Bus leasing becomes the mother of all political deals


The future of the Democrats and Abhisit ‘s premiership is at a cross road. If Abhisit fails to handle the situation well, we can expect to see several dozen MPs from the Democrats defecting to join Sondhi Limthongkul ‘s new party in the next election.

1 June 2009


Sophon Zarum, the minister for transport and communication, rushed to see Suthep Thuagsuban, the deputy prime minister, late last week at the Suvarnabhumi Airport. Suthep was about to embark on a tour to the South. Sophon would like to garner support from Suthep over the mother of all deals, a leasing of an NGV bus fleet.

This deal will involve 4,000 NGV buses worth about Bt67 billion in tax-payers’ money. All Suthep would need to do was to convince Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, that Thailand was badly in need of the NGV bus fleet. If the Democrats fail to go along with this deal, chances are that the coalition partners might break away from the government.

This sounds like a threat. And it is a threat. By the way, Sophon is one of the inner circle members of Newin Chidchob, who controls the up-and-coming Bhumjai Thai Party.

Newin Chidchob

Newin Chidchob, Bhumjai Thai Party


Sophon Zalum, the minister for transport and communication

Sophon works on a body blow at the Democrats by pressing the NGV bus-leasing deal.

We do not know exactly what Abhisit has reacted to the NGV bus fleet project. But he tends to go along with any of Suthep\\\\\\\’s suggestions. The NGV bus-leasing project was fishy from the outset. It was firstly introduced during the Samak government. The size of the project, which has been a subject of numerous revisions, is huge financially. Economically speaking, it is not justified a bit. But politicians love this kind of project because they may skim off the cream.

The Samak Cabinet tried to push it through but to no avail. It was said that after Samak lost his job from a Constitution Court ruling, he sought to make a comeback. One of his aims was to see to it that the NGV bus leasing project got through the Cabinet. He did not make it.

The bus leasing project did not see a daylight during the Somchai government either because Newin and Somchai Wongsawat, the prime minister, were not in good term. Newin would like to back either Samak or Dr Surapong Suebwonglee as prime minister. But Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies threw their support behind Somchai, Thaksin\\\’s brother in law. Cracks between Newin and Thaksin widened after that episode, culminating in Newin\\\’s decision to defect and support the Democrats to form a new government in December last year.


Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister

Suthep Thuagsuban, the deputy prime minister

Suthep Thuagsuban, the deputy prime minister

Now Abhisit is inheriting this haunting bus leasing project, which, apart from the rice and other commodity subsidy programmes, the 3G telecom and airport projects, can make or break his fragile coalition government.
If this bus leasing project fails to see the daylight, we can expect the coalition partners to back-stab the government in return. Sophon has signalled to Suthep that if the Democrat-led government would like to get continuing support from the coalition partners, the Cabinet must approve the bus-leasing project.

Again, Abhisit is caught in a do or die situation. If he goes along to approve the bus-leasing project, he might hope to cling on his premiership for another long breath. If he kills the project, the coalition partners will go after him by voting down any legilsations, not to mention the budget bill for fiscal 2010 due for a vote in the middle of June, and bringing down the entire government in the process.

If Abhisit lets the project pass his Cabinet, his premiership would be tarnished and the future of the Democraty Party would be at risk because the general public would view that the Democrats have sold their soul just for the sake of hanging on to power.

Abhisit has softened his stance by signalling that the bus-leasing deal should go through some minor revision before it may be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

Democrat MP Somkiat Pongpaiboon, representing 25 party MPs, expresses his opposition to the controversial Bt60-billion NGV-powered bus leasing project on Wednesday. He said his group considered the project as plundering the country

Democrat MP Somkiat Pongpaiboon, representing 25 party MPs, expresses his opposition to the controversial Bt60-billion NGV-powered bus leasing project on Wednesday. He said his group considered the project as plundering the country

Inside the Democrat Party, there develops a sense of uneasiness and a lack of direction. The Young Turks within the Democrat rank and file are feeling unhappy with Abhisit\\\’s leadership, which depends considerably to Suthep\\\’s tutorledge.

When Korbsak Sabhavasu, the deputy prime minister, ran into trouble with Porntiva, the commerce minister, over the scandal surrounding the rice subsidy programme, Abhisit failed to back Korbsak. Instead, he turned to Suthep to mediate the conflict. Technically, the rice subsidy programme is very complicated. Suthep does not have any knowledge or background about this programme. But all Abhisit wanted was that the Democrat and the coalition partners must continue to co-exist during this turbulent time.

Even Chuan Leekpai and Banyat Bandatarn, the senior members of the Democrat Party, are beginning to sense that the Democrats are drifting away. We are not sure whether Abhisit is listening to Chuan any more. Chuan has been nurturing Abhisit all along so that Abhisit could become his successor. Abhisit\\\’s rhetoric follows Chuan\\\’s style. But it is Suthep who has done all the dirty work to support Abhisit\\\’s leadership and eventual premiership. Suthep is also churning out financial support to the party and the MPs.

