Taiwanese subcontractors for the US-based Weston Solutions, Inc for the American Institute in Taiwan’s (AIT) new office compound in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖) will proceed with their scheduled protest tomorrow because they have received no guarantee of payment of outstanding debts after months of negotiations with the general contractor.
The planned protest will take place outside the AIT’s Taipei office on Xinyi Road, asking the AIT to take seriously the “severity of the hardship” endured by the Taiwan firms and requesting the US government to provide “equitable financial relief.”
In their latest letter to AIT Director Christopher Marut, copies of which will be sent to Taiwanese officials, including President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), the Taiwanese firms urged Marut to “provide immediate notice to Washington of this matter.”
The US Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) in 2009 directly contracted Weston Solutions for the first phase of the construction and the company was allocated US$54.5 million for the project, the AIT said.
The three Taiwanese firms, Wei Chuan Arch Contracting Company, Cherng-Her Construction Co and Area Energy, said Weston Solutions owed them more than NT$470 million (US$15.89 million) dating to September 2011.
“For more than a year, we’ve either taken out loans or contributed our own money to pay our workers and collective businesses, but we cannot afford it any more and we are facing problems with calls from debt collectors,” Wei Chuan Arch representative Tu Chung-jen (涂崇仁) said.
Due to the payment problems, about 160 workers hired by the firms quit, were laid off or have been put on unpaid leave, while some collective companies pulled machinery and equipment out of the site, leading to a complete work stoppage, Tu said.
Suspension of work since late last month has forced Weston Solutions to send a high-profile representative from the US to meet with the local firms on Thursday and the meeting made them believe that the US company “is already insolvent,” Tu said.
The representative of Weston Solutions did not say when payments could be delivered, Tu said.
“Instead, we were told to borrow money to handle emergencies and they said they would cover the interest,” he said.
The local firms have hoped for intervention from the AIT, but the latter has maintained a hands-off attitude in the dispute, which it said was “an issue between Weston Solutions and its subcontractors.”
In response to several previous letters by the local firms to Marut, the AIT on Wednesday replied for the first time in a letter by AIT Chief Management Officer Robert Bare.
The AIT said it has forwarded their demands to Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations and Weston Solutions and that the bureau has reiterated to Weston Solutions the importance of treating subcontractors fairly and making payments in accordance with contracts and laws.
In the letter, the AIT said it understood their concerns, but reiterated that the contract dispute was between Weston Solutions and subcontractors.