The need for project streamlining
Observers express concern over the government's allocation of huge funds and opening of bidding for water management infrastructure despite the lack of a cohesive planThe government recently switched on the greenlight for implementation of a series of water resource management and flood prevention projects to the tune of Bt350 billion.
However, criticism abounds due to the absence of a comprehensive master plan covering the 10 modules of work that will be awarded to successful bidders.
Pramote Maiklad, a former director-general of the Irrigation Department, says: "The government's announcement to invite bids for these multi-billion-baht schemes is based on just a set of preliminary concepts derived from recent meetings and previous studies. There is no cohesive master plan to implement these ideas yet. I wonder how they are going to proceed with the bidding as announced.
"So far there is no database to back up the amount of funds cited by the government. The floodway projects, for example, are slated to cost around Bt120 billion, but we don't know where the figures come from or where exactly the floodways are going to be built.
"The existing ideas are all tentative, as are the routings. There should have been in-depth feasibility studies on these schemes before the government went ahead with the plan to invite bids from Thai and foreign companies to design and build.
"I am not sure if the government is on the right track, and there will be obstacles ahead if the schemes go ahead this way, such as opposition from local residents where the projects are situated, environmental and other problems.
"Regarding the government's plan to set up a new ministry to take charge of water resources and related matters, I think the idea is good because at present water and related issues are under the jurisdiction of several ministries.
"The Agriculture Ministry has the Irrigation Department under its umbrella, while the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has some other agencies related to water.
"In fact, all water and related agencies should be run as units under the same ministry for increased effectiveness."
Komsan Maleesri, an executive member of Thailand's Council of Engineers, says: "A total of six groups of Thai and foreign companies have been shortlisted to bid for the 10 work modules identified in the water resource management and flood prevention schemes.
"At this stage, there is no master plan for these projects and that's risky because we could be taking the wrong path in implementing these projects.
"Some South Korean, Chinese or Japanese firms, which will bid for these projects, have sent engineers to do surveys in Thailand, but I am not sure if they have sufficient knowledge and database.
"The government seems to have taken short-cuts as the executive decree to borrow Bt350 billion to finance these projects will expire in the coming months.
Sasin Chalermlarp, secretary-general of Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, says: "Of the Bt350-billion projects, eight are for construction of dams and dikes, including two major dam projects, Mae Wong and Kaeng Sua Ten.
"These schemes need to get the environmental impact assessment [EIA] green light before they can go ahead. The Mae Wong Dam project, for example, has been around for years but cannot start because of environmental, wildlife and related problems.
"Early this year, there was a change of the chair of the EIA body tasked with evaluating these schemes. I guess the government is trying to fast-track the EIA process so that it can use the funds prior to the June 30 deadline of the executive decree that allows the government to borrow Bt350 billion.
"According to the data provided by the government, the Mae Wong Dam project is estimated to cost around Bt13 billion, while the Kaeng Sua Ten project is even bigger. However, many experts have agreed that the Mae Wong project will not be useful in preventing floods but it is still included as one of the projects.
"Another concern is that foreign firms are predominant in these mega-projects as South Korean and Chinese firms and Thai-Japanese joint ventures are shortlisted for all modules of work, while Thailand's indigenous firms are scattered around, accounting for just a small fraction of the overall work."