Mon, Aug 14, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Far Eastern still keen on ETC bid

LIMITED OPTIONS If the government decides to accept Far Eastern's offer, Yu-Tung Technology will be the only qualified bidder left in the tender for the ETC system

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Something was fishy about the deal offered by the Far Eastern Group last Thursday, when it said it would unconditionally "donate" its stockholdings in the Far Eastern Toll Collection Co -- 56.5 percent in total -- to the government.

The initiative, it said, was intended to assuage suspicions that taxpayers' money would be used to buy back the highway electronic toll collection (ETC) system and to salvage the damaged reputation of the company.

"This is a painful confession," said the toll collection company's vice chairman Champion Lee (李冠軍).

"We have made a tough decision to sacrifice our stake [in the ETC system]," he said.

But irrespective of the company's so-called "sacrifice," it still wants to be included in the second round of the review process for the electronic toll collection (ETC) system tender.

The company, Lee said, is confident about the superiority of the system they have developed and the contributions it would make to the society in general.

A mere two weeks ago, the company was vowing to make a claim of NT$2.5 billion (US$78 million) on the government for the construction as well as the personnel costs of the system following the Supreme Administrative Court's decision to revoke its status as the best candidate for the build-operate-transfer (BOT) project.

The announcement was made while the Taiwan Area National Expressway Bureau was about to re-open the second round of the review process for the bid, which the court has ruled as "violating the principle of fairness and honoring public welfare."

The bureau director Yang Hsi-an (楊錫安) said last week it would carefully consider the viability and legality of the offer and would form a special task force to evaluate the financial situation of the company.

The government would continue to keep the ETC up and running to protect the rights of motorists and minimize losses to state coffers, he said.

Acer has officially notified the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) it will not be participating in the second round, leaving Yu-Tung Technology and Far Eastern as the only bidders left.

As the Statute for Promoting Private Participation in Public Infrastructure Projects (促進民間參予公共建設法) states that the government's stockholding in a BOT project must not exceed 20 percent, Far Eastern's unexpected move might alter the way the BOT game was played.

MOTC Vice Minister Tsai Duei (蔡堆) indicated on Friday that Far Eastern Toll Collection Co would be disqualified from bidding for the ETC system if the government decides to accept their offer, adding that it would also affect how the second round of the bid review would proceed.

Tsai, however, refused to comment further on any hypothetical outcome, saying that everything is still being revaluated.

Should the government decide to accept the deal and Far Eastern is prevented from participating in the project, Yu-Tung Technology will become the only qualified bidder left in the field.

Whether or not the final review process, or even the project, could continue, is now in question.

Jason Lee (李鳳翔), an attorney and the chairman of the Consumers' Foundation, said the entire ETC system consists of many business entities.

The ministry will have to face many thorny issues once it accepts Far Eastern's offer, he said, including consolidating various accounts of the value-adding cards used in the onboard-units (OBU) and copyright issues surrounding the infrared system.

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