Thai sub deal signed in Beijing

Thai and Chinese officials at grand ceremony in China to witness start of controversial procurement.

THE ROYAL THAI NAVY yesterday signed a Bt13.5-billion deal to buy the first submarine from state-owned China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Co (CSOC) in a grand ceremony in Beijing, marking the start of a controversial programme to buy a total of three submarines.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was upset when asked about the controversial deal, remarking |sarcastically to reporters that |taxpayers’ money should instead have been spent on rice-pledging |or rice-insurance schemes. Prayut was referring to the previous Yingluck government’s multi-billion-baht rice-pledging scheme which resulted in heavy losses as well as the previous Abhisit government’s rice-insurance scheme.

Yesterday’s signing ceremony was attended by senior Thai and Chinese officials, with the Thai delegation led by Navy chief of staff Admiral Luechai Ruddit. The delegation will be in China until Sunday.

Luechai said both Thai and Chinese officials had approved details of the contract which had already been examined by Thailand’s Office of the Attorney-General.

He said in a statement from Beijing that the Office of Auditor-General had also given the green light to the contract signing.

The ceremony was also attended by Vice Admiral Patchara Pumpichet, the deputy chief of staff, and other senior Navy officials.

Earlier, the Office of the Auditor-General said it would take a week to vet the contract and procurement process following complaints that the process was not transparent and the benefits of acquiring expensive submarines were not clear.

The government said it would pay the first Bt700 million instalment for the first S26T submarine. The remaining Bt12.8 billion would be paid over a seven-year period. Details of the plan to buy two more submarines are not yet available.

In support of the government’s deal with China, Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas said yesterday the submarine procurement’s objective is concrete compared to the previous government’s rice-pledging scheme.

Pisit said the rice-pledging scheme was one government’s policy, while the submarine deal is based on the Navy’s long-term national defence strategy.

In addition, the submarine deal is a government-to-government effort, while previous similar rice deals were fake.

Prayut said his government had not interfered in the Navy’s affairs and the submarine deal was seen by many people as a necessary purchase to boost the country’s national defence.

The premier also said that the country needed to be equipped with modern submarines to safeguard national resources. He also said the use of taxpayer’s money must be transparent and be subject to proper budget procedures as his government is working for all 70 million Thai people.