Both sides to blame in police building fiasco
If and when police and politicians start doing deals, taxpayers should brace for the worst in wasteful spending.
After the 2007 general election, two successive governments under Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat hatched the idea to rebuild some 396 police stations nationwide.
The plan was essentially a budgetary lollipop for the police in exchange for their loyalty to rein in street protests.
Late in 2008 the Democrats grabbed power via a vote in the House. They decided to implement the former government's plan because they also wanted the police on their side.
In 2009, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government approved a Bt6.6-billion budget for the rebuilding scheme.
Two national police chiefs, Patcharawat Wongsuwan and Prateep Tanprasert, and a myriad of panels vetted the spending outlay before drawing up terms of reference for awarding the contract.
Bangkok governor candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen, then serving in the police, recommended splitting the construction work into nine contracts, each of which would be supervised by the respective police regions.
But another police panel made a conflicting recommendation to centralise the contract. Right from the start, police were split on how to share the pie.
As its political overseer, the then deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban finally endorsed the single contract option to rebuild all 396 police stations.
Pratheep's successor, Wichean Potephosree was responsible for organising the e-auction and sealing the deal with the winning contractor.
The price tag was estimated at Bt5.8 billion and the deadline for the job was 450 days.
The construction work actually started in 2011, coinciding with the transition from the Abhisit government to the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.
For almost two years after Yingluck came to power, the government turned a blind eye to the lack of progress in construction work.
Wichean's successor, Priewpan Damapong, did nothing to speed up the construction. And Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung did not address the issue until a week ago.
Regardless of which party's in power, police and politicians had the audacity to make Bt1.5 billion in advance payments to the contractor without checking how much of the job was done.
Some 280 police stations are under construction, but work on the remaining 116 has not even started.
The construction delay has been blamed on a contractual loophole, which fails to set a deadline for police to vacate their respective stations to allow the contractor to start work.
Policemen at each station see the contractor as a cash dispenser in exchange for their cooperation to make the construction site available.
Despite the obvious construction fiasco, Chalerm and Priewpan jointly pushed to extend the construction deadline three times in order to keep a lid on the matter.
With the final deadline of March 14 approaching, the Pheu Thai Party has come up with a politically expedient solution.
The solution has two prongs - make the Democrats the fall guys for the scam in order to gain political mileage and call a new round of bidding - to throw more money and try to make up for the squandered funds.
Under Chalerm's pressure, police cancelled the contract last week paving a way for the new bidding. The main coalition party successfully petitioned the Department of Special Investigation to target Suthep and Abhisit for a probe.
Because all key players appear to have helped themselves to the same pie, it is extremely unlikely that the case will ever reach a stage where someone is prosecuted.
At the end of the day, taxpayers are the real victims who will pick up the tab incurred by police and politicians.