K-water's background in sharp focus
Qualified for all 10 projects under flood prevention plan
Background information on Korea Water Resources (K-water) is now highly sought after in Thailand, as it turns out to be the only foreign company qualified for all 10 investment modules under the government's Water Management Master Plan project.
Doubts are high over whether the South Korea-based company would have the capacity to carry out all the construction work, should it win the bids for all 10 modules worth Bt350 billion combined.
The 10 projects include the construction of dams and reservoirs and the management of land and flood-control systems around the Chao Phraya, one of Thailand's major rivers, and 24 other waterways across the country.
Although K-water had never really made its presence felt in Thailand before the Water Management Master Plan project took shape, it appears to be well known internationally.
Established in 1967 and owned by the government of South Korea, K-water has been involved in many large-scale water projects in Asia and Africa.
In Asia, many of the activities involved Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia and Pakistan.
It was recently contracted to complete a water-resources master plan for Cambodia, which covered the building of a hydrological observation network and data-management system, as well as a water-basin management plan for flood control and environmental preservation.
According to the World Water Council, it is South Korea's leading water-related enterprise. Since its establishment, K-water has constructed and operated 15 multipurpose dams, a further three of which are under construction.
K-water chief executive Kim Kuen-ho, a civil engineer who joined the company in 2008, has more than 30 years of extensive experience in infrastructure engineering and planning for the Korean government. He is also the president of the Korea National Committee on Large Dams, and used to be deputy minister in the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Ministry.
In bidding for the project in Thailand, K-water has formed a consortium with six construction firms, including Hyundai and GS, which are both South Korean family-owned conglomerates.
The Korean ministry said K-water had the edge over other bidders as it had built its know-how of water management through the restoration of Korea's four major river systems.
In Thailand, K-water has so far only been involved with the Royal Irrigation Department, whose deputy director-general for engineering Chachawal Punyavateenun said both sides had forged technical cooperation for some time.
Before the bidding, the company had also set up an academic team in Thailand to conduct geographical and water-source studies, and the department's representatives had been invited to share their experience from the Kingdom's 2011 flood disaster, he said.
Lack of familiarity a concern
However, despite its extensive experience, some academics are still concerned over K-water's familiarity with Thailand, which could become a major obstacle.
Thanawat Jarupongsakul, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of science, said he was concerned over the different physical landscapes of Korea and Thailand. Korean rivers are shorter than those here, he said.
Suwat Jittaladakorn, a water expert with the Engineering Institute of Thailand, said all the bidders had experience, but experience from one country might not be applicable elsewhere.
The six bidders are formed by 31 companies, of which 15 are foreign. The Royal Irrigation Department took part in the scrutiny of the bidders for the water projects.
All six qualified bidders are to submit final plans within the next month. The Water and Flood Management Commission has set an April deadline for the drafting of the terms of reference. The six successful groups are K-water, Thai-Japan Joint Venture, ITD-Power China, Thailand Team Joint Venture, SUT Summit Joint Venture and Loxley Joint Venture.
The consortiums will enter the final round of bidding for preparing the terms of reference, including technical details, construction, timetable and expenses. The winners will be decided by the screening committee supervised by the Permanent Secretary's Office and the PM's Office, and chaired by permanent secretary Tongthong Chandransu.
It seems that K-water will fight hard to win the projects. Given that the overall Thai project is a comprehensive water-resource-management works programme involving the establishment of sophisticated water-management systems, the winning of the project would mean the international recognition of South Korea's water-management capabilities.
It would also serve as a stepping stone for Korea's water companies to enter Southeast Asian markets and beyond.