Former deputy prime minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula has criticised the government for bowing to pressure from a group pushing for the establishment of a national oil corporation under the petroleum bill.
He said the bill would pave the way for certain groups to control national energy sources and businesses.
The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) is due to deliberate the petroleum bill in its second and third readings on Thursday, MR Pridiyathorn, also known as Mom Oui, said yesterday.
Section 10/1 of the bill states that a national oil corporation (NOC), which would have authority over petroleum resources of the country, would be set up "when all is ready", he said. This would be based on a feasibility study conducted by various agencies.
This section had not been included in the bill during the first reading, and was "irregularly" added, he said. It would centralise all authority in the management and allocation of national energy into one organisation, he said.
MR Pridiyathorn said that in early 2015 the government decided it was necessary to explore new sources of natural gas to replace existing sources in the Gulf of Thailand, which are expected to be depleted in five years. The Energy Ministry then invited bids from private companies interested in exploring for natural gas and the bidder which offered the most benefits to the state would be granted an exploration concession.
However, some groups disagreed with the concession system. Instead, they proposed a production sharing contract (PSC).
The disagreement promoted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to cancel the 21st round of bidding for petroleum exploration.
MR Pridiyathorn said that as deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, he met the prime minister to ask if the plan to explore for natural gas resources would continue.
The prime minister insisted the plan must continue and assigned him to amend the Petroleum Act to facilitate the PSC procedure.
He said that he told officials at the Energy Ministry to draw up an amendment to include the PSC system, as well as the exploration and production hiring system.
On Aug 4, 2015, the cabinet agreed to table the bill to the NLA for further consideration.
However, MR Pridiyathorn said that the prime minister told him to explain the amendment to an NLA standing committee on energy first.
MR Pridiyathorn said he invited the committee to discuss the bill on Aug 14, 2015. Of the seven NLA members present at the meeting, six were retired senior military officers.
The seven NLA members raised no objection to the bill, though they suggested the idea of establishing an NOC for inclusion in it, MR Pridiyathorn said, adding he rejected the proposal and insisted the proposed oil corporation was not a government policy.
However, MR Pridiyathorn said he could not table the bill to the NLA because he was removed from the cabinet on Aug 19, 2015.
The energy minister at the time then tabled the bill to the NLA, but it turned out that the NLA committee on energy also proposed another bill to set up the NOC. This prompted the government to send the two bills to the Council of State to consider if they could be combined.
However, the Council of State refused to include the proposal to set up the oil corporation in the bill. The cabinet then decided to forward the original bill to the NLA.
The bill passed the first reading. The NLA then set up a committee to vet the bill for a second reading, MR Pridiyathorn said.
But in an unprecedented event in the NLA's history, the vetting panel included in the bill a provision to set up an NOC, MR Pridiyathorn said, adding that the new addition needed approval from the cabinet first.
Most importantly, MR Pridiyathorn said, the cabinet also acted in an unprecedented manner by yielding to the proposal to set up the oil corporation despite the government having no policy to do so.
"There was no need for the cabinet to bow to the irregular request by the committee. But the cabinet was too considerate towards certain individuals or groups who wielded influence over the cabinet," MR Pridiyathor said.
Even though the government may not have agreed with the matter, this group still managed to push for the passage of the law and they must have the support of powerful people, he said.
MR Pridiyathorn called on the NLA to exercise caution when they vote on the petroleum bill in the second and third readings.
He did not name the group in question pushing the NOC, but it is widely known that the People's Alliance for Energy Reform has pressed ahead with this.
ML Kornkasiwat Kasemsri, an academic from the People's Alliance for Energy Reform, told the Bangkok Post that the group supports the establishment of the NOC but it wanted the NLA to vote against the petroleum bill on Thursday.
He said the details of the NOC in the bill does not match up with what the group wants.
However, the group's intention is different from that of MR Pridiyathorn, he said, adding that MR Pridiyathorn got it wrong about the proposed oil corporation.
ML Kornkasiwat explained that if the oil corporation is actually set up, it would replace the state as a party to a contract with private companies that would bid for contracts for power production when a concession for a company which has been given a contract to explore the Bongot Erawan gas field expires in 2022-2023.