SRT chief, board get the chop

SRT chief, board get the chop

PM invokes S44 to clean up rail agency

Wuthichart: Shunted to PM's Office
Wuthichart: Shunted to PM's Office

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has invoked Section 44 of the interim charter to remove the governor and entire board of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) in a move believed to stem from alleged irregularities in the agency's double-track railway projects.

SRT governor Wuthichart Kalyanamitra was transferred to the Prime Minister's Office, while a new board of directors was formed under the Section 44-based order, which was announced in the Royal Gazette on Thursday.

In his capacity as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Gen Prayut issued the order, citing the need to improve the SRT's management so the agency would be more efficient, which would be a boon for national reform.

The new board chairman is Voravidh Champeeratana, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The new board of directors consists of Anont Luangboriboon, deputy director-general of the Highways Department; Chunhachit Sungmai, fiscal and financial adviser of the Comptroller General's Department; Bowon Vongsinudom, vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries; Piti Tantakasem, chief wholesale banking officer of TMB Bank; Adm Thaweechai Boonya-ananta, chief adviser of the navy; Gp Capt Thanakorn Pheeraphan, a director of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority; Aunchalee Tengpratip, auditor of the Thai Credit Guarantee Corporation; and Amnuay Preemonwong, deputy permanent secretary for finance.

Mr Anont was also appointed as the acting SRT governor. He was also a member of the dissolved board.

An SRT source said there were several complaints alleging irregularities involving the SRT, but the actual reasons which pushed the regime to issue the Section 44 order were complaints about the bidding for double-track rail route construction. The transfers was made to make way for an investigation, the source said, adding that if nothing wrong is found, Mr Wuthichart would be reinstated.

An NCPO source said the final straw stemmed from a disagreement between the SRT governor and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak. The source said the governor preferred that major companies handle construction of the double-track railway projects, but Mr Somkid wanted the process to be open to other firms.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said there is a need to improve the SRT's board to draw on individuals with varied expertise to boost the SRT's effectiveness as the organisation will have to handle as many as nine rail projects this year, including five double-track rail routes, which are now in the bidding process.

Mr Arkhom said the five railway projects, worth 95.5 billion baht, have suffered delays for several months and it is now time to expedite them. The committee responsible for selecting contractors for the projects said it was in the process of checking the candidates' qualifications, he said.

Regarding the five projects, the committee reportedly planned to announce the names of candidates who passed the qualification screening this past Monday, but this was later postponed indefinitely.

Mr Arkhom said the double-track rail route from Jira in Nakhon Ratchasima to Khon Kaen, which is now under construction, also faced complaints from local residents who said the route splits their communities in two, adding that this prompted Deputy Transport Minister Pichit Akrathit to step in to tackle the problem directly.

Asked whether the transfers stemmed from the transparency of officials' performance, Mr Arkhom said all aspects are likely to be involved, including the procurement process.

"The governor was able to work to some extent, but we want the board and governor to work together more closely," said Mr Arkhom. "There are a lot of projects now and we want to have confidence in the spending and for there to be transparency in the projects."

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