Megaprojects 'will go ahead'

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith has assured investors the ministry's 20 infrastructure projects will go ahead as planned following the military regime's latest order to allow state authorities to "fast-track" mandatory environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for state projects.

Mr Arkhom said he has reassured the participating investors that all 20 megaprojects worth 1.796 trillion baht will be implemented by the government.

The projects cover all types of transport systems, including railways, maritime and air transport. They include the phase 2 expansion of Suvarnabhumi airport, five dual-track projects backed by the State Railway of Thailand and the city mass-transit projects.

The government believes lengthy approval processes including environmental and health impact assessment studies are obstacles to some megaprojects.

The latest order by National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) chief Prayut Chan-o-cha allows preparations on other fronts to go ahead while EIA and EHIA (EIAs with a health component) studies are being prepared.

Based on the order, state agencies overseeing state projects which are pending results of EIAs, but are in urgent need of implementation may request cabinet approval to seek private contractors to undertake the projects. However, the authorities cannot sign agreements or give contractors any rights pending the EIA results.

Mr Arkhom also said he has discussed transferring greenfield projects' assets to the Thailand Future Fund (TFF) with Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong.

Details will be submitted to the Public-Private Partnership Committee next month.

TFF was created by the government to raise funds from investors to finance selected infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party is urging the military regime to review the order that allows state authorities to look for contractors without having to wait for EIA/EHIA approvals.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejajjiva said he doesn't believe the order is a step toward economic reforms, arguing it goes against the country's reform agenda as the people are left out of the process.

Earlier, the NCPO chief invoked his special powers under Section 44 to suspend enforcement of the city planning in Special Economic Zones.

"I'm calling on the government to review its orders to suspend laws on the EIA, EHIA studies and city planning because it will fuel conflicts between the state and the people," Mr Abhisit said.

He said he cannot see how the suspension of these legal procedures would deliver benefits to the public. Instead, it has raised nothing but public scepticism, he said.

The Democrat leader said the authorities should work with the communities and engage them in development plans rather than relocating them elsewhere and pushing ahead with schemes which have raised concerns about the environment.

He said some state projects are controversial and conflicts can escalate if the public is not involved.

They include the Chao Phraya River promenade which spans 7km between the Rama VII and Pin Klao bridges and is known as the New Landmark of Thailand project.

Source Bangkok Post