The future of the Democrats and Abhisit\\\’s premiership is at a cross road. If Abhisit fails to handle the situation well, we can expect to see several dozen MPs from the Democrats defecting to join Sondhi Limthongkul\\\’s new party in the next election. By that time, it would be a dual between the PAD party under Sondhi\\\’s leadership against Newin-controlled Phumjai Thai; rather than the traditional rivalry between the Democrats and the Pheu Thai.

By Thanong Khanthong


Mother of all deals put on hold


June 3, 2009

Sophon Sarum, the transport minister, was apparently upset that the Cabinet jammed a brake on his NGV bus leasing deal. He slammed the Cabinet for subjecting itself to an intimidation by the social pressure

The Cabinet this afternoon put on hold the NGV bus deal deal proposed by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority, which is under the oversight of the Transport Ministry. Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, decided to back off. He would like the National Economic and Social Development Board to study this project and recommend it to the Cabinet within one month as to whether it would be better off for the BMTA to lease or to purchase outright the NVG bus fleet.

Sophon had been confident that the NGV bus leasing deal would sail through the Cabinet approval. He had downsized the project from Bt69 billion to Bt64 billion to satisfy the social pressure. Suthep Thuagsuban, the deputy prime minister, had agreed to this deal and had already lobbied Abhisit to switch on the greenlight for this project, which belongs to the Blue Shirt camp of Newin Chidchob. Suthep and Newin have been dancing their strange duet all along.

But the politics within and outside Parliament was very strong. People would have been ready to march onto the streets if the Cabinet were to approve this bus leasing deal. Some 150 senators would also have retaliated immediately by launching an impeachment against the entire Cabinet as well as shooting down the budget bill for fiscal 2010. Public opinion had been largely against this project, which showed a big hole.

One member of Parliament told me that the bus leasing commission amounted to Bt20 billion. The Democracts could have earned Bt5 billion if they went along to vote for it.

But people in the industry say the commission is much larger. The arithmatic for this leasing project for 4,000 NVG buses is very simple. The cost of lesing an NGV bus is Bt3 million. The maintenance cost of each bus is Bt4 million through out a 10-year leasing period. Overall, it costs Bt7 million to operate one NGV bus for 10 years.

But the leasing deal, as proposed by Sophon, is Bt64 billion, or Bt16 million per unit. If you subtract Bt16 million with Bt7 million, you get Bt9 million in commission. And when you multiple Bt9 million with the total fleet of 4,000, you’ll get total commission of Bt36 billion.

That’s lot of money, man……(Read full story By Thanong Khanthong)


Bus leasing deal will never see the day light.

Thursday , June 11 , 2009



Suthichai Yoon  – Forget the Cabinet, Mr PM, take a public bus ride

CABINET’S decision yesterday to pass the “hottest potato” – the controversial Bt64-billion bus deal – to the government’s economic and social planning agency for a one-month “study” was obviously a tactic to buy time.

But that doesn’t mean he can avoid making a final decision that will show whether Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva is a real people’s leader or just another politician.

Tulsathit Taptim  –  Judgement Day for ‘Buses from Hell’

Yes, the bus-leasing project stinks. First off, you wouldn’t want to put Newin Chidchob and Co anywhere near Bt67 billion, no matter how “noble” a project may sound. And if that project involves lucrative activities like bidding and paying daily maintenance charges for 4,000 vehicles, it’s a recipe for a corruption horror movie of the year. No, we are not “jealous” as claimed by those in the Bhum Jai Thai Party; we are just really scared.

The Nation Opinion Politicians pushing for NGV buses deserve their ‘reward’

LIKE MOST BANGKOKIANS, you must be surprised by the relentless dedication of our politicians to please all of us with a new NGV bus service, which we have been promised will be world-class, clean, efficient and bring profitability to the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority. Normally, politicians are not much interested in pleasing us. But this time it is different. The politicians now say we need the NGV bus service. So we should have it and be grateful for it.

Bangkok Post Opinion Delay tactic can only go so far

The Democrats may find it convenient to use a delaying tactic to avoid either hurting Bhumjaithai outright, or attracting a public backlash. But in the long run this political game cannot work in the Democrats’ favour: they cannot please both the public and their vital coalition supporter.

Sopon Onkgara  –  Prime Minister Abhisit is walking on a path of thorns

The Nation  Impeachment threat over buses

Piyanart Srivalo, Watcharapong Thongrung  BT64-BILLION DEAL: Brakes jammed on bus project

Bangkok Post Bus plan goes before NESDB: Democrats buy time in row with Bhumjaithai


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