Tug-of-war impairing decision-making at NT

Tug-of-war impairing decision-making at NT

Government instability caused by a tug-of-war between the prime minister and his deputy is taking a toll on operations and decision-making at National Telecom (NT), according to a source on the firm's board who requested anonymity.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon oversees several ministries, including the Digital Economy and Society Ministry (DES), which directly governs NT, a merged unit of CAT Telecom and TOT.

Gen Prawit has influence on the majority of NT board members as he approved their selection, while the DES minister fully supports Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the source said.

Several critical agenda items and projects of NT have been stuck in limbo due to ambiguity in decision-making by the firm's leadership amid government instability, the source noted.

The problem has also been complicated by the protracted consolidation of CAT Telecom and TOT due to the differences in their organisational culture and management structures, though the merger officially took place about a year ago.

PERFECT STORM

The source said NT's existing projects are going nowhere due to instability within the government's top management, which has an impact on NT through its board.

"The current situation is like a perfect storm for NT, affecting the entire organisation," the source said.

NT has nine board directors at present, including the chairman. Six more appointees must be added to reach the full complement of 15 board members.

The source pointed out that the appointment of the majority of the NT board was approved by Gen Prawit as he is the deputy premier governing the DES Ministry.

However, DES Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is a strong supporter of Gen Prayut, the source noted.

Sarath Ratanavadi, chief executive and the biggest shareholder of Gulf Energy Development Plc, Thailand's biggest private power producer by market value, is seen to have close ties with Mr Chaiwut and gives stronger support to Gen Prayut than Gen Prawit, the source noted.

Mr Chaiwut once served as an executive at Gulf.

Gulf is the biggest shareholder of InTouch Holdings, the parent of Advanced Info Service (AIS), the country's biggest mobile operator by subscriber base.

"With government instability brought about by the competing power play, we are unlikely to see unity in NT's decision-making between NT's board, the DES Ministry and the government," the source said.

SEEKING PARTNERS

NT is now seeking partnerships to create a sustainable revenue stream.

NT has been in talks with Advanced Info Service (AIS) on a new partnership deal that would see AIS purchase 10-megahertz of bandwidth on the the 700MHz range from NT.

Another 10MHz of bandwidth held by NT is targeted for joint development by NT and AIS for the mutual benefit of both companies.

NT also opened the door for talks with True Corporation, another major carrier, to pursue mutually beneficial cooperation.

True is a subsidiary of Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group, which has good relations with all political factions, the source said.

The source pointed out that the partnership deals involving 700MHz range are complicated by some legal issues and it remains unknown when they would be finalised.

NT also shoulders tough tasks on the operation of the Thaicom 4 and 6 satellites, which were handed over by Thaicom in September last year following the expiry of its concession.

ISSUES OF CONCERN

Mr Chaiwut accepts that the selections of the majority of the NT board were endorsed by Gen Prawit. He does not wish to comment about the internal problem concerning the decision-making procedure between NT and the ministry.

However, the minister said NT has faced some complicated issues, including the lack of a president, the past resignation of several board members and a need to fill up the remaining positions as well as efforts to ensure the smooth consolidation of CAT Telecom and TOT.

The push for several existing projects has been complicated by legal issues, agreement conditions as well as the various parties involved, Mr Chaiwut noted.

Referring to NT's 700MHz range deal, Mr Chaiwut said he wants to see it wrapped up by March. NT secured the 700MHz spectrum through the 5G spectrum auction held in 2020, but the firm has yet to capitalise on the frequency.

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