The pain caused by the 2011 floods represented a rough wake-up call that something must be done to prevent a repeat of a similar disaster. Hence, the 350-billion-baht flood prevention and drought mitigation megaproject was hastily drawn up by the government and an executive decree enacted to enable the Finance Ministry to secure loans to fund the project without the trouble of going through parliamentary scrutiny as should have been the case.
Although Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has said the mega-infrastructure project is transparent and it will be implemented as such, the reality is that the project has lacked transparency from day one.
Firstly, consider the executive decree to secure funding for the project within the set deadline of June 30. Why was the decree needed? The widely held suspicion is that this short-cut legal approach is intended to block the opposition's scrutiny that could possibly expose shortcomings or loopholes, leaving the public in the dark about the project details.
It is amazing that a project of this magnitude and cost _ estimated at 350 billion baht for the time being _ lacks a cohesive master plan, although it is divided into 10 modules covering dam and dyke projects and a floodway. But none of the modules have included studies on environmental, health and strategic impact assessments.
Professor Sangsit Piriyarangsan of Rangsit University said the project violates the rule of law because it deprives locals of information or a chance to participate in projects that will directly affect their lives. Prof Sangsit says such public consultation is endorsed by the constitution.
He also points out that no American or European companies bid for the projects because of strict laws at home that make bribery committed abroad a crime liable to jail terms and heavy fines. It is no wonder that only Chinese, South Korean, Japanese and Thai firms vied for the lucrative contracts, resulting in a shortlist of six groups. The results are expected within two weeks.
Because of the rush to implement the plan, for reasons unclear, it is doubtful that qualified foreign firms are informed or able to implement the project, despite advanced studies conducted by international engineers.
It is also unknown how the government came about with the price tag of 350 billion baht. How could it name a price without creating a master plan?
A Japanese expert from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) told a recent seminar in Bangkok that there is no need for the floodway. Jica said the existing canal system in the Chao Phraya River Basin is adequate to cope with flooding and drought problems provided that water resources management is effective. The expert estimated the overall cost of the project without the floodway should be about 190 billion baht. Unfortunately, his view was ignored as the government appears determined to press ahead with its project or to slash the cost.
There is no doubt about the government's intention to avoid a repeat of the disastrous flooding two years ago and to maintain an adequate water supply for all. But the way that taxpayers' money is spent to ensure that needs to be transparent. The project would be reckless otherwise.
It is morally and legally justified for opponents of the megaproject, such as the Stop Global Warming Association of Thailand, to take their case to the Administrative Court to protect the rights of local communities from possible health and environmental impacts linked to all the various construction projects.
Opponents should have the ability to prevent the scourge of corruption, which unfortunately, is so common in infrastructure projects in this country.