The Office of the Auditor-General will take 30 days to investigate a complaint, which asked the agency to investigate the purchase of a Bt350-million airship, Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas said yesterday.
Social activist Srisuwan Janya earlier filed a complaint with the Auditor-General, asking it to investigate Interior Minister and former Army chief General Anupong Paochinda over the Bt350-million airship that was recently decommissioned after only eight years in service.
Srisuwan urged Pisit to scrutinise whether the purchase was legitimate. If not, his office should send the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for further punishment, Srisuwan said.
Pisit said the Auditor-General would scrutinise how frequently the airship was used as well as whether the usage matched the purpose stated before the purchase.
The blimp was purchased when Anupong was serving as the Army chief in 2009 under the administration of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Intended to conduct air patrols to detect terrorist movements in the deep South, it cost Bt50 million annually for maintenance in addition to the original purchase price of Bt350 million.
Srisuwan said it might not have been a good purchase given the fact that it had never fulfilled its job in alerting the Army of terror attacks.
He added that, as well as Anupong, the then Cabinet should be held accountable for allowing such a purchase.
The activist said that this issue should demonstrate whether the Office of the Auditor-General could work fairly. The matter should not be left to slide, as in the case of the Navy’s controversial submarine purchase, because it was widely known how inefficient and ineffective the airship had been, he said.
Srisuwan said he would like Pisit to take charge of this case before he retires this month.
In his letter, the activist also pointed out that the blimp was old technology that dated back to World War I and was designed for patrolling above natural forest. It was not fit for purpose in the deep South, where terror attacks mostly were in the city, he said.
Srisuwan also questioned the sincerity of the military’s recent move to demand compensation from the company that sold the blimp.
Meanwhile, NACC president Pol General Watcharaphol Prasanratchakit said the NACC could reconsider the case if new evidence is presented.
In 2015, the NACC dismissed a case of malfeasance against former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who allegedly oversaw the purchase of the airship that critics have called overpriced.