Monday, January 07, 2008

Boonrawd set to sign B38bn military deals


Boonrawd set to sign B38bn military deals

Wassana Nanuam

Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas plans to bid farewell to office by sealing two controversial deals totalling about 38 billion baht - armoured vehicles from Ukraine and a dozen Swedish-made Gripen jet fighters.

The move was revealed at a recent Defence Council meeting attended by the leaders of the three armed forces. It was chaired by Gen Boonrawd.

Defence Ministry spokesman Pichasanu Putchakarn said the ministry had already cleared up all doubts surrounding the procurement plans, including the deal to buy 96 Ukrainian vehicles, which was seen by the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) as non-transparent.

"We just don't want to let the burden [of making a decision] fall on the new government," said Lt-Gen Pichasanu.

The defence minister will give final approval to the deals, which he says are crucial to the military's ability to combat long-term security threats.

Gen Boonrawd said earlier that plans to modernise sections of the armed forces had been stalled for more than a decade following the 1997 financial crisis and it was necessary to push through modernisation plans as quickly as possible.

The Defence ministry has authority to make a final decision on the proposed 3.9 billion baht deal to buy 96 armoured personnel carriers from Ukraine.

However, the OAG has raised questions about the quality of the vehicles and alleged irregularities in the bidding process, in which Ukrainian NGV Enterprise failed to submit a tender but won the Defence Ministry contract.

"The OAG is currently considering our arguments," said Lt-Gen Pichasanu.

The deal to buy 12 Swedish-made Gripen fighters, worth 34 billion baht, has also been greeted with scepticism.

Critics say the price is inflated and have questioned how appropriate it is for a military-appointed government to make such deals.

The military-appointed interim government gave the go-ahead for the deal with Stockholm, but told the ministry to negotiate the details of the agreement.

The ministry is seeking additional benefits, including pilot training in Sweden, Lt-Gen Pichasanu said.

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