Debt-swap deal gets cabinet nod

Debt-swap deal gets cabinet nod

Despite fierce opposition from consumer advocates, the cabinet yesterday approved Expressway Authority of Thailand's (Exat) controversial 58.8 billion baht debt-swap deal with Bangkok Expressway and Metro Plc (BEM).

The agreement is being offered in exchange for BEM dropping all 17 legal cases against Exat, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told the media after yesterday's cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had assigned him to explain the cabinet's resolution so as to prevent the matter from being politicised in the upcoming censure debate, he said.

The cabinet-approved draft agreement will extend Exat's three concessions for expressway management and toll collection for another 15 years and eight months, said Mr Wissanu.

Explaining the cabinet's decision, Mr Wissanu cited a government-commissioned study by Thammasat University which advised the state might have to pay 300 billion baht in compensation if the 17 court cases continued.

Without the debt-swap deal, BEM's concessions were set to expire on Feb 28, after which expressway operations would inevitably be disrupted as Exat held new bidding to find an operator.

However, former Bangkok senator Rosana Tositrakul said Exat should pay the compensation, since it stood to earn 260 billion baht in toll fees if it managed the expressway itself, whereas granting the extension would result in huge state losses. Last month, the Foundation for Consumers threatened to sue the government if it failed to stop the debt-swap deal.

On Sept 21, 2018 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in favour of BEM's complaint over contract breaches and ordered Exat to pay 4.3 billion baht plus interest in compensation.

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