Amid calls for her resignation over the troubled electronic highway toll system, the head of the transportation ministry said yesterday that Chunghwa Telecom and Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection (FETC) will jointly operate the system until the ministry can find another firm to run it.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi's (
The ruling means that the government will have to conduct a new tender process for the highway electronic toll collection (ETC) system, and that Far Eastern's status as the "most qualified candidate" for the project has been revoked.
The ministry is ready to take over the operation of the system for now, she said, and will quickly sign a contract with Chunghwa, a previously state-owned business entity.
"As the negotiation with the companies will deal with a lot of complicated issues, such as copyright, there is no telling how long the transitional period [until a new operator can be found] will last," Kuo said.
Kuo told motorists they should halt the installation of on-board units (OBU) in their vehicles amid the transition, in order to protect their own interests.
Kuo said the ministry will sign a contract with the Taiwan Economic Development and Research Academy on Monday to appraise the value of the company's ETC system within the next two months.
The Administrative High Court first ruled in February that Far Eastern's status as the "most qualified candidate" in the build-operate-transfer (BOT) project should be annulled. The ministry appealed that decision to the Administrative Supreme Court.
It also struck a deal with Far Eastern that if the Administrative Supreme Court upheld the lower court's verdict, the ministry would reimburse the firm for the value of the ETC system after it turned over the facilities to the government. However, according to the deal Far Eastern cannot demand any additional compensation for damages.
In March, the company said that the ETC system facilities were valued at NT$1.8 billion (US$56.3 million). The firm has invested an estimated NT$3 billion (US$91 million) in the system.
Kuo emphasized yesterday that the ministry will continue to be in charge of the ETC system, and will do everything it can to minimize the government's losses. Motorists' interests will not be compromised either, she said.
Given the controversy surrounding the bidding process, Kuo said that it was unlikely that the government would negotiate a deal with any of the original three bidders for the project: Far Eastern, Taiwan Yu-Tung Information Technology Co and the Acer Group.
"The question will be whether the members of the project review board are willing to return," she said. "Even those representing the government might not want to come back."
Premier Su Tseng-chang (
"No matter what [the MOTC and the Far Eastern] do, the most important thing is to make sure that motorists' legal rights are not jeopardized," Su said.