Will Sukhumbhand face Apirak's fate?
Probe into extension of Skytrain contracts and a couple of other complaints could cast a shadow over his second termJust like his popular predecessor Apirak Kosayodhin, MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has twice been elected as Bangkok governor. But will his second term end abruptly in the same way as Apirak's?
Apirak won his second gubernatorial election in October 2008 only to resign from thecapital's
top post a few months later. He stepped down in the wake of a guilty verdict against him by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
NACC had found Apirak negligent in handling the scandal-plagued project to procure fire vehicles at a budget of well over Bt6.67 billion. The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders is now reviewing the case.
Judging by the amount of money involved, the case against Apirak is much smaller than the case Sukhumbhand now faces.
The case against Sukhumbhand involves two contracts that are worth well over Bt190 billion.
The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has been probing Sukhumbhand, his deputy Teerachon Manomaiphibul, and nine other suspects for their roles in awarding the two contracts to BTSC - the current operator of the Skytrain system - without any prior consent from an authorised official or the interior minister.
Under the contracts, the BTSC - which has invested in and operated the original network of the capital's Skytrain under a 30-year concession - is hired to operate the Skytrain extension routes. The firm is also paid to continue operating the original system for 13 more years after the original concession expires. Doubts were raised because the original contract was due to expire in 2029, leaving ample time for the next governor to make a decision.
According to the DSI, such contracts involve the extension of concession for a rail-based system in the capital, which is clearly under the jurisdiction of the interior minister.
As Bangkok governor, Sukhum-bhand must have known the scope of his duty and mandate, but he failed to stop the contracts from being awarded, the DSI has alleged.
Sukhumbhand showed up at the DSI to acknowledge the charges against him on January 9 this year. After that, he continued with his gubernatorial campaign and won with a record number of votes on Sunday.
The unofficial vote count showed Sukhumbhand had won more than 1.2 million votes.
Despite the overwhelming support, Sukhumbhand should realise by now that the road ahead for him is not rosy.
The DSI is preparing to press more charges against Sukhum-bhand for his role in the Skytrain contracts.
Once the DSI finishes its investigation report, the case will be forwarded to the NACC. There, Sukhumbhand will have to struggle hard to put up a convincing defence. Sukhumbhand has always denied any wrongdoing, insisting the contracts are just contracts - not concessions - and thus are within the jurisdiction of his city administration. But whether the NACC will believe him is another matter.
However, the NACC's verdict will not be final. The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders may form a different opinion. Yet, when Apirak resigned as Bangkok governor, he has practically set a precedent that Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva may want all his party members to uphold.
Therefore, Sukhumbhand may be asked to leave his Bangkok-governor post during his second term, too, if the NACC happens to rule against him.
The bad news for Sukhumbhand is that there are also many other cases against him. For example, Pheu Thai Party deputy spokesman Jirayu Huangsap has already urged the DSI to look into why the Sukhumbhand-led BMA failed to construct the Bangkok Futsal Arena in line with the Federation Internationale de Football Association (Fifa)'s standard. Fifa refused to use the Bangkok Futsal Area for its tournaments. Jirayu has accused the Sukhumbhand-led BMA of failing to ensure fair bidding.
Moreover, the Stop-Global Warming Association has threatened to petition the Central Administrative Court if the BMA goes ahead with its Nong Khaem incinerator project.
According to the association, the project is threatening to pollute the local environment and BMA has ignored several constitutional clauses in preparing this project.
Moreover, the contract was awarded in November, before his term ended on January 7. The Bt2.1-billion contract, however, will last 20 years, meaning Bangkok will have to pay about Bt100 million to the company.
Meanwhile, the company holds the right to sell electricity generated from the waste, without sharing any returns with the BMA.
Sukhumbhand, who is returning to the helm of BMA, must tread carefully from now on and have his fingers crossed that he will not be ending his tenure at the BMA the way Apirak did.