National Palace Museum Director Chou Kung-shin (周功鑫) yesterday managed the rare feat of uniting both ruling party and opposition lawmakers in fury as she defended her administration of the museum and plans to open a southern branch of the museum in 2015.
Chou told the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee she hoped her team could begin looking for architects for the Chiayi branch museum by the end of this year and complete construction of the facility by the end of 2015, provided everything goes smoothly. She said the museum had earmarked NT$114 million (US$3.78 million) in next year’s budget for the four-year, NT$7.9 billion project.
The original design, by Antoine Predock Architects and Lord Cultural Resources, called for a multi-functional museum to handle research, display, education and storage. It was supposed to be completed in 2008, but years of delay led the two firms to lose the contract.
Chou told lawmakers the delays stemmed from a number of factors, including concerns about flooding in the area and problems with the two major contractors, who are now involved in a contract dispute with the government.
The meeting got off to a rough start in the morning when Chou upset Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators by interrupting as they were speaking.
At one point, KMT Legislator Yang Li-huan (楊麗環) pounded the table and told Chou to shut up as Yang was talking, while KMT Legislator Chao Li-yun (趙麗雲) was so angry she slammed Chou’s report on the table and threatened to cut the museum’s budget.
Matters didn’t improve when Chou called the DPP and KMT legislators’ questions unprofessional and told them she was speaking as an expert in museum management.
Yang refused to shake hands with Chuo during the meeting’s recess and said all the museum’s problems would be resolved if Chou were replaced.
Asked about public complaints of overcrowding at the museum and it being turned into a “market” or “wholesale store” because of the dramatic increase in Chinese visitors, Chou said certain measures should be implemented to address the problem, including extending opening hours and increasing the number of service people.
She said it might also be necessary to turn away visitors once the daily limit of 7,000 and 8,000 has been reached.
The museum also planned to spend NT$16 million on an expansion project approved by the Executive Yuan in August, she said. However, DPP legislators accused Chou of jumping the gun by spending NT$900,000 on a feasibility assessment for the expansion, even though the legislature has yet to approve the project.
Chou said the museum’s gift shops and restaurants have generated revenues of NT$550 million this year and should reach NT$700 million next year.
She also said the museum had stopped distributing profits to its employees this year — a practice the Ministry of the Interior said in June last year was illegal — and began paying 10 percent of annual revenues to the treasury.
DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said it would make more sense to place all the museum’s revenues under legislative oversight because they were generated by national treasures that are state property.
Building a southern branch of the museum was first announced by then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2003. In October last year, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) promised the branch would be open in 2012 as he campaigned for a KMT candidate in last December’s local elections.