Pheu Thai wants arms budget cut
The main opposition Pheu Thai Party yesterday vowed to have all funds earmarked for weapon purchases slashed from the new budget bill, after the navy bowed to public pressure on its submarine procurement.
Navy chief Adm Chartchai Sriworakhan yesterday formally withdrew the navy's request for 900 million baht to pay the first instalment for two submarines from China, which are worth 22.5 billion baht.
Sorawut Neungchamnong, a ruling Palang Pracharath Party MP and spokesman for the House committee vetting the budget bill for the 2022 fiscal year, confirmed yesterday Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had ordered the suspension of the submarine procurement.
Yuttapong Charasathien, a Pheu Thai MP and member of the House committee vetting the budget bill, however, said Gen Prayut had only ordered payments for the submarine purchase to be put on hold after public pressure over the controversial procurement plan.
Meanwhile, Adm Chartchai said the navy, along with the Defence Ministry, took into consideration the pandemic and its impact on the country and subsequently agreed that the purchase should be postponed.
Mr Yuttapong claimed he had evidence proving the submarine procurement agreement was not a government-to-government deal as claimed by the navy and the government.
He alleged the submarine deal had been signed in haste, the evidence of which was a letter sent by former navy chief navy chief Adm Luechai Ruddit to China on Sept 30 last year pressing for the procurement agreement to be signed as soon as possible. He also suspected the Chinese officials who signed the procurement contract were not members of the government.
Even with the payment for submarine procurement dropped, a vast amount of funds are still being sought in next fiscal year's budget to finance the planned purchases of other weapons for the armed forces, Mr Yuttapong said.
"All defence budgets for weapons procurement should be cancelled, not simply postponed, during this difficult time," he said.