Ministry gets flak over Airport Rail

TOUGH TALK::The transportation minister should also step down over the fiasco, lawmakers said, but he said he had questioned the bidding process from the start

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Fri, May 10, 2013 - Page 3

Lawmakers at the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday censured the Ministry of Transportation and Communications for the delayed launch of the Airport Rail connecting Taipei and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

Because of the delay in one of the nation’s most important public construction projects, the committee also rejected a proposal from the ministry to unfreeze the budget for Taoyuan International Airport Corp, the Directorate-General of Highways and other agencies, and ruled that the matter will be reviewed at another time.

The ministry originally planned to open the Airport Rail section between Sanchong (三重) and Jhongli (中壢) in October this year. However, it announced on Wednesday that operations in this section would not be launched until the end of 2015 due to lengthy disputes between signaling system contractor Marubeni Corp and its subcontractor, which had only been resolved two months ago.

Former Bureau of High Speed Rail director-general Chu Shu (朱旭) resigned on Wednesday after assuming responsibility for the delay.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) was the target of criticism in yesterday’s question-and-answer session.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) said the contractor already knew that the government, under the circumstances, cannot do anything about the Airport Rail’s delayed launch. Since the public has been complaining about the ministry’s ability to execute the nation’s public construction projects, Lee said that Yeh should also consider stepping down and assuming responsibility for the delay.

DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) accused the minister of hiding the Airport Rail construction situation from the public, adding that the minister should apologize to the committee as well as to the public. She also asked the ministry to start fining Marubeni and seek compensation for any financial losses accrued because of the Airport Rail’s delayed launch.

Yeh Kuang-shih emphasized that he had questioned why Marubeni, who only had experience in building railway tracks, could secure the contract for the Airport Rail’s signaling system. He said he had also questioned why the government decided to choose the lowest tender rather than the most advantageous tender in the bid for such a big contract.

Even though prosecutors had investigated controversies over the bidding for the signaling system, the case was closed as the investigators could not find anything illegal, he added.

In the meantime, Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Jack Hsu (許俊逸) has been assigned to oversee the operation of the Bureau of High Speed Rail, he said.

“We will thoroughly investigate the case, including how the bidding was designed from the start,” Yeh Kuang-shih said.

“We will then submit all the information to the prosecutors for further investigation. We will not tolerate any illegality in this matter,” he added.

He said that he aims to amend the system regulating the quality of the nation’s public construction projects during his term as minister to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

He said he is confident that the Airport Rail would be launched by the revised deadline, adding that the ministry would start planning the shuttle bus routes leading to the Airport Rail stations during this period of time.

Separately yesterday, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said during the weekly Cabinet meeting that the delay in the launch of the Airport Rail has hampered the development of the country, and eroded public confidence and trust in the government.

Each and every government agency has to draw a lesson from this case and do its best to avoid making the same mistake — one that would have a negative impact on people’s lives and damage the government’s image, Jiang said.

Jiang suggested that Cabinet members establish a task force to supervise the status of major construction projects being undertaken by their subordinate agencies every two months, as he has done when he was minister of the interior.

All government agencies should set their construction plans in motion with the aim of completing projects earlier and stimulating economic growth, he said.

Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan