Fri, Aug 04, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Court rules against ETC partnership

RED LIGHT The court found that Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co had been unfairly favored during the electronic toll collection (ETC) system tender process

By Jimmy Chuang and Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The Administrative Supreme Court yesterday voided a partnership between the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co, and ordered that the ministry must look for a new partner to operate the electronic toll collection (ETC) system.

"The ministry unfairly favored Far Eastern during the selection process for the appointment of a partner in the ETC project. The process was unfair to two other bidders and must be repeated," court spokesman Liu Hsin-chen (劉鑫楨) said.

Liu made the remarks at a press conference yesterday afternoon.

The decision means that Far Eastern may not be able to recover the money it has already invested in the ETC system -- ?an estimated NT$3 billion (US$91 million).

"[The ministry's selection of Far Eastern as a partner] was not fair to motorists either, because upgrades of the on-board units may have caused inconvenience for motorists and the units were not reasonably priced. However, these issues were not considered when the ministry selected a partner," Liu said.

The spokesman said that as the ministry's partnership with Far Eastern had been declared null and void, it would have to repeat the tender process.

This means that Taiwan Yu-Tung Information Technology Co, the Acer Group and Far Eastern can start from scratch in the battle to be the contractor for the ETC system.

The Administrative High Court first ruled against the ministry in February, but it appealed to the Administrative Supreme Court. Yesterday's ruling is final.

As the Administrative Supreme Court was announcing its verdict at a press conference yesterday afternoon, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) was describing the ETC selection process as "flawless" and "successful" to a group of journalists at a separate location.

Cabinet Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) refused to comment on the ruling and said the ministry would respond instead.

Far Eastern said it would continue to operate the system until the government said otherwise.

"As we haven't personally seen the court verdict and the Ministry of Transportation and Communica-tions has not yet expressed its stance on the matter, we will not make any comments regarding our future plans," company spokeswoman Lang Ya-ling (郎亞玲) said.

Lang would not respond to questions on whether the firm would join any new selection process, how it would dispose of its facilities, or how it would compensate its 210,000 users.

Far Eastern said in March it would suffer worse-than-expected losses of NT$2.7 billion by year's end.

In a statement released yesterday, Far Eastern expressed regret over what it called the Administrative Supreme Court's "grave procedural transgression" in announcing its verdict without allowing the firm to speak in its own defense.

Consumers' Foundation chairman Jason Lee (李鳳翱) urged the government to do away with ETC-exclusive lanes because the verdict rendered them illegitimate.

No more tickets should be issued to motorists using these lanes and the company should refund users of its on-board units as soon as possible, he said.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi (郭瑤琪) last night demanded Far Eastern provide the service until the ministry finalized its response.

Kuo insisted the system had improved traffic flow.

At a press conference held last night, Deputy Minister Tsai Duei (蔡堆) expressed regret over the decision, while pledging to protect the rights of ETC customers as it determined whether or not it would find a new partner or operate the system itself.

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