DSI to probe BTS extension amid doubts, legal threats

national July 03, 2012 00:00

By Piyanuch Thamnukasetchai

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The Department of Special Investigation yesterday designated a questionable extension of the BTS Skytrain concession as "a special case with indefinite timeframe over jurisdictional authority".

That means it will be the subject of a DSI probe whether or not its board can decide, pending outside legal advice, to investigate the matter.

The DSI will still look into the case, even if the Interior Ministry can’t provide an explanation on time on whether Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) can grant a 30-year extension to the BTS concession without opening a new tender, DSI chief Tharit Phengdit said. 
Tharit cited a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung as the chairman of the DSI special-case board, saying Chalerm agreed the extension of the BTS concession would be put on hold indefinitely until the Interior Ministry’s explanation and conclusion on the issue was available. 
The Interior Ministry has 30 days to reach and announce its decision, but has no legal obligation to strictly follow the deadline. Tharit said the complexity of the case was unprecedented, so it would be a long process.
The DSI excluded the issue, along with another political matter regarding donations from a water management firm to the Democrat Party, from the agenda for its meeting last week. The board will meet on Wednesday to discuss the BTS case, which is political as the Democrats run the BMA now.
Tharit said the East Water donation would involve the DSI only in regard to criminal implications, if or when they surface. The Election Commission had authority over the matter as it was an alleged violation of electoral rules. 
In its meeting on June 27, the DSI, relying on an old but still active regulation issued after a coup in 1972, reportedly focused mainly on convincing Council of State representatives present that the draconian rule applied to the BMA decision to grant a concession to BTSC without opening a tender. Tharit was allegedly emotional about DSI dignity, saying the BMA displayed arrogance towards the agency.
Chalerm spent an hour in his opening speech convincing those present that the issue should come under DSI jurisdiction. Some felt it was an attempt to discredit the Democrat-ruled BMA for the benefit of his Pheu Thai Party in the gubernatorial election when the current administration’s term ends in under two years.
The BMA insisted it would take legal action against the DSI if its board accepted the BTS concession extension as a case. BMA spokesman Wasan Meewong said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as the chief of the DSI and DSI special-case board would be held responsible. She could possibly face criminal and civil lawsuits if the DSI investigated the issue.