Resignations dim trust in Aswin

Resignations dim trust in Aswin

Graft claims plague incinerator project.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang
Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang

It has not been easy for Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang to convince the public to trust him after last week's comments that the resignations of two of his deputy governors were because of health-related reasons.

The governor has sternly denied that Chakkaphan Phewngam quit because he did not want to be involved in an incinerator project, which has been linked to corruption. The other deputy to resign was Thaweesak Lertprapan.

Both are former City Hall civil servants who were invited to work as deputy governors.

Mr Chakkaphan was tasked with overseeing a 13-billion-baht garbage incinerator project, which has drawn criticism over its transparency.

The project involves the construction of two garbage incinerators. The first one is to be built at a rubbish site in On Nut and the other in Nong Khaem. Each will cost 6.5 billion baht and burn 1,000 tonnes of rubbish each day.

Srisuwan Janya, President of the Stop Global Warming Association, filed a petition with the State Audit Office and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate five worrying issues such as the high price, the lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, and unfair Terms of Reference (ToR).

Earlier this year, the Japanese embassy reportedly submitted a letter to the Interior Ministry and City Hall about a Japanese firm -- with experience in Thailand -- that could not take part in the bidding because of the ToR.

"Such alleged irregularities never occurred. I'll not damage my name because of this," Pol Gen Aswin told the media in a press conference last week.

However, his explanation has failed to convince the public. An official source who asked not to be named revealed that Mr Chakkapan -- known for his clean image -- resigned because he did not want to deal with this project. Mr Chakkaphan felt "uncomfortable" and has faced "pressure" dealing with the project.

The resignations have paved the way for Pol Gen Aswin to appoint replacements. Sakchai Boonma, director of the Civil Works Department, has been named to replace Mr Thaweesak. Interestingly enough, Pol Gen Aswin has picked Pol Lt Gen Sophon Pisuttiwong, an old classmate from cadet school, as the new deputy who will inherit the big projects.

Pol Lt Gen Sophon has been appointed to oversee megaprojects under Krungthep Thanakom Co, which is City Hall's holding company for public investment projects. Among them is a concession for the BTS Skytrain and the controversial 20-billion-baht underground cable conduits.

The BMA was lambasted by telecom operators as well as researchers at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) for "destroying fair competition" with its decision to lease underground cable conduits to True Corporation.

It is noticeable that Pol Gen Aswin has lately appointed people he trusts to work on important projects. Apparently, it is believed the other deputies are less amenable.

This is why the governor could not ask deputy Bangkok governor, Sakoltee Phattiyakul, a Palang Pracharath Party member, or Kriangyos Sudlapa, a Democrat, to handle the project. Furthermore, Mr Sakoltee may run as a candidate in the governor election.

"Pol Gen Aswin may be isolated by the Democrat Party and Palang Pracharath Party from whom he may expect support. Yet, there has been no news about him being a candidate for these parties," the same source said.

The incinerator project -- worth a total of 13 billion baht -- has raised question marks about transparency at City Hall and about the governor himself.

The project was approved by the Bangkok Metropolitan Council for the 2019 fiscal year. The bidding was done between Nov 13-16 of last year. Even though the BMA has yet to announce the winner, there have been reports of a leak in naming the winning firm.

Moreover, critics have said the ToR are unfair as they give a 90% weight to technology and only 10% to the price which will lead to high operating costs -- around 900 baht per tonne. This is far more than the cost of an incinerator in Phuket, which costs 300 baht per tonne, and 490 baht per tonne in Khon Kaen.

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