Debate heats up over fire helicopters

Debate heats up over fire helicopters

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda defends the 1.8-billion-baht procurement of two helicopters by the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation for use in combating bush-fires during the first reading of the 2021 Budget Bill. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda defends the 1.8-billion-baht procurement of two helicopters by the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation for use in combating bush-fires during the first reading of the 2021 Budget Bill. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda on Friday defended the Interior Ministry's plan to purchase six wildfire-fighting helicopters, saying the ministry did not have any such helicopters and always had to rely on military choppers that weren't up to the task.

Gen Anupong was responding to an objection to the ministry's helicopter purchase plan raised by the opposition during yesterday's House debate on the fiscal year 2021 budget bill.

"I'm sure those MPs in northern provinces know that the best the military helicopters borrowed for fighting wildfires there ever did was carry water to pour on the fires without sufficient accuracy in target identification," he said.

The ministry needed up to six wildfire-fighting helicopters because they had to be used in rotation to allow regular maintenance, he added.

The Pheu Thai Party MP for Chiang Rai, Wisarn Techatheerawat, said the ministry's plan to purchase two helicopters for fighting wildfires this year at a cost of 1.8 billion baht wasn't worth it as the country already had more than 300 helicopters.

The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM) plans to buy the six helicopters by 2022, an outlay he felt was unnecessary and should be scrapped. Mr Wisarn said the order had been made by someone to help a private company win a lucrative contract at a time when Gen Anupong was serving as the army chief.

Gen Anupong, however, said the DDPM was responsible for picking the helicopter supplier via a transparent and accountable bidding process.

As long as the company that won the bidding had strictly followed the law, there was no problem, he said, vowing to take legal action against anyone found to have acted illegally.

In related news, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the government would speed up domestic spending and major investment projects, assist in the launching of new businesses and exports of agricultural products and food.


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