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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Dalai Lama expenses furor brews

September 21, 2009

By Loa Iok-sin
Taipei Times - Sep 21, 2009

"The Dalai Lama wouldn't even let me pay for his lunch when we stopped for a
lunch break in Jiasian Township."

- Yang Chiu-hsing, Kaohsiung County commissioner

The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) yesterday denied allegations by the
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the media that its request for
details of any government money spent on the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan by
local governments was politically motivated.

"As the government authority in charge of religious affairs, we received a
request from the Control Yuan to see if government money was spent by the
seven local governments that invited the Dalai Lama to cover his expenses,"
Civil Affairs Department Director Huang Li-hsin told the Taipei Times by
telephone yesterday. "The Control Yuan made the request because they
received a public petition asking if government money was spent to cover the
expenses of the Dalai Lama's visit and whether this was in violation of the
separation of religion and state clause in the Constitution."

Last month, Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan County, Kaohsiung and Pingtung counties
and Tainan and Kaohsiung cities jointly issued an invitation to the Tibetan
spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, asking him to visit Taiwan to hold
religious services for those who lost their lives and to comfort the victims
of Typhoon Morakot.

Upon receiving the request from the Control Yuan, the MOI sent inquiries to
the local governments on Tuesday, a move that riled DPP lawmakers - such as
Tainan City's William Lai and Kaohsiung City's Kuan Bi-ling - who questioned
whether it was a retaliatory measure because China had voiced opposition to
the visit.

Huang denied the allegation and said both the Control Yuan's request and the
ministry's inquiries to local governments were part of standard procedure
when handling a public petition. Huang said there was no political motive
behind it.

So far, Kaohsiung and Tainan counties have replied and said the expenses
were covered by the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai
Lama, the de facto representative office of the Tibetan government in exile
in Taiwan.

"The Dalai Lama wouldn't even let me pay for his lunch when we stopped for a
lunch break in Jiasian Township " after visiting the disaster-torn Siaolin
Village , Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing said.

"Not a cent of the expenses for the Dalai Lama's visit came out of the
Kaohsiung City treasury," Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu said.

Sonam Dorjee, secretary-general of the Tibetan representative office,
confirmed that the office had covered the monk's expenses.

Huang said she did not think it would have been a problem if the local
governments had covered the expenses.

"Separation of religion and state as stipulated in the Constitution means
that the government is responsible of protecting everyone's freedom of
religion and should refrain from interfering in religion," Huang said.
"Government agencies sponsor religious events on a regular basis, so I don't
see a problem with it."

That explanation, however, did not convince Taiwan Friends of Tibet
chairwoman Chow Mei-li , who believes the probe should not have started in
the first place.

"As the government authority in charge of religious affairs, the MOI should
have told the Control Yuan there was no problem, instead of sending
inquiries to the local governments," Chow said.

Chow said she would file similar petitions to question the Mongolian and
Tibetan Affairs Commission's sponsoring of a Tibetan Buddhist service to
commemorate the typhoon victims at the end of last month and whether
President Ma Ying-jeou had violated the separation of religion and state by
taking part in several religious services for typhoon victims.
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