The New Year’s Eve fireworks at Taipei 101 lasted just under five minutes, but the post-fireworks explosions are still going strong.
Complaints were originally sparked by what many saw as a less than overwhelming finale to the 288--second, NT$60 million (US$2 million) display created by Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang (蔡國強). For that amount of money, people expect Hollywood-style explosions.
Cai has given conflicting accounts of what went wrong with the show, ranging from bureaucratic delays with the city’s fire department (which he later denied had been a problem), the late arrival of the fireworks, which had been shipped to Taiwan, and a snowstorm in the US that delayed his engineering team’s arrival from New York to incomplete installations and problems with computer connections.
It all seems a bit of mess, considering that Cai was also responsible for the NT$200 million fireworks display at Dajia Riverside Park earlier on New Year’s Eve that was the finale of an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China’s founding — and which went off without a hitch. If the public was disappointed with the 101 show, the sponsors have even more reasons to be miffed — and if Cai’s explanations are true, perhaps they are also owed a bit of a refund.
Whatever the technical reasons behind the less-than-stellar 101 show, bigger questions have been raised about the cost of the display and the contract — and the responses, so far, from various officials have been disingenuous.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said that the city government had no role in organizing the Taipei 101 show, it did not sponsor the event and the display was put together by Taipei 101 and Cai’s team. Taipei 101’s management also said the fireworks bidding process did not involve the city government.
However, some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers have alleged the NT$60 million bill — double that of last year’s show — was split equally between private businesses and the city government. Given that “ROC 100” was spelled out at the top of the building during the show instead of a sponsor’s name and the budget was doubled to make it part of the ROC’s centennial celebrations, one might infer that it wasn’t just private firms doing the sponsoring.
On Thursday, the lawmakers presented documents they said showed the city government put out a tender for the show on Nov. 12, and the tender was awarded on Dec. 7. If those documents are valid, not only do they raise questions about Hau’s comments, but also those of his spokesperson Chao Hsin-ping (趙心屏), who said Cai and his team had applied to the city’s fire department for permission for the 101 show in mid-November and the department had approved the application as quickly as possible. It’s hard to understand how Cai could have applied for the fire department to approve his fireworks plan if a contract hadn’t even been awarded yet. If the city was involved, and that is still a big if, it would appear the bidding process was not all aboveboard.
The company that manages 101 is an independent entity and is entitled to run its annual fireworks show as it sees fit. However, if taxpayer money was spent on the show, then taxpayers have the right to know just how much was spent. They should not only be questioning the amount, but the decision to boost the size of 101’s show, given that plans for the Dajia fireworks had been under way for months.
Taxpayers also have the right to question the decision to spend so much on fireworks for the Dajia show. There is a full year of centennial events to look forward to — or not — and spending NT$200 million or more for a few minutes of explosions, color and smoke seems like a colossal waste.
The Taipei 101 show may have been something of a damp squib, but the blaze it has started over Taipei City’s spending habits could be harder to extinguish.
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