Time to end BTS drama
Tweets by BTS Group Holdings and the firestorm surrounding the hashtag #DebtMustBePaid on Twitter in recent weeks show how nasty the debate over the country's management of public transport concessions can get. The furore on social media followed the grievances of BTS -- which holds the concession to run the city's Green Line electric rail route -- over the debts owed by Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to the company for running Bangkok's skytrain system.
The BMA owes over 40 billion baht to BTS as the company shouldered the cost of installing the required operating systems along the second extension of the Green Line.
BTS, however, has not been able to charge riders for trips along the extension -- which stretches between Mo Chit and Khu Khot stations, as well as Bearing to Kheha stations -- since it completed the required work because the BMA has yet to set the fares for trips along the route. As a result, for the past three years, passengers have been riding for free along the extended routes, at BTS's expense.
In a recent tweet, BTS said that it was about time that City Hall stopped procrastinating and pointing their fingers at others over the debt issue.
Earlier in September, the Central Administrative Court ordered the BMA and Krungthep Thanakom, the city's investment arm, to pay BTS 12 billion baht for operating and maintaining the first and second extensions of the Green Line. A representative of KT said the company would appeal the ruling all the way to the Supreme Administrative Court.
Responding to BTS's tweet, Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt assured the company that City Hall will settle the debt with BTS, but it will have to be done in accordance with due legal processes. He noted that the BTS's proposal to continue operating services along the second phase of the extended route has not been approved by the city's council, even though it isn't the company's responsibility to get the deal endorsed by the council.
The BMA then referred the matter to the cabinet, saying the problem started under the junta. Three years ago, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as head of the military junta, ordered the Interior Ministry to set up a panel to negotiate the matter with BTS, and draft a new contract to put an end to the controversy. Alas, there has been no significant progress since the cabinet rejected the panel's first contract draft.
Regardless of whose fault this actually is, what remains unchanged is the fact that 40 billion baht is a huge sum to pay. And with every passing day, the BMA will have to pay more and more in interest. As of now, no one really knows how much money the BMA owes BTS, and how much interest it will have to pay.
Instead of dragging their feet, the government and the BMA need to work together to decide the best course of action to deal with this ballooning debt, as opposed to dodging responsibility and blaming others.
Further delays will only make the right thing harder to do, as the burden will ultimately fall on taxpayers' shoulders.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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- BTS drama