Concession transparency

Concession transparency

Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt has made a plausible move in ordering a review of the Green Line skytrain concessions.

Tongthong Chandransu, former deputy permanent secretary at the justice ministry, has been appointed president of the board of Krungthep Thanakhom (KT), an enterprise under City Hall overseeing private concession issues with the skytrain operator.

Mr Tongthong reportedly said Mr Chadchart wanted to know the breadth and depth of the concession so he could make well-informed decisions. Mr Tongthong has similarly pledged to ensure that TK is efficient and accountable.

This is a good start or even a game-changer as the dispute over the Green Line concession between the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Ministry of Transport has been ongoing for years.

In the past, the BMA has treated the Green Line concession as a clandestine subject with BMA officials repeatedly using the "bloating debt" narrative as a justification to renew concessions and terms such as "trade secrets" to deflect questions seeking clarity on concession details.

Yet, the governor should not stop at only having the Green Line concession reviewed. There are a few projects handled by KT that seriously need reviewing. Among them are the planned 13-billion-baht garbage incinerator projects at the On Nut and Nong Khaem waste disposal centres, and the planned underground cable conduit that KT gave as a concession to True Corporation -- the sole bidder. The latter project -- now put on hold -- raised concerns in the telecom sector that the concessionaire would gain an advantage over other telecom operators.

But what needs to be reviewed the most is KT itself. Its background is rather bewildering with it being an offshoot of Saha Samakkhi Livestock Co, which was formed in 1955 with notable figures in the army as shareholders. For decades the company dominated the meat supply and slaughterhouse business in Bangkok and nearby before fizzling out as trade liberalised. Eventually, the company was wholly transferred to BMA which oversaw slaughterhouse licences.

KT's withering business got a shot in the arm in 1997 when then-Bangkok governor Bhichit Rattakul wanted to reduce bureaucratic red tape and create a state enterprise to deal with the private concessionaire or even hire private companies to improve public services.

Since then, KT has handled high-profile public-private concessions involving mass transit, waste disposal and recently landscape development schemes such as bicycle lanes.

So while the KT itself tries to be low-key, it's not the first time that it has invited questions. Political scientists -- such as Prof Surapon Nitikraipot, former rector of Thammasat University -- have conducted research investigating the BMA's legal jurisdiction to develop mass transit projects under executive decree number 58 issued by the latest coup maker.

A crucial challenge came from junta-government-appointed councillors who questioned TK's accountability and legal jurisdiction. A special sub-committee led by Kitti Busayapalakorn -- vice president of the City Council and former deputy attorney general -- published a report in late 2017 that pinpointed KT's transparency and performance issues.

That said, Bangkok's governor must seize the opportunity to clear KT of all doubts and turn what often appears to be the twilight zone into a transparent and efficient enterprise.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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