Mon, Oct 14, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Shihlin vendors smell something fishy

Retailers say organized crime is dictating decisions as the Shihlin night market prepares to build a new home. Stories of intimidation and questionable contract procurement have left some vendors wondering where to turn

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Visitors swarm into the Shihlin night market last night. The traditional market will soon be torn down to make way for a more modern facility. The stalls will be relocated to a temporary market nearby.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

It was a sunny afternoon, three days before the Shihlin night market was scheduled to move to a new temporary indoor facility and reopen today for business.

Heh Yen-kuei (賀延貴), executive manager of the market's self-governance association, was unhappy. In addition to the millions of things he had to do, Heh had to deal with the police officer who was at his newly renovated office questioning him about allegations of gangsters' involvement in the market's relocation project.

Although Heh told police that he knew nothing about the allegations, he did reveal to the Taipei Times after the officer's departure that he suspects gangsters may be involved.

At issue is the contract to make new signs for the market's 160 food stalls.

According to Heh, there were originally three bidders, offering NT$5,700, NT$6,200 and NT$9,000 per set of signs respectively.

Naturally, the one offering the lowest price would usually win the contract. But that was not the case here.

The contractor offering the lowest bid bailed out, claiming it wouldn't be able to make a profit with the NT$5,700 price.

That made the contractor offering NT$6,200 the next choice, however it was nowhere to be found after being awarded the project.

The association said it had no choice but to award the contract to the contractor offering the highest price of NT$9,000.

Heh said that he did not rule out the possibility that the three companies might have been connected in some way and may ultimately report to the same people.

A few days ago, someone who Heh said he suspected was a gangster approached him and told him that he would be glad to help Heh "take care of those market vendors who are not docile."

Another person has expressed an interest in leasing a large section of the new market and then subletting it to others interested in erecting billboards or holding events there.

"After discussing the matter with Taipei City Council Speaker Wu Pi-chu (吳碧珠), we thought it would be a good idea to sign a contract with the interested party so if any problems occur in the future, we'll be in a favorable situation" he said.

The leasing idea smells fishy to one market vendor, who asked to be identified as Ms. Hope.

According to Hope, the interested individual comes from a respected family in the community and was introduced to Heh by a senior gangster.

Getting ready for the evening crowd at her fruit stand that Hope runs with her father-in-law, the 42-year-old widow said that the relocation of the market is full of rotten politics.

Questionable motives

"Wu is the person manipulating the whole thing from behind the scenes," she said.

According to Hope, one of Wu's uncles has been the chairman of the night market's self-governance association for more than three decades.

"Look at the new facility we're about to move in to. Do you think it is worth NT$138 million?" she said. "I have no idea where all the money went. As you can see, the roof has a leakage problem and the lighting is insufficient."

In an effort to convert the 80-year-old traditional market into a safe and more comfortable environment, the Taipei City Government set up a five-year plan earlier this year to overhaul the site.

The first floor of the two-floor temporary market will hold 539 booths -- including food stalls and retailers selling souvenirs, night market knickknacks and clothes.

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