Fri, Oct 20, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Rail vibration project botched, legislators say

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS Critics claim a senior official in the National Science Council was part of a conspiracy involving DPP members to drive up the price of the rail tender

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

Pan-green legislators clashed with National Science Council (NSC) officials in a legislative committee meeting yesterday, accusing the council of mismanaging an infrastructure project worth NT$8.4 billion (US$256 million) in the Southern Taiwan Science Park.

According to NSC officials, the project in question was designed to reduce vibrations caused by the new high-speed railway, which runs through the park.

Scores of chipmakers in the park canceled investments worth tens of billions of US dollars in 2001 due to fears that the vibrations would disrupt their operations, according to an August 2001 report in the Asian Wall Street Journal.

The NSC, which runs the park, launched the "vibration reduction" project that year to stem further investment loss, the report added.

In May, former NSC vice minister Shieh Ching-jyh (謝清志) was detained on corruption charges pertaining to the project, which was completed last month.

Shieh, once the nation's premier rocket scientist, is the first Cabinet-level official in President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration to be put behind bars.

Shieh's critics insist he steered the contract for the project to a crony company, a charge Shieh has denied.

"The project's cost was unreasonably high," Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Liao Pen-yen (廖本煙) said while questioning NSC Minister Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) yesterday.

Liao added that the contract for the project was overpriced to benefit certain parties, and demanded a clear breakdown of its budget.

In August Liao claimed that Shieh was part of a conspiracy involving Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members to drive up the price of the contract and steer it to Sheus Technologies Corp, a local rubber manufacturer. Their goal, the lawmaker alleged, was to fleece taxpayers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Liao then didn't explain his reasoning during the interview, or offer any evidence supporting his theory.

DPP Legislator Kuo Chun-ming (郭俊銘), meanwhile, called on NSC officials yesterday to hand over all financial records belonging to Shieh and his family to prove that he didn't accept bribes for allegedly steering the contract to Sheus Technologies.

Not all pan-green lawmakers in attendance were critical of Shieh, however.

DDP Legislators Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) and Chen Min-jen (陳明真) praised Shieh for his courage in overseeing a controversial project, hailed as "the first of its kind in the world" by NSC officials.

Chen Chien-jen said that Shieh had the sense of mission and responsibility to take on the tough project. He added that the project was on schedule, on budget and had performed well on numerous tests to gauge its effectiveness in dampening vibrations.

Top officials from the Public Construction Commission and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications corroborated Chen's comments at the meeting.

In a phone interview the Taipei Times last night, Shieh, who has been out on bail since July, said Sheus Technologies was chosen for the project because "their methodology was better at reducing vibrations than their competitors during the bidding process," which he described as a rigorous procedure conducted by a panel of engineers.

As for Liao's accusations, Shieh called them "fabrications," adding that the Control Yuan had already combed through his financial records as well as those of his wife, son and daughter.

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