The world press has reported on numerous cases of high-profile whistleblowing and its contribution to combat a wide range of crimes.
According to an article in Taipei Times the Taiwan government now provides a stage for entry level whistleblowing to the entire population. The law has actually been announced already in 2009: Guidelines for Payment of Monetary Rewards to the Public Reporting the Violations against Employment Services Act
People who report situations of foreigners working without work permits now are eligible to receive a financial reward of 10,000 NTD (approximately 350 USD or 250 Euro).
I’m not lamenting that the authorities punish law violations – no matter how senseless some of these laws may be in certain cases. However, offering financial rewards for the report of minor ‘crimes’ like substituting for an English teacher for a few hours per week or even giving private language lessons truly means taking law enforcement to an entire new level.
The details involved in terms of mindset can only be properly ascertained if one is sufficiently familiar with the local culture and mentality. Let me try anyway…
This is not an entirely new development. Snitching on your fellow man and woman is cultivated early in Taiwan society.
For example, if you drive by public schools early in the morning – prior to 8:00 AM – you will notice students in school uniform standing by the gate holding notepads and pens. These students take down the names of others who a) arrive late or b) wear the wrong uniform for the day or c) arrive on bicycle without helmet or d) are dropped off by a parent arriving on bike but not wear a helmet plus a few other things.
Such violations are compiled in a database and converted into penalty points, lovingly called ‘bad points,’ which yield various disadvantages, possibly including lowered grades.
This has been practiced for generations and developed into some kind of tradition.
In modern times electronic devices supplement the efforts. Streets and public spaces, including schoolyards, are littered with surveillance cameras. Fellow students or teachers screen the footage to discover incidents of entering late, stepping into forbidden areas, hanging out with the wrong people. All this can increase a student’s account of penalty points and have dire consequences including reduced grades in math and science or even eviction from school.
In many cities the police nowadays also rewards reports of traffic violations (including parking) by passing on a portion of the fine to the reporting party. Quite a few people derive a supplementary income from handing over to the police photos and videos made with smartphones in return for a reward once the fine is collected.
No doubt, authorities need to enforce the laws of the land if they receive notice of violations. However, it’s only a matter of time that the practice of paying the reporting party for reports – which may have been filed for entirely selfish reasons – backfires openly into the face of the authorities, for example in the form of vandalism against public and private property. The plethora of surveillance cameras whose omnipresence is at times astounding will not be of much help much here.
Over the years and generations rigid insistence to comply with at times arbitrary rules has already instilled a sense of disempowerment and stifled creativity and initiative. Encouraging the population to report on each other for the sake of financial gain may for some time continue to keep people within all too narrow confines. But it has not and never will give rise to the zeal and creativity that the country desperately needs to reach the next level of development within the international community.
But then, probably none of the democratically elected decision makers or entrenched bureaucrats will care or even know the difference.