OAG starts wind farm 'collusion' inquiry

OAG starts wind farm 'collusion' inquiry

Ex-officials face 'conflict of interest' investigation

The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) sees possible collusion and 'conflict of interest' between certain government and business interests over doling out farmland for wind-power projects. (Bangkok Post file photo)
The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) sees possible collusion and 'conflict of interest' between certain government and business interests over doling out farmland for wind-power projects. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) has started an investigation into whether there was a conflict of interest between the private sector and state authorities in the land lease project for wind farm projects.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas said Sunday that the agency has been examining whether there were "conflicts of interest" in allocating Sor Por Kor land to private firms operating wind farms, when it was specifically supposed to go to landless farmers.

The agency is looking into the actions of former executives of the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro), which oversees the land allocation, and members of the government in power when the land lease was approved.

State officials and policymakers connected to the land lease would be investigated to see if they committed negligence of duty or failed to protect the state's interests as well for any conflicts of interest, he said, insisting the act was a misuse of the Sor Por Kor land which was meant to be allotted to farmers for agricultural purposes only.

Mr Pisit was speaking after receiving a report on about 20 private companies approved by Alro to lease Sor Por Kor land in Nakhon Ratchasima and Chaiyaphum provinces.

The report included details of wind farm projects operated by the firms, Alro's revenues paid to the Land Reform Fund, the return of Sor Por Kor land from farmers to Alro, land lease contracts between the Alro and the companies as well as the payment of a land lease fee to the agency.

Mr Pisit said the OAG will wrap up the probe this week and submit the result to Agriculture Minister Chatchai Sarikulya to devise measures to help farmers who were affected by policies of the then government and Alro executives.

The Sor Por Kor land lease to private firms was initiated in 2009.

The National Energy Policy Council's resolution under a Democrat Party's administration allowed the private sector to lease the Sor Por Kor land and economic forest areas to run wind farm projects.

At the time, the council concluded wind farm activities benefited the livelihood of farmers.

Alro was also assigned to work on the land lease contract with details on the rental fee and period. The firms needed to pay a rental fee of 35,000 baht per rai per year.

The agency worked with the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency to allot the Sor Por Kor land to the companies as well.

Two weeks ago, Gen Chatchai ordered Alro to conduct inspections into activities run by the private companies approved to lease Sor Por Kor land.

The inspection procedures will take around 45 days to finish.

On Jan 31, the Nakhon Ratchasima Administrative Court ruled the Chaiyaphum land reform committee's decision to lease the land to Thep Sathit Wind Farm Co was unlawful and ordered it revoked.

According to the court, the land lease for the company breached the agricultural land reform law which requires that use of Sor Por Kor land for activities other than agriculture can be done only if the activities are in the interests of farmers.

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