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Nod for Nasa project hangs in the balance

Plodprasob says study on the need for Parliament debate will take time; questions intentions of Democrat Party

Nasa's request to base its weather-research project at the U-tapao airbase appeared to have hit a snag as the government and the opposition remained at loggerheads over the legal response under the Constitution's Article 190.

The government needs time to study and listen to all concerned agencies about whether the issue should be sent to Parliament, Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadee said yesterday.

"I don't know how long the study would take and I don't know if it would be completed in time for Nasa to begin its project in August and September," he told The Nation over the phone, while blaming the opposition party for obstructing the project.

"Without the project, we will have no advance knowledge on accurately forecasting the weather, and we will not have precious information needed to avoid floods," he said.

The minister said he found the Democrat Party's intentions questionable as it demanded that the government have the issue discussed in Parliament though the Democrats themselves had failed to do so when the project was first proposed in 2010.

The joint statement of intent signed by Nasa's administrator Charles F Bolden and the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Gistda) chairman Somchet Thinaphong on September 28, 2010, should be considered the main document and the one filed in March as a secondary one, he said.

"If it needs to be discussed in Parliament, it should have been done when the main document was signed at the time of the Democrat-led government," he said. "If what I am doing is wrong, then what you [Democrats] did in the past was wrong, too," he said.

Plodprasob added that he would consult the Council of State, the government's legal adviser, on the issue and look at any possibilities there might be for the National Anti-Corruption Commission to consider if the Democrat-led government's action was unconstitutional.

The minister released a copy of the joint statement signed by Nasa and Gistda in 2010 to the press at Government House yesterday.

Plodprasob also said that he would ask all concerned agencies if they think the US proposal needs Parliament approval. If these agencies indicate that the Cabinet has the authority to carry on, the government will continue with the project, otherwise the issue will be taken to Parliament, he said.

So far, security agencies have indicated that the project will have no implications on national security, hence Parliament does not need to be involved, the minister said.

The Council of State told the government earlier that a proposal such as this one did not require a Parliament reading in accordance with Article 190, a source said yesterday.

Officials from several agencies testifying at the House of Representa-tive's Committee of Foreign Affairs said they saw no security implications from the Nasa project and that scientific cooperation such as this one did not need Parliament approval. The Cabinet has the authority to approve such scientific cooperation with a foreign country, the Foreign Ministry's director of Legal Division Warunee Pankra-chang told the committee.

Article 190 requires that all agreements with foreign countries or international organisations that create a change in territory, sovereignty over territory or have a serious impact on social and economic interest of the country must be taken to Parliament first.

The Nasa research project became a political issue when the opposition accused the government of allowing the United States to use U-tapao airbase in exchange for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra being granted a US entry visa and demanded that the proposal be debated in Parliament for transparency.

Academics, meanwhile, are worried that the US might be using the Nasa project as a front for high-technology research for military purposes as part of a US strategy to contain China in the Asia-Pacific region.

Plodprasob said the government had the mechanism to monitor the Nasa project and ensure that it was a purely scientific one and was beneficial to the country. The committee includes representatives from the military, Foreign Ministry, Meteo-rology Department, Bureau of Royal Rainmaking, academics as well as Gistda. The committee will examine the project before it goes into operation and monitor it closely thereafter, he said.



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