S44 to speed up high-speed train

S44 to speed up high-speed train

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha will use his special power as the junta chief to speed up the long-delayed Thai-Chinese railway project.

He insisted his planned issuance of the all-powerful Section 44 of the interim charter to clear legal hurdles in the Thai-Sino rail project is not a special favour to China but for Thailand's benefit.

He said that it is necessary to invoke Section 44 to ensure projects delayed due to technical glitches move ahead.

Regarding the Thai-Sino rail project, Gen Prayut said the project requires a Section 44 solution and he will invoke it next week to clear legal obstacles.

The government is trying to settle the problems by next month, before Gen Prayut visits China in September to participate in the summit meeting of the BRICS, an association of the five fastest emerging nations in the world, namely, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which will be held in September in Xiamen, China.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told the cabinet on Tuesday he was drafting a Section 44 order to be signed by Gen Prayut to address five legal issues stalling the project, government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said on Tuesday.

The first issue involves construction. Chinese architects and engineers cannot come to work on the project because Thailand's Engineers Act requires foreign professionals to pass the examination for a licence or they cannot work in the country, Lt Gen Sansern said.

"The Chinese view their country has more than 20,000km of high-speed railway while Thailand has none. Yet we require them to take an exam to get a licence first.

"We agree to meet halfway. Thailand will prepare training courses or orientation for Chinese engineers to familiarise them with the routes, resources and terrains instead of forcing them to take an exam," said Lt Gen Sansern.

Another issue involves the procurement law, which requires a project costing more than 5 billion baht must be scrutinised by a procurement superboard, a time-consuming process.

The requirement for clear median prices also poses a problem as the project price is still being negotiated. Reference prices will be proposed to be used instead.

"The Thai-Chinese railway is a government-to-government project. The State Railway of Thailand represents the Thai side. But China does not have a process to assign a specific agency to handle the project; Beijing will decide which company will get which part of the project," he said.

The Transport Ministry is in talks with China's economic and development board to get the names of these companies.

The major obstacle, however, is the route as the railway will cross designated farmland, or Sor Por Kor land. By law, such land cannot be used for any other purpose. In the past, several disputes arose from misuse of the land for projects such as wind farms, solar farms and petroleum exploration.

"Mr Wissanu said to overcome this restriction, Section 44 is needed," said Lt Gen Sansern.

The draft of the order will be reviewed by the cabinet next Tuesday.

"It will remove the restrictions faced by all rail projects, not just the Thai-Chinese one."

The Thai-Chinese high-speed railway runs from Nong Khai province to Nakhon Ratchasima and Saraburi. From there, a route goes to Bangkok and the other to Map Ta Phut.

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