Satellite project still on shaky ground
Prayut says Thailand 'may opt to only take up lease'
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is trying to placate opponents of the multi-billion baht defence satellite project, saying many other elements must be considered before deciding whether it should get off the ground, including the budget and people's consent.
A Defence Ministry source earlier revealed that Thailand was invited to co-invest in a satellite project (Theia Space) with four or five other countries which were not named.
The co-investment programme could take about 15 years at a cost of two billion baht a year, the source said, noting Thailand may opt to only lease the satellite.
However, political activist Srisuwan Janya last weekend claimed government was the projected cost of buying this satellite would in fact cover the cost of purchasing many Theia satellites, and not include the cost of launching them into space. Gen Prayut insisted the government has not committed itself to the project, saying only discussions have been held to sound out whether the programme was worth following.
Consideration needs to be made as to where the money should come from to finance the project and whether it is worthwhile, he said.
The prime minister said no proposal regarding the satellite project has been forwarded to the cabinet for consideration. "If it has not reached the cabinet, it cannot possibly happen," Gen Prayut said.
Before an issue is raised in cabinet, consideration must also be made as to whether a project complies with stipulated criteria and laws, he said, adding the legal implications of a scheme would also need to be deliberated by the National Legislative Assembly.
He said a decision on this programme would rest with the cabinet, and depend on the budget and many other elements, including whether the public approves.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon echoed the prime minister's comments, saying the project is still being studied. He said the study was being carried out between the United States and several other nations.
"The US wants Thailand to co-study and be a member, but Thailand has not yet replied," Gen Prawit said. "If we do not join them, the US would look at other countries."
If the project is given the green light to proceed, it would be handled by the government, not by the Defence Ministry, he stressed, adding all state agencies would be able to make use of the satellite. He said the satellite would be used to help take care of the country's security, adding: "This is not a spy satellite."
Referring to a letter of intent signed by the Defence Technology Institute in regard to the project, Gen Prawit said this is not a binding contract, but only for acknowledgement.
"Right now we still do not know when the project would get off the ground," Gen Prawit said. Ministry sources said it could be operational in 2021, when the ministry's lease contract for the Thaicom satellite expires.
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