ACT flags airport graft risk
Terminal 2, duty-free plans 'need scrutiny'
The Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) has warned of the potential for foul play during the upcoming auction of Suvarnabhumi Airport's duty-free concession and the planned construction of a Terminal 2, as the country counts down to the election.
"The ACT is worried about the lack of transparency [of the projects]," the anti-graft watchdog said on Sunday.
Both schemes are being pursued by Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) and both have come under public scrutiny over the past year.
"During a period when most people are paying attention to the election, concerns are being raised as to whether those in power will rush through approvals before political change happens," the watchdog said.
"People and the media must not stand idly and they should help keep an eye on the matter for the sake of the maximum public benefit."
AoT will reportedly ask its board to approve the ToR for duty-free concession bidding for Suvarnabhumi Airport on Wednesday.
Nitinai Sirismatthakarn, president of AoT, has previously told the media the outcome of the bidding must be concluded before Aug 27 this year, one year before the concession expires, so the current operator can deal with stocks and existing facilities.
King Power International Group has been the sole duty-free operator at Suvarnabhumi since the airport's opening in 2006.
Academics and the public have voiced concern over the transparency of the bidding process and over which concession model will be applied. As Suvarnabhumi Airport has expanded considerably over the past decade, enabling only one operator to manage all the duty-free zone may not be the most effective business decision, according to observers.
Not only that, but some academics claim that granting one company sole control the duty-free business would also run afoul of the Trade Competition Act of 2017.
Meanwhile, the AoT board remains adamant it will press on with controversial plans to build Suvarnabhumi Airport's Terminal 2 despite critics asking for the plan to be dropped.
The terminal also will reportedly be deliberated by the AoT board on Wednesday.
Plans for Terminal 2 were shelved late last year following criticism from several organisations, including the Council of Engineers and the Architects Council of Thailand, who claim the facility would be poorly located and veers away from the original Suvarnabhumi master plan approved in 2003.
The original plan concerned the construction of only two terminals -- the existing northern terminal and an identical southern one. However, the AoT's adjusted plan includes the construction of a new terminal in a north-easterly position, adjacent to the current terminal.
The new terminal is planned to be built on around 400,000 square metres of land within Suvarnabhumi airport's grounds at a cost 42 billion baht. The construction is set to start this year and the terminal is expected to be completed in 2021.
The new plan was also challenged by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), which wrote to the Transport Ministry on Jan 16, recommending the AoT stick to the master plan.
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who is in charge of economic affairs, said earlier this month that AoT was ordered to review its Terminal 2 plan and suggested the project could be dropped if irregularities are found.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said the NESDB had pointed out that Terminal 1 must be expanded in both western and eastern wings first in line with an earlier 2010 cabinet resolution. The NESDB also cast doubt about the AoT's latest plan which aims to enable Suvarnabhumi to be able to handle 150 million passengers a year, according to Mr Arkhom.
AoT's president, Mr Nitinai, insisted the company is still committed to pressing ahead with Terminal 2 and its study of the project will be considered by the firm's board on Wednesday before it is presented to the NESDB.