The Control Yuan

April 21, 1995

A unique feature of the R.O.C. Constitution that distinguishes it from other democratic constitutions is the provision for a special branch of the government to watch over politicians and bureaucrats. This is the Control Yuan. The Control Yuan has the power of "consent, impeachment, censure and auditing." Ultimately this means that it has the power, by itself, to direct the Executive Yuan to remove any elected and appointed public official from office, including the President of the R.O.C. and other members of the Control Yuan. Members of the Yuan serve terms of six years. In the original 1947 constitution and the amended 1991 version, the members of this body were freely elected, mostly from separate voting districts. The original intent seems to have been to create an independently-elected watchdog group with teeth. It was given the power to look at all government documents, to question all officials, and to impeach if it believed there was neglect of duty or violation of law. If it believed that a law was violated, it had the obligation to turn over its findings to a court of law.

The constitution specifies the procedures that must be followed for an impeachment. First, a nine-member committee must approve a suggestion for impeachment. Then, a majority of the committee must vote for the impeachment. Note that only a simple majority is required. Suppose that an R.O.C. President is elected by, say, a 70% majority. If a simple majority of the Control Yuan decided that the President had neglected his (her) duties, they could remove him (her) from office.

As I said, according to the early constitution, all the members of the Control Yuan were popularly elected. Thus, even though the Yuan was designed to have enormous power, the power was ultimately in the hands of the people. If the people believed that the Yuan abused its power, they could vote the rascals out of office at the next six-year election. Due to the 40-year emergency, of course, this was impossible. And due to the KMT control over the government since 1988, the Control Yuan has not achieved the independent status it was apparently intended to have.

In 1992, the National Assembly changed the structure of the Control Yuan. First it reduced the membership from 52 to 29. Then it gave the R.O.C. President the power to appoint all 29 members, subject to the approval of -- you guessed it -- the National Assembly. Finally, although it continued the Control Yuan's six-year terms, it changed the terms of the President and Legislature to four years. 

The current situation is strange indeed. The R.O.C. President makes a six year appointment of the only people who have the power to impeach. Although the constitution does not specify this, one would suppose that the President has the power to remove any appointee. If this is so, he (she) could presumably remove any member who threatened him (her) with impeachment. But suppose that the President does not have the power to remove Control Yuan members. Their term of office is six years while the President's is four. Suppose that by some odd chance, a member of the DPP or New Party is elected President in 1996. He (she) would presumably begin the term by appointing a new cabinet and other heads of Yuans and government agencies. But then the Control Yuan, appointed by the previous President, could start an impeachment proceeding that would remove the new President and the appointees from office. This is not likely to happen in 1996. But constitutions should be designed to avoid such an explosive possibility.

Of course, the most serious problem with a President-appointed Control Yuan that has independent impeachment powers is the prospect that the Yuan will impeach politicians and bureaucrats who the President does not like. The constitution contains a clause that says that members should be non-partisan. But it is rather naive to expect non-partisanship from political appointees who can only be removed by their own majority vote (and possibly by the President).

Some people think that the solution is to abolish the Control Yuan. In my view, impeachment in a democracy should conform to the following principles. First, no non-elected body should have the authority to impeach. Second, if an elected body is given the authority to impeach, it should only have the power to impeach the highest officials. Of course, the highest officials should be held responsible for neglect of duty or corruption by their subordinates. Third, impeachment should require a supra-majority -- say a two-thirds vote. Fourth, the independence of members of the elected body should be assured by electing them for life terms. (A transition phase would be required to achieve the independence during the initial years.)

Frankly, I think that the Control Yuan is a good idea, although it does add an extra cost to government. But the current situation is certainly odd and, I think, threatening to a long run democratic stability.

Copyright © 1996 by James Patrick Gunning

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J. Patrick Gunning

Professor of Economics/ College of Business
Feng Chia University
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Taiwan, R.O.C.
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