Defiant Bangkok governor vows to stay on; defends controversial project.
MR SUKHUMBHAND PARIBATRA, the embattled Bangkok governor, is coming under pressure to call it quits after the Office of the Auditor-General found irregularities and implicated him along with eight others over the Bt39.5-million “Bangkok Light of Happiness” project.
However, the governor, a deputy leader of the Democrat Party, remains defiant and vows to continue his work.
He said he was surprised the A-G’s office had hurriedly concluded that there was graft in the procurement of LED (light-emitting diode) equipment and accessories used in the project, which ran from December 30 to January 30.
Vilas Chanpitak, a former Democrat MP from Bangkok, urged Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to exercise his powers under Article 44 of the interim charter to suspend Sukhumbhand, citing the A-G’s graft finding.
The Pheu Thai Party also called on the Bangkok governor to show responsibility.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krau-ngam said the governor could still continue his duties. The governor will be required to step down if the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) accepts the case from the Office of the Auditor-General and seeks his prosecution.
The Bangkok governor may have to reconsider his status if the NACC accepts the case or the military’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order issues an order suspending him from office, which is currently not the case, Wissanu said.
Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya said he had not received a report from the Office of the Auditor-General, which may include a recommendation on the governor’s status.
NACC chairman Watchara-phol Prasarnratchakit said that at this stage the Bangkok governor could continue performing his official duties, as the NACC has not received the auditors’ dossier.
Despite all the graft allegations, in which several other city officials were also implicated, Sukhumbhand told a press conference that the project was economically worthwhile, with more than 1.7 million Thai and foreign tourists visiting the extravaganza during the 33-day New Year festive season.
‘Boost to tourism’
The project was designed to boost the city’s tourism and other economic activities while costing only about Bt20 per visitor, since the budget was only about Bt39 million.
“We also got a lot of attention on social media during the Bangkok Light of Happiness show, so maybe 16 million to 17 million people got to see the event.
“This was also not the first time we spent money to promote the city’s tourism. Previously, we spent more than Bt20 million for an event at Klong Padung Krungkasem.
“It’s an appropriate policy and if the Office of the Auditor-General thinks there are problems, they should have let us know. But we heard nothing from them,” he said.
Sukhumbhand said he would sue anyone suggesting that he and his team were guilty of violating the anti-graft law on procurement, since the auditors’ finding is just the start of a long process on this matter.
On the Democrat Party’s position on this matter, he said he was still the party’s deputy leader and there had been no meeting, so any statements regarding this matter were not based on a party resolution.
Vilas of the Democrat Party said the two deputy Bangkok governors, Amorn Kitchavengkul and Chumpol Samapophon, were not named in the auditors’ report even though they were proponent of the project and Chumpol was the official who granted approval for it.