Sat, Jun 15, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Lawmakers issue ultimatum to THSRC

DO OR DIE The legislature yesterday required, under threat of a cut-off in government funding, that the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp disclose fully all deals that it signs with its subcontractors, as officials at the company contended that it is already doing so

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Legislators vote yesterday on a five-point proposal tabled by the opposition to restrict government participation in the high-speed rail project.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Capping weeks of partisan wrangling, the legislature yesterday narrowly adopted resolutions that require the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) to disclose its deals with subcontractors and ban further government loans to the firm unless it complies.

Proposals that would subject future build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects to legislative approval did not pass, however.

The series of rulings are not expected to disrupt the construction of the north-south rail project, which is slated to be completed in 2005 at a cost of NT$446.4 billion.

By a vote of 103 to 101, opposition lawmakers pushed through a proposal that obligates the THSRC to reveal the costs of individual subcontracts and related cost breakdowns.

Independent legislator Sisy Chen (陳文茜), who has led the campaign to bring the project under greater legislative oversight, maintained that the measure is aimed at checking the waste of tax dollars.

Saying that such practices would encroach on entrepreneurism, the THSRC has refused to make known information at issue.

The government has invested NT$8 billion in the bullet-train project and has promised to underwrite up to 86 percent of its finances.

With support from a number of TSU legislators, the lawmaking body voted 105 to 103 in favor of a resolution that bars the Postal Saving Fund from lending more money to the THSRC before it meets the above requirement.

Seeking to placate the opposition, the DPP lodged no protest against the proposal -- which also bans the state-run Taiwan Sugar Co from making further investments in the railway.

But the ruling party did succeed in quashing opposition attempts to subject the future BOT projects to legislative approval.

With a vote of 104 to 98, the ruling camp was able to block an opposition measure saying the government must obtain consent from the legislature before spending money on any BOT project.

The four major legislative caucuses all issued top mobilization orders, asking members to attend the showdown vote yesterday noon. They did not break for lunch, as the legislature is finishing off a budgetary review for state-run businesses this week.

The body will vote on nominees for Examination Yuan heads, Control Yuan members and Grand Justices next week.

After some admirable maneuvering, the ruling camp blocked by a vote of 104-100 another opposition proposal that would require a legal basis for all future BOT projects worth over NT$30 billion.

Experts have frowned on the proposal, saying it would discourage BOT projects, a much-touted recipe for the construction of large-scale public works amidst plunging revenue.

To avoid that, the legislature voted 104 to 94 to strike down a resolution that would free the government from co-paying compensation demanded by former contractor, the European Consortium.

The THSRC had awarded its electrical and mechanical biddings to the consortium, but later decided to switch to Japanese systems, allegedly bowing to pressure from the former KMT administration.

An international court to which the European consortium has taken its complaint is likely to grant its request of US$800 million in compensation for the decision.

Seeking to speed up the legislative review, all caucuses gave the nod to a proposal that bars original THSRC shareholders from participating in land development, communications and other projects along the railway in the case the project collapses.

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