DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER General Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday welcomed an investigation by the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG), saying it was good to have the agency look into the costs surrounding the controversial charter-flight mission led by him to Haw
Prawit also said he was ready to disclose the names of his entourage, and affirmed that none of those joining him had been on the trip for leisure purposes.
“All of my team on the trip are related to me [my government duties] and went to Hawaii for work,” he stressed. Later he was quoted by Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Khongcheep Tantrawanich as saying that will only disclose the list of names to the OAG, not the press.
The delegation included the vice defence minister’s team and representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister, Prawit said, adding that the team was involved in discussions on several national security issues – namely terrorism, fisheries and human trafficking.
Prawit, in his other government capacity as the country’s defence minister, attended an informal meeting of defence ministers from Asean plus the United States and others in the Asia-Pacific in Honolulu at the invitation of US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter.
More than 30 Thai officials reportedly went on the trip with the minister, which lasted from Thursday till Sunday, amid speculation of an overly expensive flight with luxurious food served on board, estimated to have cost around Bt20 million in total.
Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas said on Monday that the OAG was collecting facts from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and national carrier Thai Airways International (THAI) to determine whether the expenditure incurred on the trip was “reasonable” and “productive”.
The agency will conclude the investigation by Friday, the auditor-general told The Nation. Prawit has acknowledged that some reporters also went on the trip to cover the meeting in Honolulu.
However, the menu on board the THAI flight was only “normal Thai food”, nothing luxurious and certainly no caviar, despite rumours to that effect, he insisted.
The overall in-flight cost of food and drink was reported to be Bt600,000.
Prawit, moreover, expressed confidence that the prime minister would not be worried about the controversy, as it was an individual matter.
Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that Prawit should clarify the trip expenditure and make it clear why it was deemed necessary to charter an aircraft.
The politician called for fairness for Prawit, saying he used to work with him and knew that he was a decent man – and not someone prone to superfluous expenditure.
Meanwhile, THAI issued a press statement Monday night clarifying the facts about the charter flights, insisting that the cost incurred was normal. Bt20.9 million was an estimated cost for the trip, as requested by the PM’s Secretariat, the statement said.
The carrier added that there were no regular direct flights from Bangkok to Hawaii and, as the officials were travelling as a group, a chartered aircraft was suitable for them.
Since a chartered aircraft was used, it was normal for the cost to be higher than for a normal flight, the airline explained.
The statement also said the actual overall expense incurred would not be available from the PM’s Secretariat until later.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd explained that the Bt21 million was not an actual expense, but a median price calculated from all the seats on the craft. THAI will be collecting the actual cost spent by the 38 passengers, he said.
“What people see is the median price. So, it leads to misunderstanding,” he elaborated.
Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, said he would today lodge a complaint with the OAG calling for an investigation into Prawit’s trip to Hawaii for the meeting.