Tue, Aug 31, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Taipei mayor willing to be investigated

NOT ILLEGAL?The Judicial Yuan launched a dual investigation with the Taipei City Government to find out why the prices for beautifying the city were so high

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday said he was willing to be investigated and remove himself from a task force mandated with determining whether corruption was involved in a procurement scandal, and urged the opposition to stop its “political machinations” in the run-up to the November elections.

Hau said that when he promised last week that there would be “no limits” to the investigation, he meant anyone related to the matter would be looked into.

“It of course includes myself,” he said. “If they put me under investigation, I will be happy to leave the task force.”

On Friday, Hau set up a task force — headed by himself — to determine if corruption or bribery was involved in purchase plans for the Xinsheng Overpass and the Taipei International Flora Expo.

Two Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) city councilors last week said the contract price for flowers used to spruce up the overpass was unreasonably high.

The city government failed to clarify the matter and did not take any action until Thursday, when it punished the responsible officials and launched an investigation. The city’s initial probe showed that the civil servants who handled the project were seriously negligent.

Two other DPP city councilors said on Friday that water pipes contracted for the overpass were bought at 10 times the market price.

The latest findings showed that in addition to the flowers and plants for the overpass, the contractor also overcharged on at least seven other purchase plans. As a result, the city government paid up to 12 times the market price for project materials.

DPP city councilors filed a lawsuit against Hau on Thursday, accusing him of negligence.

DPP City Councilor Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄) further raised eyebrows when he alleged on Saturday that the city government became aware of the overpricing when city auditors pointed out the problems in May 2008.

Hau yesterday told city councilors that city auditors found it was “inappropriate” for Join Engineering Consultants (昭凌工程顧問) to set prices by averaging the figures proposed by bidders in six previous failed biddings.

Doing so was “not illegal,” Hau said, but since the matter had caused public concern, he was duty bound to uncover the truth and bear the consequences.

Hau admitted reacting slowly to the allegations and apologized again, saying the matter had undermined the city government’s image and caused public concern.

However, he said that the purchase plans of the flora expo were conducted in a more discrete manner and that so far, only four items out of 1,000 were found to be overpriced.

Hau said he regretted that “somebody” was using the controversy as ammunition ahead of the November elections.

“It’s OK for them to have doubts about me or the city government. It’s OK for me to lose the election, but please don’t let Taiwan miss a chance to shine in the international arena,” he said.

While Join Engineering Consultants had historic ties with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Yeh Ching-yuan (葉慶元), head of the city’s Law and Regulations Commission, said the bidding process was open and did not favor any ­particular bidder.

In addition to the the city government probe, the Control Yuan yesterday launched its own investigation into the procurement scandal.

Control Yuan member Yeh Yao-peng (葉耀鵬) told reporters that launching an investigation was necessary because the city government’s handling of the procurement bids was “ridiculous.”

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