Kill sub deal, spare nation
No further proof is needed that the controversial submarine purchase deal with China that went ahead with secret cabinet approval has put the Prayut Chan-o-cha government in the hot seat.
On April 26, anti-corruption advocates came out in force and demanded the military regime reveal the details of the pricing and purchasing process as the cover-up of the cabinet approval drew a public outcry.
A prominent activist earlier this week brought the case to the Auditor-General's Office to look into the details.
The angry reaction of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon to public criticism makes the matter worse. His remark that the people do not need to know sparked huge outrage. Even staunch supporters of the regime questioned, if not condemned, the quiet decision to go for a 13.5-billion-baht Yuan-class S26T submarine. In the broader plan, the navy will buy three Yuan-class subs costing a total of 36 billion baht in instalments over 11 years.
Gen Prawit has tried to convince us that we got a friendly deal from China, and that the navy would use its own money for the deal, which will be signed next month, instead of the central budget. But that is not the point. Gen Prawit and the navy have failed to convince us why we need submarines in the first place.
More importantly, the rhetoric about the navy budget versus central budget is of no use. After all, all the state budget is taxpayers' money and by using up all the budget for submarines it means the navy may not have money for other necessary missions in years to come. That is unwise.
The rise of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) to challenge the administration is important given the fact that bureaucrats dare not speak out against the purchase. Apparently, they are too weak and choose to keep silent over the dubious purchase in order to play it safe.
But in searching for the truth, the ACT should go beyond checking relevant documents, and go through the entire decision-making process. It must be aware that the cover-up process itself triggers a big question about transparency. There were rumours that the purchase proposal was slotted into the cabinet meeting on April 18 without prior notice -- a very irregular practice.
It should be noted that the government had shelved the purchase plan for more than two years as it was well aware of public opposition. It had forked out 200 million baht for the navy to study the option and explore ways to promote public understanding about the need of the country to own submarines -- a move that turned out to be a waste.
Worse, some netizens who oppose the purchase have stressed that in pressing ahead with the sub plan, the regime gave an impression that it did not take the sufficiency economy principle seriously and the vow that it would follow in the King's footsteps seems just a farce.
To support their account, netizens posed a clip of a speech given in 2007 by the late King Bhumibol who disagreed with the submarine plan. In the clip, which went viral, the King even pointed out that the subs are not appropriate for the country and acquiring them was contrary to his sufficiency economy theory.
Needless to say, the regime owes us an explanation about this. If it cannot do so, it must halt the process, kill the deal, and save the country from unnecessary damage, and itself from a disgraceful downfall.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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