunshine Acts more effective, the parliament has been adding a number of amendments over the years.
They are aimed at curbing conflicts of interest, money laundering, control over lobbyists, the governance of ethical conduct, and a requirement that all political donations must be declared to the Control Yuan.
More recently, Ma raised the profile of his clean-government campaign even further by establishing an anti-graft agency.
'Overall, the legislation of these acts and their enforcements are rather effective in helping to curb corruption in Taiwan,' said Chen Chao-chien, professor of public affairs at Ming Chuan University.
Chen Shui-bian was convicted of embezzlement, bribery and money laundering involving this much, in US dollars, while he was Taiwan's president