B22.5bn sub buy gets nod
Money should go on Covid aid, say critics
A House subcommittee scrutinising the budget bill for the fiscal 2021 approved the navy's controversial procurement of two submarines worth 22.5 billion baht from China, though not unanimously.
Critics of the defence spending are ramping up the pressure by demanding a review of the armed forces' weapons procurement plans including those on the submarine purchases so more money could be saved and injected into efforts to help solve the country's economic problems caused by Covid-19.
Yutthapong Jarassathian, a Pheu Thai Party MP and deputy chairman of the subcommittee under the House committee on durable product items, state enterprises, ICT equipment and revolving funds, told a press briefing yesterday that the subcommittee considered the Royal Thai Navy's (RTN) budget request for the purchase of the two submarines for a second time.
In the first meeting, the subcommittee had to put the matter on hold because it could not decide whether to allow the RTN to buy the submarines, Mr Yutthapong said.
The RTN told the subcommittee that it has already signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to buy three submarines from China, he said.
According to the RTN, the purchase of the first submarine was already completed, using the money from the 2017 budget, and it will be delivered in 2024, he said.
However, at Friday's meeting, the RTN showed the MoU for the purchase of the first submarine to the subcommittee, but the document does not say that Thailand was obliged to buy the other two submarines, Mr Yutthapong said.
The MoU only states that if a dispute occurs over the terms of the agreement, the two sides will hold talks and resolve it amicably without the need to take the matter to court, Mr Yutthapong said, adding the MoU was signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Chinese defence minister.
"I was among the subcommittee members who opposed the purchase. But the RTN insisted that it was for the sake of marine security. However, I argued that the country is struggling with economic problems and people are having hard times," Mr Yutthapong said.
The meeting had differing views on the issue and could not reach a conclusion. The meeting had to stop for a break before resuming for a vote.
The vote was initially tied at 4-4 so Supol Fongngam, the chairman of the committee from the Palang Pracharath Party decided to vote in favour of the purchase, resulting in a tally of 5-4 for approval.
Mr Yutthapong said that he and those who voted against it will continue to oppose the purchase of the submarines.
"The prime minister must choose between the submarines and the economic survival of the people. How come the government favours the submarines over people's livelihoods?" Mr Yutthapong said.
Krumanit Sangphum, a Pheu Thai MP who voted against the purchase plan, said that currently there was no need to buy the submarines given the economic hardship people were experiencing.
"We do not oppose the plan, but we want it to be delayed. Over the past five years, the military has spent more budget money than almost every other ministry," Mr Krumanit said.