Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 3 News List

KRTC Scandal: Workers' riot ends up reshaping politics

DOUBLE WHAMMY The riot by Thai migrant workers in Kaohsiung focused attention on their grievances and also forced into the open a viper's lair of corrupt politicians

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Chen Che-nan leaves the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors' Office on Oct. 28, after being questioned in connection to the Kaohsiung MRT scandal. He was later released on bail of NT$500,000.

FILE PHOTO: CHANG CHUNG-YI, TAIPEI TIMES

Unexpectedly, a scandal that started with a Thai workers riot is now reshaping Taiwan politics.

Not only opposition parties, but also factions inside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and even the local media are attempting to complicate the scandal surrounding the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp (KRTC) in order to take advantage from the situation.

They are expanding the scope of the scandal because they believe that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is unable to say that he had nothing to do with the current main defendent in the scandal, Chen Che-nan (陳哲男), who served as deputy secretary-general to the Presidential Office for four years.

On the other hand, former Kaoshiung city mayor and incumbent Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) has been another target for both opposition and ruling party members. Hsieh, a possible strong contender in the 2008 presidential election, is the planner and builder of the Kaoshiung MRT.

The Kaoshiung City Government began planning to build the MRT in the early 1990s, but the proposal was delayed by former mayor Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Local politicians believed that Wu was unwilling to build the MRT during his term because he was unable to deal with politicians and businessmen who had already cast their covetous eyes on the more than NT$100 billion construction project.

In 1998 Hsieh beat Wu in the mayoral election. Analysts believed that the people of Kaoshiung dumped Wu because the conservative mayor never "contributed to construction in the city." In May 2000, the more aggressive Hsieh announced that the KRTC, which was established in 1999 to bid for the MRT project, beat the Kang Tou Rapid Transit Corp (港都捷運公司) in the race for winning the project bid. The KRTC began construction of the MRT in October 2001.

However, almost four years later, an unexpected riot by Thai workers uncovered the extent of corruption in the KRTC.

On Aug. 21, some 300 of 1,700 Thai workers building the Kaoh-siung MRT rioted over their poor treatment at the hands of Huapan Co, which was appointed by the KRTC to hire and supervise the Thai workers.

After the workers' accusations, it was discovered that the Huapan Co illegally demanded brokerage fees from Thai workers when they applied for work in Taiwan. More seriously, the KRTC was found to be paying each Thai worker NT$29,500 a month, but the workers actually received only about NT$20,000, so more than NT$9,000 of their monthly salary was ending up in somebody else's pockets.

On Aug. 23, Chen Chu (陳菊), then chairwoman of the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) in charge of foreign-worker policies, said in a TV interview that there are "powerful men" behind the introduction of Thai workers to build the Kaoshiung MRT.

"The powerful men" have since hogged the headlines in Taiwanese newspapers. Meanwhile, it was alleged that Chen Che-nan and then vice chairman of the KRTC Chen Min-hsien (陳敏賢) headed to Thailand with Huapan officials to seal the labor deal, but both Chen Che-nan and Chen Min-hsien denied the allegation.

"I never went to Thailand and I had nothing to do with the KRTC," Chen Che-nan said more than once.

However, as the scandal continued to expand, on Sept. 5, both Chen Chu and acting Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), Chen Che-nan's son, tendered their resignations over the incident and left office.

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