Thu, Nov 12, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Lawmakers quiz THSRC about need for foreign ‘fat cats’

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The issue of foreign “fat cats” at Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) remained the focus of discussion at the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday, as lawmakers questioned whether some of the well-paid, senior foreign managers were indeed indispensable to the debt-ridden railway company.

THSRC held a shareholder meeting yesterday at which shareholders asked chairman Ou Chin-der (歐晉德) how he would handle the company’s well-paid executives. Ou said the criticism had hurt foreign employees in the company and that some had tendered their resignations. He said he would try to retain some of them.

Ou did not attend the legislative committee meeting yesterday, leaving company spokesperson Ted Chia (賈先德) to represent the company.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said he was irritated by Ou’s absence, adding that Ou was disregarding the supervision of the legislature.

She then asked Chia what the company would do with two foreign managers whose yearly salary exceeded NT$10 million (US$309,600) each.

Chia said that the contracts for the two, in charge of managing the large build-operate-transfer (BOT) project and handling contract issues, would soon expire, but that Ou was considering renewing their contracts and seeking approval from the board of trustees.

“So none of your Taiwanese employees know English and can read the contracts, and nobody except those two can do the jobs?” Yeh asked.

A similar view was voiced by Chinese Nationalist Party Legislator (KMT) Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾), who questioned whether the foreign employees were irreplaceable.

In response, Chia said that it was impossible for the company to replace all its foreign employees because the company still needed their technical support in maintaining the high-speed rail system as well as operating the control center.

Transportation and Communications Deputy Minister Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said that it was not “ideal” for a company to have irreplaceable employees, but added that the company may have to spend just as much to hire Taiwanese professionals with similar qualifications.

The committee was scheduled to review the budget allocated to the Bureau of High Speed Rail, whose main responsibility is to supervise the operation of the high-speed rail system. Nonetheless, THSRC’s shareholders’ meeting on Tuesday continued to be the focus of the question-and-answer session. Some legislators questioned Ou’s estimate that the company would be able to break even with about 145,000 passengers per day. Still others asked about the consequences if the company failed to secure NT$382 billion in bank loans.

Meanwhile, lawmakers inquired about the bureau’s Airport Rail (機場捷運) project, after the railway’s electromechanical system contractor Marubeni Corp recently filed a NT$12.9 billion claim against the bureau.

Bureau of High Speed Rail Director-General Chu Hsu (朱旭) said that Marubeni fell behind schedule in delivering the design of the electromechanical system and that “its claim was not supported by any substantial evidence.”

“It’s the company’s way of forcing negotiations,” Chu said.

The goal of launching the operation of the Airport Rail between Sanchong (三重) and Jhongli (中壢) by 2014 remains unchanged, Chu said.

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