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Fri, June 22, 2007 : Last updated 21:56 pm (Thai local time)

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Home > Business > Army 'asked for Bt800m'

Army 'asked for Bt800m'

Vuthiphong says request was to buy electronic equipment for national-security reasons

TOT's ousted acting president Vuthiphong Priebjrivat yesterday accused the Army of asking the state agency to give it financial support of Bt800 million for the procurement of electronic equipment for national security reasons.

Vuthiphong's expose was apparently a retaliatory move against TOT's board, chaired by General Saprang Kalayanamitr, which yesterday ousted him from all positions, including his directorship of TOT. The removal took immediate effect.

A board member, Colonel Natee Sukonrat, who was appointed to replace Vuthiphong, explained that the equipment was related to a project that TOT should support in the restive deep South.

"It's our duty to support any state agencies when it comes to national security concerns. The board had already asked TOT to study how much it needs to support the equipment purchase," Natee said.

He declined to confirm or deny whether the equipment was worth Bt800 million, as claimed by Vuthiphong. General Saprang denied yesterday there was any lack of transparency in the request for TOT's financial support.

Natee said that Vuthiphong's removal stemmed from his criticism of Information and Communications Technology Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom in a conflict over the proposed "telecom network pool", which was originally suggested by Vuthiphong.

The pool would see TOT consolidating the management of key telecom networks in Thailand as part of an effort to maximise use of the country's  telecom facilities. After the consolidation, TOT

would lease networks to telecom operators and convert their concession contracts to network leases.

The ICT ministry has opposed the plan, saying it is inappropriate to convert telecom concession contracts.

Vuthiphong yesterday said he had cleared up all misunderstandings with Sitthichai.

He said there was a board meeting last Friday to consider the confidential issue of a request for TOT's support to buy certain electronics equipment for national security purposes, worth Bt800 million.

Vuthiphong claimed he was the only director opposing the request and he told the board that, as acting president, he would not sign any disbursement for the proposed financial support.

Vuthiphong also asked the secretary of the meeting to record the opinions he voiced at the meeting. He distributed these to the media yesterday after being removed by the board.

According to the secretary's record, Vuthiphong asked the board why neither the Army nor the Defence Ministry used its own secret budgets to purchase the strategic equipment, instead of requesting financial support from TOT.

Moreover, he asked, if the request was concerned with national security, why was the request letter not sent to TOT by the main national security organisations, instead of by an internal unit of the Army/Defence Ministry, which was not a juristic person?

He told the meeting that the request would financially burden TOT.

Vuthiphong warned that if the request was leaked to the public - which he said was likely to happen - it would affect the confidence of TOT employees and the public in the board's attempts to stamp out corruption and promote transparency in the organisation.

According to the meeting record, Vuthiphong said TOT's chairman, General Saprang, would be hardest hit by the resulting lack of confidence.

Usanee Mongkolporn

The Nation

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