House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha has defended an overseas tour plan by his deputy, Padipat Santipada, and a group of MPs as being above board.
Mr Wan, who is also parliament president, said he signed off on the trip to Singapore, to be led by Mr Padipat from Sept 21–24.
The trip was approved after consulting with parliament's legal experts, Mr Wan said, adding the budget for the tour is also being disbursed in line with proper regulations.
The purpose of the tour is to observe Singapore's modern parliamentary system and learn how the city state tackles haze pollution, he said, noting the trip is bound to benefit the work of House committees handling these issues.
Parliament is forking out the budget to cover all trip expenses because the MPs are not going to Singapore under the invitation of an organisation or agency, which would cover travel expenses.
A budget for the tour is readily available, Mr Wan said, noting that the MPs must produce a report upon return.
Criticism of the trip's cost was raised by Pongpol Yodmuangcharoen, deputy spokesman of the United Thai Nation Party.
On Facebook, Mr Pongpol said the MPs were booked on flights and accommodations to the tune of 1.3 million baht, calling it "far too expensive".
For instance, he said, they plan to stay at a hotel that costs 12,500 baht per night per person, with round-trip airfares — understood to be in the business class — priced at 51,250 baht per MP.
"We can't afford to overlook the excessive pricetag of this trip," Mr Pongpol said.
Mr Pongpol added the MPs should have opted for less extravagant options for hotel rooms and air tickets to help save taxpayers' money.
Meanwhile, Mr Padipat explained that originally 12 MPs, including himself and four parliamentary staff members, would make the trip.
He had approached two MPs each from the Pheu Thai Party and the Bhumjaithai Party, he said. However, the Bhumjaithai MPs were unable to join the tour, he said, most likely because it is mostly made up of MPs from the Move Forward Party, to which Mr Padipat belongs.
Mr Padipat insisted the study tour is warranted as Singapore may provide an effective array of measures to tackle smoke haze pollution.
He said he had inquired with parliament officials whether he and his group could switch to low-cost carriers for the two-hour flight to Singapore. However, he said he received a reply saying MPs on official tours are required to fly on a national carrier.
As for the hotel, Mr Padipat said he made it clear to the trip organiser that his group wanted each room to cost between 7,000 and 8,000 baht per night.
However, "conditions exist where we don't always get to decide on certain matters", he said.
Mr Padipat pledges to go over the details of the trip's expenses upon returning to the kingdom.
If the government wanted to tighten the study tour budget, restrictions should apply across the board and not only to MPs, he said.