Somchai defends voting machine purchases

Somchai defends voting machine purchases

Mr Somchai shows some voting machines the EC bought at the EC's office at Government Complex in Bangkok on Monday. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
Mr Somchai shows some voting machines the EC bought at the EC's office at Government Complex in Bangkok on Monday. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

An election commissioner has defended the procurement of voting machines in the latest showdown between the commissioners and a former secretary general.

The Election Commission (EC) decided on Dec 8 not to renew the employment contract of secretary general Puchong Nutrawong because his performance evaluation did not meet the requirement.

Mr Puchong, who worked for the EC for 18 years, claimed his removal was not fair and that he could not do his job properly because the EC commissioners kept intervening with the administration.

One of his accusations was that there might be some irregularities in the purchases of voting machines to be used at 95,000 polling units under the budget of 10 billion baht.

Somchai Srisuttiyakorn, an EC commissioner, on Monday dismissed the charge.

Mr Somchai said the project was initiated in 2003 and four generations of the machines had been bought. A budget of 57 million baht has been spent on training and implementation.

"When the Borwornsak Uwanno-led charter drafting committee made electronic voting compulsory, the EC planned three phases of adoption," he explained. The charter draft was later scrapped.

"Fourth-generation machines were earmarked to be used at five polling stations in Bangkok if there's a referendum in 2016. This requires no extra budget," he said.

During the planned 2017 general election, new-generation machines with touch screens will be used at 100 stations, or 0.1% of all units, requiring a budget of 10 million baht.

In the last phase in 2020, some 2,000 sets will be used at units in inner Bangkok with a tentative budget of 100 million, Mr Somchai said.

Apart from the voting machine purchases, Mr Puchong accused the commissioners of inappropriate spending.

He claimed the commissioners took 15 overseas trips in 2014-15, accompanied by 5-10 people even though the invitations were for 1-2 persons, adding pressure to the EC's budget.

He also revealed the five EC commissioners had repealed a rule and written a new one enabling each of them to hire an adviser at a monthly salary of 60,000 baht, compared to 35,000 baht in the old regulation.

Each can also hire two specialists to be paid 40,000 baht a month compared to 30,000 baht in the old rule. In addition, new positions were created — a secretary and two assistant secretaries with salaries of 45,000 and 15,000 to 23,000 baht respectively — even though the EC has an administration office.

In all, the EC pays these aides 2 million baht a month even though no election has been held after the May 22, 2014 coup.

Mr Puchong claimed after the new rule took effect, the commissioners hired people close to them and their relatives to take these positions.

The former secretary general also accused the commissioners of locking the specifications of referendum ticket printers, writing them in such a way that a single printer is qualified to print some 20 million ballots.

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