Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Wang Shih-chien (王世堅) yesterday questioned a more than NT$600 million (US$20 million) budget increase for the Taipei Performing Arts Center, and accused well-known director Stan Lai (賴聲川) of seeking to profit from the project.
The arts center, which began construction last year on the former site of the Shilin Night Market, will be one of the biggest in Taipei once it is completed in 2015, with a cube-shaped theater with 1,500 seats and two circular 800-seat theaters.
The Taipei City Government originally budgeted NT$4.8 billion for the project when it signed the contract in 2009. It added NT$623 million more in 2010, after Lai joined the project’s review committee.
Lai — who was accused of squandering the nation’s coffers when he directed the controversial Double Ten National Day celebration performance titled Dreamers (夢想家) in 2011 — could play the same tactic again and this time burn taxpayer money with the arts center, Wang said.
“Lai and his team were also behind the performances at the Taipei Flora Expo and the Deaflympics. They always raise the initial budget for projects and profit from them,” he said at the Taipei City Council.
Writer Neil Peng (馮光遠) further accused Lai of taking credit from others in the cultural industry and obtaining contracts for cultural projects through under-the-table negotiations because of his contacts at the central and city government.
“NT$623 million is three times the budget of Dreamers, and we should not tolerate this abuse of national resources anymore,” Peng said.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday dismissed the accusations, saying that the NT$623 million budget is to be used to improve the sound system, the glass walls and other facilities in the theaters, and Lai would not benefit from the budget increase because he resigned from the committee in 2011.
“The project went through at least 32 reviews in the committee, and all the decisions about the project and budget change are not made by any one individual alone. Besides, Lai is not on the project’s review committee anymore,” he said.
Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Liu Wei-kung (劉維公) said the budget increase was determined when Lai was still in the committee, but it was a collective decision by the committee.
Wang said nearly all the contractors for the arts center’s sound system, lights and stage facilities either cooperated with Lai’s Performance Workshop, or are sub-companies of his workshop, urging the city government to look into the background of the contractors to prevent a similar scandal.
Dreamers drew controversy after the central government was accused of limiting the the number of eligible bidders for the production, which ran for just two nights but cost more than NT$215 million to produces.