Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Minister defends ETC decision delay

TIME MATTERS Kuo Yao-chi said the postponement of a final decision on the future of the ETC system gave more time for negotiations and clarifying legal issues

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi answers questions from the media concerning the handling of the ETC scandal at the Legislative Yuan yesterday. At the request of legislators, Kuo agreed to make the meeting public and to allow the media to attend.

PHOTO: WANG YI-SUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi (郭瑤琪) yesterday defended her ministry's decision to give itself two more days to finalize issues related to the highway electronic toll collection (ETC) system.

"The decision is no sign of cowardice," Kuo said, "but rather an attempt to explore and assess all the legal possibilities and to conduct further negotiations," she said.

Kuo said the decision was not made because the ministry did not have any thoughts on the matter, but because further legal advice was required before a definite conclusion could be reached.

Kuo also said that the Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau would appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court regarding an earlier verdict that disqualified Far Eastern as the best candidate for the build-operate-transfer (BOT) project.

She added that the public expected the Ministry to finalize the ETC system soon and settle the dispute with Far Eastern once and for all, but legal experts have warned that a unilateral decision by the ministry would have major consequences.

"Any abuse of administrative authority is likely to scare away interested private contractors from participating in public construction projects," Kuo said.

She also mentioned that she was not satisfied with either of the solutions Far Eastern offered yesterday and that the situation would be easier to handle if the verdict in this case were finalized.

"We hope that the issues can be solved through an agreement among all parties, not by means of a complete breakup," Kuo said, adding that Far Eastern continues to defiantly guard its own interests in the case.

Kuo said earlier that the government would pay no more than NT$1.8 billion (US$55 million) to Far Eastern should it decide to buy back the infrastructure of the ETC system, but she stressed that it was not preferable that the government take over the project.

On Wednesday -- the mandated deadline from the Executive Yuan for the ministry to determine if they should terminate the contract -- Far Eastern offered two scenarios to resolve the controversies surrounding the government's highway toll-collection policy.

If the company continued as the ETC system operator and was required to offer the onboard units for free, the government would have to raise the service charge. However, if the company decided to turn the system over to the government, it would allow the government to use all ETC-related infrastructure free of charge for three months without any compensation, facilitating a transfer in management within the same time period.

In response, Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications Tsai Duei (蔡堆) said the ministry had decided to postpone the date on the grounds that Far Eastern's offers "fell short of the expectations of the public and the ministry." It also required Far Eastern to clarify some of its statements.

Tsai, however, refused to comment further on what he meant by "expectations."

Kuo, on the other hand, did elaborate on what the ministry meant by the term. She said that even though Far Eastern announced in the press conference that the government could use ETC-related infrastructure for free for three months, the official statement sent to the ministry yesterday said that it was supposed to reimburse the company first before it could terminate or amend the contract and eventually take over the system.

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