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Speaker to be invited to explain his 'study trip'

The parliamentary committee on House of Representatives Affairs will meet on Thursday to discuss the "study trip" House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont led to Europe, panel chairman Pheu Thai MP Paijit Srivorakhan said yesterday.



Democrat MP Satit Pitutecha has asked the committee to investigate Somsak's "study trip" with close aides and reporters.

This development comes amid news of another controversial trip planned by the House standing committee on corruption this weekend.

Paijit said the House of Representatives Affairs panel would invite Somsak and the deputy secretary-general of Parliament, Khampee Ditthakorn to a meeting held to consider a project to promote democracy in the parliamentary system.

Paijit said the expenses of Somsak's trip were within the Bt8 million budget set. He insisted that all the spending of Somsak's entourage was covered by Parliament considering they had been invited to tag along by the parliament president.

Somsak's spokesman Wattana Sengpairoh yesterday denied media reports that Somsak went to France and Belgium, saying he only went to the UK. He added that it was normal for members of House committees to go overseas on study trips.

He also denied that reporters invited on the trip were only those who favoured the red shirts, saying representatives from The Nation and Bangkok Post were also invited, though nobody at Asia Update was invited.

However, Wattana's claim was disputed by both papers and others. Academic and columnist Pitch Pongsawat, who was identified as representing Kom Chad Luek, said he joined the trip as an academic and was not there on behalf of the Thai daily.

Wattana told reporters about many tours that members of House panels went to this year to back his claim that Somsak's trip was legitimate.

Meanwhile, Krungthep Turakij has found another luxurious excursion that may contravene parliamentary rules: the House standing committee on corruption and malfeasance plans to spend Bt2.38 million of state funds visiting Hong Kong and South Korea from Friday until next Tuesday.

The panel, led by Wiroj Pao-in, stated in its request for funds from Somsak that members wanted to take the trip to learn about anti-corruption work in the two countries. However, the itinerary suggests the trip is mainly a sightseeing tour organised by Petra Travel for a "special tour of Hong Kong and Korea for five days, three nights".

Details showed that 12 panel members were going on the trip, with a daily allowance of Bt9,300 each, in addition to hotel expenses of Bt30,000 per member. Parliament would also pay Bt30,000 for the accommodation for each member.

In addition to these 12, 10 others on the trip will get a daily allowance of Bt6,300 and hotel allowance of Bt15,730 each.

Other costs include Bt300,000 for a reception, Bt482,300 for transport, Bt7,500 to hire an interpreter, Bt9,000 for passports issued for two specialists and seven parliamentary staff.

Details of the itinerary show that members on the trip will be eating at top restaurants. A feast of lobsters sashimi, chamber nautilus sashimi, boiled shrimps and several other expensive dishes has been arranged for them on the first day they arrive in Hong Kong at the Lei Yue Mun Restaurant. Sites where corruption panel members will visit to "study" for their "work" include Repulse Bay, Victoria Peak, Hong Kong Jewellery factory and the Jump Show.

A former House panel chairman, who asked not to be named, alleged that Somsak often approved foreign trips for panels that went against regulations enacted by former Parliament president Wan Muhammad Noor Matha. He said several panels often sought funds together, which forced Somsak to approve the trips in a rush.


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