Don't rush Thai-Sino rail

Don't rush Thai-Sino rail

The Prayut Chan-o-cha government is set to use Section 44 to speed up the Thai-Sino railway project which is behind schedule due to legal and technical reasons.

With the use of the special power, Gen Prayut hopes the construction of railway linking Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima will start no later than the third quarter of this year.

That will be ahead of the time when he attends the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Xiamen, China, in September.

One major factor that has stalled the project is a law regarding licences of engineers which requires contractors who are to work on the project to pass an exam which is in Thai. In addition, projects with budgets exceeding 5 billion baht need approval from a so-called "superboard" in a time-consuming process.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the fact that the rail route will pass through areas designated as farmland, or Sor Por Kor land, which, under the land reform law, cannot be used for activities other than farming. Some areas are in national forest reserves.

The prime minister hopes Section 44 will circumvent all these rules and regulations and clear the way for the project to take off. But there are questions about this special law.

To begin with, some may ask why the government needs to use Section 44 to allow Chinese engineers to be able to work on the project. Are Thais not smart enough?

Moreover, some may wonder about the processes involving the "superboard" since this was a body set up to ensure things run smoothly. So why should there be an exception?

Apart from this is the big question regarding checks and balances. This administration is a caretaker government and the countdown has begun as elections are now planned in accordance with the political roadmap.

If the government thinks the use of Section 44 is a solution to clear bureaucratic red tape, why doesn't it try to slash red tape for good, not just for this project?

The government may have the best intentions in pushing for this project, but as we have waited for some time it will not hurt if we delay it a bit further so the red tape can be tackled systematically and legally.

Of course, Thailand wants to get a slice of cake from the One Belt One Road project, but a delay to this scheme should not be a problem.

On top of this, the government should be aware of the fact that the bulk of the projects that Chinese have undertaken in other countries, including Myanmar, Laos or Sri Lanka, seem not to have yielded the best of results. Some of these projects have been criticised for not benefiting those countries in terms of their economies.

Therefore, it is necessary for civil servants to consider all the minute details before the government presses the take-off button for a project that would involve a lot of resources and commit the country to long-term spending.

It should be noted that the Chinese government has not made any special offers for this deal: The construction is going to be undertaken by Chinese engineers, with Chinese technology, and the funding is coming from Chinese banks, without any special interest rates.

It is therefore necessary for the government to look at every issue before it makes a call on the use of Section 44 to expedite the process. Thailand could stand to lose out in the long run if a decision is made in haste.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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