Union urges blacklist of NGV bus firm

Union urges blacklist of NGV bus firm

Tax evasion scandal reaches boiling point

Bestlin Group says it has agreed to pay Customs fees and a fine for misstating the origin of the buses, which are at Laem Chabang port. (Photo courtesty Bestlin Group)
Bestlin Group says it has agreed to pay Customs fees and a fine for misstating the origin of the buses, which are at Laem Chabang port. (Photo courtesty Bestlin Group)

The labour union of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) has urged the agency to blacklist the firm contracted to provide 489 natural gas vehicle (NGV) air-conditioned buses to the BMTA amid a tax evasion scandal.

Bestlin Group was contracted to supply the buses to the BMTA in a deal worth 3.3 billion baht, but the first batch of 100 buses was impounded by customs authorities.

The buses arrived at Laem Chabang port in Chon Buri on Dec 1 amid allegations that a false import document was submitted to claim an import duty exemption. Super Zara Co handled the import procedure for Bestlin.

Weerapong Wongwaen, chairman of BMTA's labour union, said Wednesday the union wants to examine the contract to find out whether Bestlin had breached it. The union will ask the BMTA for the document, he said.

"We insisted we want to receive only lawful vehicles," Mr Weerapong said. "The BMTA will also be asked to blacklist Bestlin since it has triggered a scandal in the procurement of the buses."

He was speaking as he led union members to meet deputy minister Ormsin Chivapruck, asking the BMTA to pressure Bestlin to deliver the buses by Dec 29 as stipulated in the contract.

Mr Weerapong said the union will write to the BMTA board to expedite efforts to obtain the vehicles within seven days. If no response is given, the union will convene to spell out its next move, he said.

The delay of the bus delivery could hinder Department of Land Transport (DLT) plans to improve bus routes, where the new buses are to be used.

Of 2,700 buses currently owned by the BMTA, about 2,500 are usable, Mr Weerapong said. Most of them have been in service for up to 24 years, far exceeding the 10-year standard for buses.

The BMTA is also grappling with a shortage of auto parts for the buses since their manufacturers had stopped producing them, he added.

The Customs Department has ordered Super Zara to pay 370 million baht in taxes and fines so the 100 impounded buses would be released.

It said the company had manipulated the import process to make the buses appear as though they were made in and imported from Malaysia so it could reap a tax exemption benefit based on Asean's free-trade agreement, noting the buses were actually shipped from China.

If the vehicles were manufactured in Malaysia, as was claimed, they would have been eligible for a 40% import duty exemption, or 1.2 million baht each.

Mr Ormsin said Bestlin was determined to deliver the buses on time in accordance with the contract and the BMTA is only waiting for that.

"If the company fails to hand over the vehicles in time, it will be fined 17,000 baht per bus per day and be blacklisted," he said.

The deputy minister insisted the procurement project was transparent with everything above-board.

He said the mishap happened in the process of importing the buses, so the company must take responsibility.

BMTA director Surachai Eamvachirasakul said the agency will demand an explanation from Bestlin if it fails to deliver the buses by Dec 29.

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