A House committee vetting the budget bill for the next fiscal year on Monday voted to cut funds set aside to cover the legal fees in a dispute with an Australia-based gold mining company by 12 million baht.
The panel voted 38 to 21 in favour of cutting the budget sought by the Ministry of Industry to pay for the legal expenses incurred in an arbitration initiated by Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd, the parent company of Akara Resources Plc, as proposed by a sub-committee. The ministry had sought to secure 111 million baht to pay for the legal costs.
Kingsgate is seeking 30 billion baht in compensation over the government's -- under the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order -- decision to suspend operations at the Chatree gold mine in Phichit.
As the head of NCPO, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha invoked Section 44 of the interim charter to suspend the gold mine's operations over health and environmental concerns. Kingsgate claimed the order violated the free-trade agreement between Thailand and Australia.
Before the decision was taken, Seri Ruam Thai Party MP and budget committee member Rewat Wisarutwech said he would lobby other committee members to scrap the budget entirely. He argued that since the Constitutional Court ruled that the NCPO was not a state official, Gen Prayut should not have used the state's budget to fight the case.
However, the committee voted by a majority to trim the budget by 12 million baht as proposed by the sub-committee.
Dr Rewat, along with the other members who are opposed to the allocation, has asked to address the issue during the second reading of the budget, which is scheduled to take place on Sept 16-18.
Songkhram Kijlertpairote, a list-MP and leader of the Puea Chart Party, said yesterday Gen Prayut should absorb the costs because he exercised his power as the NCPO head and his order was a breach of an international trade agreement.