Sub deal faces another hurdle

Sub deal faces another hurdle

Activist questions legality of purchase

A China-manufactured Yuan-class submarine. (Creative Commons via Wikipedia)
A China-manufactured Yuan-class submarine. (Creative Commons via Wikipedia)

The Royal Thai Navy's 13.5-billion-baht submarine procurement scheme is facing yet another hurdle after an activist asked the Administrative Court to halt the process.

The move came as the navy prepares to pay the first installment of the submarine purchase of 700 million baht after it signed the deal with a Chinese state shipbuilder on Friday.

Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, said he will petition the Office of Ombudsman and ask it to file a petition to the Administrative Court to stop the process.

He called into question the legality and constitutionality of the purchase plan following last week's contract signing.

Navy chief-of-staff Adm Luechai Ruddit, who chairs the navy's submarine procurement management panel, inked the deal with China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC) on Friday for the purchase of the Yuan-class S26T submarine.

CSOC is a trading arm of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) which is authorised by the Chinese government to export military products. The deal is carried out in a government-to-government format.

Mr Srisuwan said the contract signing, which went ahead despite public criticism and an ongoing auditing process, may be in violation of Section 23 of the budget scrutiny procedures law and Section 178 of the new constitution.

According to the activist, Section 23 of the budget examination law requires a spending project spanning seven years to be approved by the cabinet within 60 days after the budget bill comes into effect.

He claimed the submarine purchase scheme was supposed to be approved by the cabinet during Oct 1-Nov 30, 2016, but it was endorsed on April 18.

Mr Srisuwan said the submarine procurement scheme is implemented as a government-to-government deal, so it must be examined and approved by the National Legislative Assembly and put up for public comment under the new charter.

"As the navy's chief-of-staff went ahead and signed the contract, the move raised concerns about legality and constitutionality," he said.

Navy spokesman Adm Jumpol Loompikanon on Sunday welcomed Mr Srisuwan's move. He said the activist was doing his job in ensuring transparency while noting the navy was open to criticism and observations about the scheme.

Adm Jumpol insisted the navy and those in charge of the project were following the rule book in the submarine procurement process with legal assistance from the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG).

In response to criticism that the contract signing should have waited until a clear-to-go signal from the state-auditor, he said legal advisers were consulted at every step and assured the contract signing was lawful. According to the navy source, the first payment of 700 million baht will be made within 45 days of the contract signing, or no later than June 20.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas said Sunday the OAG has not detected any irregularities. He said now the contract has been signed, the OAG will move to examine the contract as part of the auditing process. Its focus includes price suitability and the decision-making process.

Mr Pisit said the OAG cannot put the brakes on the contract signing because no irregularities have been discovered. "The submarine procurement project has been underway for a long time. The previous administrations also agreed with the navy's plan, but made an observation that the six submarines were second-hand. The OAG also made a similar observation."

Mr Pisit was referring to the previous submarine procurement plan in which Germany offered a fleet of six U-206A submarines, designed for coastal patrol operations, at a cost of 7.5 billion baht to the navy.

The auditor-general disagreed with Mr Srisuwan's claim that the submarine scheme was not in compliance with the law governing the budget scrutiny process.

He said the OAG looked into the matter and found nothing illegal, noting the Budget Bureau had reviewed it.

However, he insisted the OAG will make recommendations to the navy should it find anything amiss about the submarine purchase project. The navy picked China as its preferred contractor to build a fleet of three diesel-electric subs costing a total of 36 billion baht in instalments over 11 years of the procurement plan.

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