Guggenheim museum ball bounced back to Hu’s court

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Staff

The Cabinet yesterday retorted to Taichung City Mayor Jason Hu’s criticism that the government has failed to honor its commitment to help fund a project to build a US$400 million satellite Guggenheim branch museum in the central-Taiwan city.

“The Cabinet can by no way accept the criticism,” said Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai, adding Hu had “turned the cause and effect upside down.” Hu must disclose to the public details surrounding negotiations between the Taichung City Government and the central government in full immediately, said Chen.

Chen said the government remains committed to building a Guggenheim museum in Taichung, which the central government has pledged to provide NT$5 billion to finance.

And in fact, Council for Economic Planning and Development Director Chang Jing-sen is already scheduled to meet Hu today to discuss budget needed to build the museum.

“The Cabinet’s commitment was never shaken, and the central government has demonstrated its utmost sincerity on this matter,” said Chen.

Chang also blamed Hu for making biased criticism. Taichung City is never short of money, and the central government has never bucked the responsibility, so there is no reason for Hu to criticize the central government without solid evidence, Chang told lawmakers.

Chang said if Taichung City runs short of cash for the project, the central government will definitely not sit idle without helping.

In fact, Chang said the government has provided the Taichung City government the NT$280 million needed to sign the contract for the museum’s construction and related revolving funds. Therefore he couldn’t understand why the contract hasn’t been signed yet.

In early July, Ma said the city needs NT$160 million as a down payment for signing the memorandum for the project.

Moreover, the Cabinet already agreed earlier this month to provide another NT$2 billion for the Guggenheim project in 2005.

In response, Hu said he has never been informed that Taichung City will receive NT$2 billion from the central government. Also, he added, he is worried that time is not on his side. The dispute came after the Cabinet didn’t include funding needed for the project in a special budget plan to request extra money. Hu therefore said this has put in question a pledge made by President Chen Shui-bian during the presidential campaign.

But Chen said the subsidy is not supposed to be included in 2004’s budget since the project’s planning will not be finalized until next year.

Premier Yu Shyi-kun promised the contribution in September last year.

Late last month, Hu, an opposition Kuomintang member, criticized that the government had not included in an NT$500 billion national construction project. The grandiose NT$500 billion budget is a sum the government wants to build 10 major public construction projects with over the next five years.

The NT$500 billion budget has yet to pass the Legislature. Hu said the designer and builder from the United States will not wait forever for an answer from Taichung.

Hu said Guggenheim development had stalled since last year, and he can’t say for sure the U.S. builder won’t turn its back on Taiwan.

Since relevant subsidy budget remain uncertain, Hu suggested that the central bank take over the plan and build the museum on its own.

Members of Taichung’s cultural and literary circles had called for help from the Cabinet in March in an effort to save the Guggenheim project. But their efforts failed to produce results. Hu said in February the deadline for signing an agreement with the Guggenheim had already passed and that if the city could not ink the agreement soon by obtaining the trust and support of the Guggenheim Museum and overcoming related technical problems, the plan would have to be aborted altogether.