Tank splurge beyond pale
At a time when people are feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, the army's recent and planned multi-billion-baht purchases of "refurbished" tanks from the US have provoked the ire of many. The growing criticism is understandable. Taxpayers are still largely kept in the dark over why and how their money is spent on these and other military hardware and weapons listed in the military's post-2014 coup shopping cart.
Late last month, the first batch of 37 M1126 Stryker infantry carrier vehicles arrived in Bangkok. While the Thai government agreed to pay 2.96 billion baht for all these vehicles -- some of which were recently retired from Iraq or Afghanistan missions -- its US counterpart has given Thailand 23 additional vehicles of the same type for free.
But Thailand still wants more. Army chief Apirat Kongsompong said a second purchase of 50 Stryker armoured vehicles will be made soon, as part of the 2020 fiscal budget, with a possibility that the US will give 30 more freebies. That could explain why there seems to be a year-on-year increase in defence spending proposed for the next fiscal year. BBC Thai this week reported that the cabinet initially agreed with the proposed 2.74% hike in the defence budget for next year.
Gen Apirat has brushed aside the need to justify these purchases, at a time when the country faces no imminent security risks, by saying that he does not want to be drawn into politics.
Nobody should let Gen Apirat get away with such an excuse. Defence spending is part of the country's administration, which should be subject to public scrutiny and should come with a high level of efficiency and transparency.
And no one should forget the army's previous purchases of Chinese products. This includes the almost 9-billion-baht procurement of 49 VT-4 battle tanks from 2016-2018, and the 2-billion-baht purchase of 39 VN1 armoured vehicles, which was approved in May.
The previous government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also approved the controversial 36-billion-baht procurement plan for three Chinese submarines and bought the first one. A second submarine purchase will likely be included in the 2020 budget.
Many people still question the need for these submarines and whether they are suitable for Thai seas. Some said the Gulf of Thailand is too shallow for them to operate in, but they have never been given clear answers by the military.
The army has also neglected to justify the need for the Chinese and US armoured vehicles. Earlier, it merely said the VT-4 tanks would be stationed in the Northeast, based on its threat assessment. But it did not explain what kind of threat would require all those tanks to be there. Similarly, it does not give details about the life span and maintenance costs of the refurbished US vehicles.
Under the previous military government, the powers-that-be indulged in their supremacy over all citizens and were insensitive to the public's call for an explanation on its lavish defence spending. That self indulgence should come to an end now that we have a new "elected" administration, even though it is led by the Palang Pracharath Party, which was carved out of the previous military regime.
The last time Thais saw tanks up close in battalions was during the 2006 coup. Tanks were not even used in the last putsch. People have the right to question the necessity of such lavish defence spending amid a sluggish economy, and demand that the government shift this budget to more important usage.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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