In the past thirty-seven years, 22 local governments in Taiwan have allocated about 4 billion Taiwan dollars from their annual budget for a special purpose. The money is used as the earmark budget of local councilors, and the councilors decide its application. This policy has long been criticized by the public for its under-the-table nature; some councilors even use this budget as their pocket money.
Business Weekly has inspected each record of earmark budget of local governments and exposed those earmark budget record of 907 local councilors in the form of some ranking lists. We made this investigation public on the project website a month before the election day of the local municipal council. Moreover, we also reported this investigation in text form. Thus, we let the readers, which were also the voters, could think through how their tax money was distributed and applied. By doing so, they would think twice about the candidates.
The illustration of this project website has seven separate topics: (1) a game-incorporated little test which allows the reader to gain basic acknowledgment of the operation of “earmark budget.” (2) The top-ten list of all the councilors who have spent the largest amount of earmark budget. (3) The top-five local councilor ranking of those who have spent the largest amount of earmark budget of each city and county. Readers can easily find the list of the area which they want to see. (4) The top-five contractors who hold the largest budget flow. (5) The five projects which cost the most so that readers can reexamine the reasonability of each expense. (6) We found individual preference over earmark budget applications: Some councilor prefers campus renovation; some prefer community activity, and the others prefer planting trees and flowers…etc. Therefore, we sort out seven categories where the budget money is most likely to apply, and we give them a ranking. (7) In-depth reports by reporter’s field reconnaissance, including interviewing the councilors in the ranking list.
What makes this project innovative?
This was the first time for the non-governmental group in Taiwan to make such advancement. We made a complete exposure of the earmark budget of every Taiwanese councilor. Especially we illustrated the data by using a ranking list, so the reader can easily understand the full view of this budget system. It is different from the reporting method applied by media before: they used the fragmental report or individual data to illustrate the fact. Because it is hard to attract Taiwanese general public with a serious political issue, we took a different approach to get most of the people to focus on this corrupt practice which has been existed for years. The visual design of this website was a breakthrough: it is not as plain as one of the ordinary politic issues. This website combined intense color, diagrams, and interactive features. We did so to introduce our reader entering this mysterious and lucrative underworld politic realm. This project webpage added personal configuration for the first time. Readers could inspect and compare the performance of particular councilor candidate. Besides, we design a community sharing function which can incorporate precise voter categorization. This function formed easy access to earmark budget issues and involved candidates for the public.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
According to statistic numbers, after “The Inconvenient Truth of the City Council” went online, it led at least 10 media companies to make the following report of earmark budget issues. The rough browsing number is over 1300 thousand people. Due to the seriousness of this project type, we took a step-by-step manipulation: First, we fascinated people to get a huge amount of attention by revealing the interactive webpage. Second, we use clips, sarcastic pictures, and interesting materials to collocate with current hot issues. Combining these steps, we successfully lengthen the life span of this particular project. “The Inconvenient Truth of the City Council” project has also become an internet project with the highest number of interactive rate and talking posts since the BusinessWeekly.com went online. In terms of brand impact, the project “The Inconvenient Truth of the City Council” also attracted more than 10 KOL (Key Opinion Leader) to share on social community, including administrative officers and local council councilors. After the project went online, the content also invoked attentions and response from local government and local administrative officers. Even some councilors declared for this project: they were willing to execute the earmark budget in an open-to-public and transparent method.
Source and methodology
In the process of data collection, Business Weekly cooperated with “Spark Taiwan” organization (an NGO). The website “Vote Taiwan” funded by “Spark Taiwan”, recently had gradually uncovered the expenditure details of the budget declare by local governments. Even though the general public can look up every single data of councilors, governments merely listed details in a word document or excel table. We, Business Weekly, went even further on the basis. We make sure that all the data be re-calculated, re-sorted, and re-verified with each data from the local government. We strived to keep the highest correctness. When we were inspecting the flow of certain earmark budget, we even found errors in the numbers provided by the local government. It is because the local government only hired part-timers to key in data without any examination. This incident makes us and our cooperating citizen groups ring an alarm: In the trend of revealing government data, the correctness should also be noted and improved.
Tien Hsi-Ju; Kuan Wu-Yuan; Chung-i,Chen; Ou-yang Yi-cheng; Ta Li-Ju; Lee Ting-Ann; Lai Shih Jen; Yang Yi-Chien; Chen Ching-Hui; Huang Ya-Ling; Chen Hao; Huang Huai-Pei; Huang, Cun-Yu