Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) confirmed yesterday that he had received information that Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC, 台灣高鐵) chairwoman Nita Ing (殷琪) intended to resign.
Wu was responding to media reports that the government had reached a consensus with shareholders of the company that Ing would step down and the company’s board would be reorganized in an attempt to resolve its financial difficulties.
The Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) reported that the government planned for THSRC chief executive Ou Chin-der (歐晉德) to take over as chairman and quoted Ou as saying that he knew nothing about the reshuffle.
If the government does name a representative to take over the nation’s struggling high-speed rail company, less than three years after it went into service, it would signal the failure of Taiwan’s biggest build-operate-transfer project, under which the firm agreed to build the rail line and run it for 35 years before transferring ownership to the government.
The company has a paid-up capital of NT$105.3 billion (US$3.2 billion), but was reportedly NT$11 billion in the red last year, while its accumulated debts amount to NT$70.2 billion.
Wu yesterday said he would respect the decision of THSRC’s board during its provisional board meeting tomorrow.
Wu said he did not know why Ing wished to resign, adding that the government expected the company to operate as usual no matter who became chairperson of the THSRC.
“Two things are of the utmost importance to the government. First, that the high-speed rail link’s operations should not be suspended, because that would seriously impact the nation,” Wu told reporters during a trip to Nantou County yesterday morning. “Second, the government should shoulder its responsibilities and supervise the company.”
The company, which is seeking NT$80 billion (US$2.5 billion) from creditor banks to keep it afloat, declined to comment on the report.
“We thank the five original shareholders of THSRC for overcoming all the difficulties and helping complete the construction of the high-speed rail link,” Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) said at a separate setting yesterday. “We highly value their contribution to the nation’s transportation system.”
The five original shareholders were Continental Engineering Corp (大陸工程), Teco Group (東元電機), Evergreen International Corp (長榮國際), Pacific Electric Wire and Cable Co (太平洋電線電纜) and Fubon Bank (富邦銀行).
When asked for comment, KMT Legislator Chen Ken-te (陳根德) of the legislature’s Transportation Committee said it was the right time for the government to take over THSRC, adding that Ou would make a perfect candidate for chairman of the company.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said it was acceptable as long as the government’s takeover of THSRC was in the public interest.
“The [takeover] would be questionable, however, if the intervention was in the Ma administration’s interest,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHELLEY SHAN, STAFF WRITER AND AFP
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