Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) yesterday said that he hoped to solve the problems surrounding the Taipei Dome complex by maintaining the build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract the Taipei City Government has with Farglory Group, but the move only highlighted more problems.
While Ko’s decision might have taken some people by surprise, skeptics who had anticipated the outcome said that exchanges between the city government and Farglory over the past few days were akin to the two sides acting out a script aimed at duping the public.
That is legitimate speculation, considering the hairpin turn in Farglory’s attitude.
Ko, who criticized Farglory as “arrogant” and suspended the construction of the complex in May last year, threatened to dissolve the contract numerous times.
However, the chemistry between the city government and Farglory seemed to undergo a subtle — yet alarming — change in July after Farglory chairman Chao Teng-hsiung (趙藤雄) appeared in back-to-back interviews with media personalities Clara Chou (周玉蔻) and Chen Fei-chuan (陳斐娟), during which he revealed that he had been approached by a dozen “heavyweights,” who offered to help resolve the impasse on Ko’s behalf.
Chao also slammed the seven safety standards the city set for the Dome complex, saying that they lacked any legal basis — a claim that city officials, such as Department of Urban Development Commissioner Lin Jou-min (林洲民), have tried to disprove.
Chao’s move helped him secure a meeting with Taipei Deputy Mayor Teng Chia-chi (鄧家基), during which Teng agreed to Chao’s request that the city transfer safety reviews based on three of the aforementioned standards to the Taiwan Architecture and Building Center.
Critics had said that Chao’s proposal would have rigged the reviews in Farglory’s favor.
Ko quickly backed the decision.
Even though Chao’s plan never worked out, the two sides reached a fishy deal, suggesting that Ko caved in to Farglory’s pressure.
However, the dramatic U-turn Farglory took on Wednesday raised even more doubts, considering that it had been embroiled in a feud with the department just a day before.
As it has come to light that Ko met with Chao in private in the middle of last month, Ko should make public what they discussed and what agreements, if any, were reached.
It is conceivable that Ko is under immense pressure from the Dome debacle, which, if not handled properly, would spell doom for his political career.
He is clearly averse to fighting a legal battle with Farglory, perhaps due in part to the seven safety standards, which put the city government in a disadvantageous position if it decided to resolve the Dome debacle through legal channels.
With all other “third-party” corporations — which were rumored to be interested in taking over the project — seemingly opting out of the game, it seems the only option Ko had left was allowing Farglory to resume construction.
However, with the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office and the Agency Against Corruption still probing former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) and former Taipei finance commissioner Lee Sush-der’s (李述德) involvement in the project’s bidding process, it raises the question what Ko will have to say if the project is pronounced illegal by the judiciary.
With safety issues surrounding the complex unresolved, Ko’s decision has left people questioning whether he acted in the public’s best interest.
As controversy over the Dome rages on, the answers will soon become clear.
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