Use S44 'wisely on megaprojects'

Anti-corruption advocates and academics have called on the government to be cautious in using sweeping powers under Section 44 of the interim constitution to fast-track megaprojects.

They have urged the government to ensure the projects being pushed under the powers are free from corruption.

Pramon Sutivong, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, yesterday told the Bangkok Post he does not yet know the details of which projects will be subject to the special law.

He said private operators often found that environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies, which require approval from several agencies, were obstacles to some megaprojects.

Some projects could be accelerated through Section 44, but others need to follow proper procedures. Expediting them too quickly could have future adverse impacts, he said.

Mr Pramon also said when it comes to investment projects under the public-private partnership (PPP) programme, the procurement and bidding processes are a major cause for concern as the procedure is highly prone to corruption and therefore needs thorough screening and scrutiny.

“For me, the most worrying bits of the PPP projects are the procurement and bidding processes. They fall prey to corruption most. A transparent and careful screening procedure is required,” he said.

Deputy Transport Minister Ormsin Chivapruck previously said he would next week discuss with Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith the details of the projects that could be fast-tracked using the special law.

He said there are 20 investment projects worth 1.79 trillion baht that need swift implementation for next year. Details of the projects are expected to be finalised next week before being submitted for consideration by the cabinet.

He said Section 44 is expected to be used to skip the approval process by the PPP Policy Committee, and the EIA study process, which normally take about one to two years. Section 44 would help accelerate the projects.

Ekniti Nitithanprapas, director-general of the State Enterprise Policy Office (Sepo), earlier said there are 66 PPP projects under the government’s five-year investment plan ending in 2019 worth 1.4 trillion baht. Six of them worth 350 billion baht can be developed initially and will be ready for cabinet approval by the middle of next year.

Speaking after a meeting of an anti-corruption committee chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday, Mr Pramon said the premier had pledged to ensure transparency and prevent corruption in all megaprojects while trying to implement them as quickly as possible.

Gen Prayut said at the meeting that progress has been made in tackling corruption, though he said he was still not satisfied and more efforts must be made to end graft.

Rosana Tositrakul, a former member of the now-defunct National Reform Council, said she disagreed with the proposal to invoke Section 44 to fast-track the 20 megaprojects.

She said the military coup-installed government should exercise its special powers carefully, and stressed that scrutiny of the use of its powers is important.

The government may sometimes make mistakes; therefore it should be kept in check to prevent carelessness and negligence, Ms Rosana said.

Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, dean of the College of Social Innovation at Rangsit University, said the proposal to use Section 44 to speed up investments is meant to accelerate economic growth.

The normal project approval process could take about two years, while the special law would cut it to only eight or nine months, he said, adding that Section 44 will prove useful if the government sees to it that projects are implemented transparently.

He also said Section 44 has both advantages and disadvantages.

While the special law could speed up projects, corruption could occur just as quickly, Mr Sangsit said. But he was confident the premier would use the powers transparently.

Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Network, said invoking Section 44 could be acceptable if the move benefits the public.

However, the bidding process must be open to both domestic and foreign bidders and efforts must be made to prevent anyone offering high prices to benefit from the price differentials of projects.

Mr Mongkolkit stressed the need to ensure transparency in the bidding process, and said project specifications must not be designed to favour any particular bidder.

He said he was confident in Gen Prayut’s integrity in using the powers, although he did not trust those at the operational level.

Source URL: Bangkok Post