Business supports infrastructure bill but warns about transparency

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Business supports infrastructure bill but warns about transparency

Most business leaders in Thailand have expressed a general support for the government’s proposed 2-trilion baht borrowing for infrastructure bill, but has joined other sectors in expressing grave concerns over the potential for serious corruption within the scheme.

The senior leaders of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC) noted that they agreed there needed to be a serious overhaul of infrastructure within the country and if this was handled correctly, with transparency and public participation, then it could greatly enhance the future economic prospects of Thailand.

The TCC noted, “Thailand’s land transport costs are relatively high now, driving the country’s overall logistics costs to 15.2 per cent of gross domestic product or 1.75 trillion baht.”

Whereas air transport accounts for just 0.02 per cent, rail a mere two per cent, and marine 12 per cent of overall transport costs in Thailand, land transport accounts for a massive 86 per cent.

Yet the TCC notes land transport costs 1.72 baht per tonne per kilometer compared to rail which is only 93 satang and marine at a mere 63 satang. While upgrading marine transport is not really going to take a sufficient percentage away from land transport, a major overhaul and upgrade of the rail system certainly will make a huge difference.

The TCC has outlined three proposals it believes the government needs to address to ensure the entire project achieves its stated objectives rather than helping to line the pockets of a few corrupt persons who have little or no concern for the future well-being of the nation.

The first of these proposals centres on the need for the government to concentrate on a dual-track railway as its first priority as this, according to the TCC, will greatly improve not just cargo operations but also passenger transport. Given the overall poor maintenance record of the State Railways of Thailand in recent years, it would seem this first proposal is indeed a major priority.

Secondly, the government is being urged to conduct further benefit studies on the proposed high-speed railway which is expected to improve connectivity with near neighbours such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia as well improved transport links to China and Vietnam.

Third, and possibly most contentious of all, the TCC wants to see an independent body established by the government to oversee the 2-trillion baht infrastructure budget. The TCC notes that existing state agencies are not equipped or empowered to cope with the enormity of such a series of projects.

As they have said, the loan bill has been earmarked as off-budget spending which immediately renders it difficult to audit. The TCC wants to see a supervisory body appointed to monitor spending.