The Taipei City Government has an inescapable responsibility to address the corruption scandal involving the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Xiaobitan Station Joint Development project after two former officials from Taipei City’s Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) were detained last week on suspicion of profiting alongside the developer.
The two Joint Development Office executives are suspected of forging a property value estimation document that would underestimate the Taipei City Government’s stake in the construction project, known as the MeHAS City (美河市) project, in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sindian District (新店).
The document overestimated the stake of the developer, Radium Life Tech Co, which cost the city government an estimated NT$10 billion (US$333 million).
The large-scale apartment complex project began in 2006 when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was Taipei mayor.
The developer has profited more than NT$6 billion from the project since its completion last year.
The MeHAS project is one of many joint development projects launched by the DORTS in which the department cooperated with private developers to build residential complexes near MRT stations.
In another joint development project at the MRT’s Neihu Station, the apartment complex constructed near the station is valued at approximately NT$4.8 million per ping (3.31m2) and the developer is expected to make a profit of more than NT$5 billion.
The Control Yuan last month reprimanded the DORTS for its problematic handling of the Neihu Station development project, as it used most of the acquired land for apartment complex development, rather than for the MRT station as it had promised.
The Taipei City government had aimed to boost the economy and bring in revenues for the city with the projects. However, the projects have turned out to be a way for large corporations to profit.
The DORTS’ Joint Development Office handles joint development projects at all MRT lines, and as the communication channel between the city government and private investors, the office has been accused of involvement in various corruption scandals related to profitable projects.
In response to the latest scandal surrounding MeHAS, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said the project was launched under Ma’s mayoral term, while reiterating that the city government will issue severe punishments to any civil servant who is found guilty in the case.
This statement shows the city government’s irresponsibility and disregard for the public interest. It failed to monitor joint development projects involving millions of dollars and further allowed private investors to make huge profits from construction funded by the public.
Both the local and central governments were aware of tactics to seize privately owned land for low prices under the guise of public construction projects while profiting large corporations.
The Ma administration and the city government have seen their credibility diminish over these public construction projects, regardless of whether the large corporations made their profits legally.
They will continue to lose public trust and support if there are more incidents that serve big conglomerates and sacrifice public interests.