The Nation



Mega-projects in doubt

An anti-government protester uses a mobile phone to take a photograph through a fence during yesterday

An anti-government protester uses a mobile phone to take a photograph through a fence during yesterday

Transport, water management projects may face axe

The dissolution of Parliament has whipped up more uncertainty over the government's mega infrastructure drive, led by the Bt350-billion water-management blueprint and flagship Bt2 trillion-infrastructure scheme.

Whether they will be further delayed, reworked or even aborted depends on which party wins the next election. Both schemes were being counted on to propel economic growth and catalyse private investment next year.

A Finance Ministry source, who asked not to be named, said yesterday that the future of the Bt2-trillion scheme was in doubt, as the bill authorising the government to seek loans for it is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court. But even if it is passed into law, the new government may decide to kill it, he said.

Though the borrowing bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives, Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt said its fate was now up to the new government. "If the court rules that it's constitutional but the new government does not seek royal endorsement, the bill would face an automatic death," he said.

Ampon Kittiampon, secretary-general of the Cabinet, said if the court handed down a favourable ruling any time before the new government came to power, the interim government could legally seek royal endorsement, but it might opt to wait for the new government.

Chadchart insisted that the infrastructure scheme would benefit the country in the long term and some of its sub-modules had already been planned and implemented by government agencies. Studies of other projects are being carried out.

Chula Sukmanop, director-general of the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning, said the office would proceed with studies of those projects. The process takes time and complete studies would allow for immediate project start-ups.

The water scheme is in a more precarious position. The Finance Ministry source said loan contracts had been signed and some Bt30 billion had been borrowed. If the new government decides not to proceed with the scheme, the ministry will not need to make further drawdowns from the credit lines.

Supot Tovichakchaikul, secretary-general of the Water and Flood Management Commission (WFMC), said House dissolution would not affect the scheme, as the financing was already in place.

The WFMC is now holding public hearings on the water scheme as ordered by the Central Administrative Court. The last one will be hosted in Bangkok probably next week, after the original date of December 6 was cancelled.

The rush to complete the rounds of public hearings has also raised eyebrows.

Srisuwan Janya, president of the Stop Global Warming Association, said a complaint would be lodged with the Central Administrative Court, after tips that the government paid travel allowances of at least Bt400 to each attendee of the hearings.

Under the Administrative Court's order, only after public hearings are concluded will the WFMC be allowed to sign construction contracts. Supot said the House dissolution would delay the contract signing from January to February. "The new government will have to sign the contracts, as no official or the interim government can do this, as each contract is worth nearly Bt100 billion," he said.

Monton Panupokin, managing director of Korea Water Resources Corp, one of the bid winners, urged the government and the WFMC to explain the status of the project. His company is waiting for new government's decision. The two projects have been hailed as key engines for the Thai economy next year, when the global economy will recover slowly.

Luxmon Attapich, a senior economist at the Asian Development Bank's Thailand office, said in October that should the two projects go as planned, more government spending would be injected into the economy next year. The ADB forecasts growth for 2014 rebounding to 4.9 per cent.

An economist at the National Institute of Development Administration also expects the projects to spur new domestic and foreign investment next year.

Prab Thakral, managing director of land development at Boutique Group of Companies, said the delays to the Bt2-trillion infrastructure scheme would not undermine Thailand's long-term economic outlook as long as there were assurances that the projects included in the scheme would be implemented.

There is great need for development of the railway system in Thailand, after decades of complete neglect, he said.

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