Fishy speed guns purchase

Fishy speed guns purchase

There are two major problems with the purchase of 849 "speed guns" for the highway and traffic police. The first is a lack of oversight on the purchase which sparked widespread criticism for alleged overpricing.

A prominent critic at the forefront is political activist Veera Somkwamkid. He alleged that the price quoted by the Interior Ministry's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DPM) at 675,000 baht apiece, is eight times higher than market price. He said the devices are usually sold on the open market at 130,000 baht each.

That allegation put Minister of Interior Anupong Paojinda under fire. The minister, in response to critics, said he had no responsibility to check any details, but just to sign the deal and pass it to the cabinet. The second question arises directly from that. If Gen Anupong had no obligation to oversee this spending, who did? Once again, the lack of accountability is pitiful.

According to information divulged so far, this was a very unusual case from the start, and should have aroused suspicions. The decision to request 849 handheld, laser speed-detectors originated with the DPM. In general, the department has taken a high-profile position during the twice-a-year government campaigns on highway safety, during long public holidays over Songkran and the New Year, in addition to its role in other natural disasters, mostly flooding.

Some answer that if not the DPM, then whom? That is rather obvious. The only government arm legally enabled to combat highway speeding is the Royal Thai Police. Highway and traffic police districts already have some speed guns, and have indeed shown them, in tests and in operation, to the media and the public.

For some reason that no one has yet revealed, the DPM's request to spend 573 million baht on the laser speed detectors raced through the bureaucracy like a cannonball. In almost no time, it was on the desk of Interior Minister Gen Anupong, who as a former army commander is a key figure in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). One would think that given the recent negative coverage of Gen Anupong's ill-considered dirigible purchase, that the minister would treat such a large purchase of the speed guns with care and extra consideration.

But Gen Anupong didn't. He says he spent no time at all examining the price of a purchase that almost anyone could see was inflated. A quick check on the internet would show that 675,000-baht speed guns for police don't even exist. Most police departments around the world pay under 35,000 baht even for a small lot of such detection devices. A speed detecting gun selling on the internet for US$4,000 -- about 132,000 baht at today's exchange rate -- is the Rolls Royce of such devices, with few police departments disposed to charging their taxpayers such an outrageous price.

So the Minister of Interior sped the DPM request, complete with highly inflated costs, across to the cabinet. And this is where an opaque deal turns positively murky. He said "the cabinet" approved the purchase of the speed guns and, in doing that, the payment of 573 million baht.

There are some important questions that need serious scrutiny. What company profited from the purchase? And did this deal, as usual, pass through an agent, who got a cut from this new, apparent soaking of the taxpayers? Gen Anupong and indeed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha are far too used to saying that fishy deals "were conducted according to regulations". Gen Anupong has now survived the scandals of the surveillance balloon, the "magic" bomb detectors and, recently, a questionable land grant to the company behind Red Bull drinks.

If none of these deals, including the laser speed guns, went outside regulations, then the regulations need urgent reform.

Dr Kraisit Naruekhatpichai

Reporter

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