Pisit calls for probe on B340m sky pa­trol flop

Bangkok Post - - FRONT PAGE - WASSANA NANUAM

Au­di­tor-Gen­eral Pisit Leelavachi­ropas has vowed to scru­ti­nise the army’s con­tro­ver­sial 340-mil­lion­baht aerial pa­trol project, which in­cluded the pur­chase of a rarely-used air­ship.

The blimp, which went into ser­vice in 2009, was de­com­mis­sioned only eight years later.

The decom­mis­sion­ing was con­firmed by army chief Chalerm­chai Sit­thisad last week.

This has stoked calls for a malfea­sance probe into the project.

The Of­fice of the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral (OAG) would step in to con­duct a re­view of the project, Mr Pisit told the Isra News Agency.

The air­ship’s past per­for­mance will be as­sessed to find out whether it was worth spend­ing na­tional funds to buy it in the first place, and if some­thing ir­reg­u­lar is de­tected, var­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions will be con­tacted to in­ves­ti­gate fur­ther, ac­cord­ing to Mr Pisit.

“It’s a mat­ter for the OAG to con­sider and the project’s as­sess­ment must go ahead,” said Mr Pisit. “The OAG in­spec­tors should fol­low up on the case and gather in­for­ma­tion and ev­i­dence about it,” he added.

Mean­while, Srisuwan Janya, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the As­so­ci­a­tion to Pro­tect the Thai Con­sti­tu­tion, said he will pe­ti­tion the OAG to probe the case to­day.

If ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties are found, the OAG must for­ward its find­ings to the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion (NACC) to pun­ish In­te­rior Min­is­ter Anupong Pao­jinda, the man who ap­proved t he pur­chase of the blimp when he was t he army chief, Mr Srisuwan said.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion needs to find out whether Gen Anupong used his power in line with rel­e­vant laws, he noted.

The ac­tivist said lit­tle was heard about the wor­thi­ness of the air­ship, which was com­mis­sioned to mon­i­tor the move­ments of south­ern in­sur­gents, over the course of its eight years in ser­vice.

As it ap­pears that the blimp was un­able to per­form its duty in line with the army’s ob­jec­tives, it should be re­garded as in­ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary hard­ware, he said.

Tax­payer’s money was used for the pur­chase, so some­one must take re­spon­si­bil­ity, he noted.

Re­spond­ing to the OAG’s pledge to probe the project, act­ing Pheu Thai deputy spokesman Ji­rayu Huangsap said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion needs to find out why, dur­ing the war­ranty pe­riod, the blimp’s im­porter was not asked to fix the ves­sel when faults devel­oped.

The army just let the time pass be­fore seek­ing a main­te­nance bud­get af­ter the war­ranty had ex­pired, he al­leged.

On Fri­day, Gen Anupong came out in de­fence of the army pa­trol project, ex­plain­ing the air­ship it­self cost well un­der 100 mil­lion baht, and other sys­tems, in­clud­ing cam­eras, are still us­able and have been re­moved to equip he­li­copters.

He also said he would not ob­ject to a malfea­sance probe to clear any lin­ger­ing doubts about the project and counter any in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion.

The air­ship went into ser­vice in 2009, when Gen Anupong served as army chief and Gen Prawit Wong­su­won was de­fence min­is­ter.

Leaks were de­tected in the air­ship, and since re­fill­ing with he­lium is costly, the air­ship was mainly kept in a hangar at the 15th In­fantry Divi­sion in Pat­tani’s Nong Chik dis­trict.

The army re­port­edly spent up to 25 mil­lion baht re­fill­ing the air­ship with he­lium, even though it was al­most never used.

Pisit: Project as­sess­ment must go ahead

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