Anupong caught napping over speed guns
For quite a few people in the three restive southernmost provinces, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda is best remembered for the fraudulent handheld GT200 bomb detectors and the 350 million baht surveillance air ship which rarely flew, but most of the time sat wastefully at a hangar in a military camp in Pattani's Nong Chik district.
The two useless "toys" of the army, especially the GT200 bomb detectors which were outrageously priced at almost one million baht apiece for a plastic box with a radio antenna and a few magnetic cards inside, were bought when Gen Anupong was the army commander-in-chief over eight years ago.
They are old scandals that not a single graft-busting agency -- not the National Anti-Corruption Commission nor the Office of the Auditor-General -- bothers to talk about it, let alone investigate them just for the sake of finding out the truth so it can serve as a lesson.
Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.
But the two scandals -- although buried for good as far as the government is concerned -- are still alive and resurrected every time there is a new scandal involving Gen Anupong.
The latest controversy that has become a subject of widespread criticism concerns the proposed procurement of a total of 849 handheld laser speed guns worth about 573 million baht for the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM) which was approved by the cabinet on Oct 10.
The procurement project was signed by Gen Anupong in his capacity as interior minister who oversees the department.
But he said he just signed to approve the DDPM's proposal without looking into the details, especially the price tag of each speed gun which was quoted at 675,000 baht.
At that price, I guess it must be gold-plated and decorated with tiny diamond pieces. Or it is so exclusive that the manufacturer doesn't have to bother with his rivals and can arbitrarily set a price that only a handful of buyers can afford, such as the DDPM.
In defence of the proposed procurement, DDPM director-general Chayapol Thitisak said the 675,000 baht price tag was a median price quoted by sales representatives that meets the specifications of the speed guns.
The devices were meant to be used on secondary roads, connecting districts, tambons and villages, and are supposed to boost road safety.
A committee of several governmental agencies has been set up to oversee the procurement with the media to be invited to join in to ensure transparency.
Sadly, Mr Chayapol's clarification misses out the big question -- why is the device so hugely overpriced?
Activist Veera Somkwamkid, who is unhappy about the proposed purchase, argued a premium laser speed gun would cost an average of 130,000 baht in the open market.
With the help of Google, I have taken a look at typical prices of premium-grade laser speed guns such as the TruCAM, model LTI 20/20, that the manufacturer claimed to be most sophisticated available in the market. It was priced at US$5,495 or about 181,000 baht which is still four times cheaper.
According to the US manufacturer, Laser Technology Inc, TruCAM is an all-in-one laser-based photo/video speed measurement device that collects and stores a complete chain of information for both speeding and tailgating violations, and offers a high resolution image that identifies vehicle make, model and licence plate number.
TruCAM and other speed guns are mostly used by police forces to catch traffic violators for offences such as speeding.
What I really do not understand at all is why the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation needs premium-grade speed guns for use on secondary roads whereas the police, such as the highway police, use ordinary speed guns on main highways.
Why can't the police who are the main users of the devices buy the speed guns themselves instead of the DDPM? Did the department stage an open tender for its procurement plan? If not, why the rush now?
There are other things which the DDPM should be tackling, rather than the speed gun purchase, such as mitigating the effects of flooding which is currently wrecking havoc in several provinces.
Another nagging question about this controversy is the accountability of the interior minister. Should he just sign away the project without even looking key facts about it such as the price which any individual with common sense would have questioned?
And if the responsibility of a minister is to sign documents, should he pass on accountability to his subordinates? If that's the case, what's the point of having a minister?
Regarding the speed gun project, it is obvious the project lacks transparency and comes too highly priced.
It provides a reminder of the GT200 fake bomb detectors the army under Gen Anupong procured almost 10 years ago at almost one million baht apiece.
It is pointless to appoint a committee to review the project which would be better off scrapped.
After all, can the department guarantee it will help reduce road accidents and fatalities on secondary roads, and be more effective than the much much cheaper speed guns already in use?
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.