Subs panel says purchase already okayed

Subs panel says purchase already okayed

The House subcommittee which approved the navy's controversial procurement of two submarines worth 22.5 billion baht from China yesterday defended its decision, saying the plan had been approved by cabinet already.

The navy had previously received the budget allocated for fiscal year 2020 but agreed to have it diverted to fund its Covid-19 relief programmes, said Supol Fongngam, chairman of the subcommittee under the House committee on durable product items, state enterprises, ICT equipment and revolving funds. The government requested the Chinese government defer the implementation of the government-to-government purchase of the submarines to fiscal year 2021, starting on Oct 1, instead, the Palang Pracharath Party MP said.

The sub-committee's approval on the navy's submarine procurement on Friday was simply permission for the navy to resume implementing the agreement it had previously reached with the Chinese government for the sake of Thai-Chinese relations, he said. The navy would pay for the submarines in installments using its regular budget each year. The navy has agreed to slash its budget for other purposes so it has enough left to pay for the subs, he said. It is expected to take about six years from the day the order is placed and the day until when it is built and delivered, he said adding many of Thailand's neighbouring countries also have submarines.

Yutthapong Jarassathian, a Pheu Thai Party MP and deputy chairman of the subcommittee, said the committee scrutinising the budget bill will meet on Wednesday. He would ask for an open voting on the issue. "If the government goes ahead with the procurement, I will invite the people to rally and oust it," he said.

Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, chief strategist of opposition Pheu Thai Party, said her party had tried its best to stop the project and lost on Friday by only one vote.

The party won't give up, however, she said in a Facebook post. The 22.5 billion baht could be spent as financial aid of 5,000 baht for each of up to 750,000 unemployed new graduates for up to six months, she said.

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