Give us cash or the MRT stops: Hsieh

ULTIMATUM: The Kaohsiung mayor told the Cabinet that his city's MRT project would be halted if funding continued to be blocked by opposition lawmakers

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 2

Construction of Kaohsiung's mass rapid transit (MRT) system will be suspended if the legislature fails to pass a five-year, NT$500 billion public construction package soon, Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) warned opposition legislators yesterday.

"We'll halt the project if we don't get funding from the central government," Hsieh said. "And I wouldn't be surprised if another accident happens if the legislature fails to pass the budget."

Hsieh was speaking yesterday morning during the weekly closed-door Cabinet meeting after he briefed Premier Yu Shyi-kun about his city's financial difficulties and Sunday's accident at an MRT work site.

While NT$21 billion from the special NT$500 billion budget has been set aside for the upcoming fiscal year to fund construction of Kaohsiung's MRT, which is estimated to cost a total of NT$180 billion, legislators have yet to pass the bill that includes the budget allocation.

And despite the fact that this year's NT$5 billion in funding for the system's construction will run out by the end of the month, the Kaohsiung City Council has passed a resolution banning the city government from borrowing money to prop up the project.

Hsieh yesterday pledged to negotiate with the city council over the matter, but stressed that the crux of the problem was the legislature.


He said it was unfathomable that public attention was now focusing on Sunday's accident instead of the budget impasse.

"It's like a person suffering a gunshot wound and everybody discussing how the person got shot instead of how to save his life," he said.

For his part, Yu has instructed relevant government agencies to divert resources to keep the project afloat.

The accident occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning after drilling resulted in water and sand surging toward the surface. The Yancheng MRT station site and surrounding structures sank 20cm, leading to the evacuation of more than 100 people from nearby buildings.

Hsieh later blamed the accident on the Legislative Yuan's failure to allocate adequate funds. Legislators bristled at the suggestion that it was their fault, saying that that the accident was a construction problem and not one of funding.

Backing his Democratic Progressive Party colleague, Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) yesterday joined Hsieh in calling on the legislature to pass the construction package budget as soon as possible.

"I hope opposition lawmakers can put aside their political differences, because the delay in passage of this bill doesn't help national or local development whatsoever," he said.

Chen yesterday also explained why the Cabinet had earmarked the funding in the form of a special budget rather than as part of the annual budget.

"Given that government debt is near the 15-percent cap, we thought it would be a better idea to request a special budget for those public construction projects that were deemed to be a priority," he said.