AIT protest targets US contractor

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff Writer, with CNA

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 - Page 3

Representatives of Taiwanese companies subcontracted to build a new office compound for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) yesterday staged another protest at the construction site in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖), renewing their demands for payment of outstanding debts owed to them by the project’s US contractor.

The demonstration was the latest in a series of protests staged by three Taiwanese firms — Wei Chuan Arch Contracting Co, Cherng-Her Construction Co and Area Energy — after months of negotiations with the primary contractor, US-based Weston Solutions, over the payment problem broke down earlier this year.

The companies have called for intervention from the AIT on several occasions, including in a similar protest they staged on April 8, but the latter has insisted on taking a hands-off position in the dispute.

While chanting slogans, such as “Pay back the money owed” and “Face up to it AIT,” the protesters said Weston owed them approximately NT$473.83 million (US$15.858 million), a figure that would be higher if interest on the outstanding amount was also included.

“The project is built on US soil and we signed the subcontract with a US contractor. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant government agencies have expressed concerns about the matter, but none of them are able to intervene and help settle the dispute,” Wei Chuan Arch representative Tu Chung-jen (涂崇仁) said.

Tu said the protest would continue until Friday and they would block off the construction site in the meantime, adding that should the AIT fail to positively respond to their demands by then, they would step up their efforts by launching a long-term demonstration next month.

Area Energy representative Chuang Kuo-chang (莊國昌) said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) instructed the Executive Yuan’s Public Construction Commission to look into the issue after they wrote a letter to Ma requesting his assistance.

“Although Weston had agreed to pay off the debts in installments of US$100,000 per week, it only made the payment for six consecutive weeks,” Chuang said.

In response, acting AIT spokesman Ryan Roberts said the AIT encouraged the parties concerned to resolve the dispute in accordance with their contracts, adding that the institute had received letters from the Taiwanese companies and was aware of their demands.

However, he declined to comment on whether the construction project would be postponed as a result of the payment dispute.