By JUTHATHIP LUCKSANAWONG,
THE OFFICE of the Auditor-General has found no irregularity involving Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s recent trip to Hawaii, Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas said yesterday.
However, the OAG refused to make a determination as to whether a chartered flight with 38 delegates for an international security meeting was appropriate or not.
Pisit said his agency would submit its finding regarding the Hawaii trip to the State Audit Commission on Monday in order to avoid possible criticism that it had hurriedly jumped to conclusion.
The auditor-general said in his press conference that after a week-long investigation, the OAG found the Bt21-million trip on a Boeing 747-400 for the informal meeting of the defence ministers from the United States and Asean countries to be in line with normal practice and regulation.
Critics said the chartered flight was “overly expensive” and unnecessary.
Pisit said the delegation comprised national-security officials because there were several informal meetings concerning various topics and a reception where top officials from the US and Asean countries met and exchanged information.
“The delegation went there on behalf of the nation. Many responsible officials were there to explain the country’s current situation. The national-security mission and our image are invaluable.”
The auditor-general considered the chartered flight used for the trip reasonable because the 38 passengers had to fly together as a team for a national-security mission.
He said that if the national carrier Thai Airways International (THAI) had booked regular flights for each delegate, the cost would have been up to Bt500,000 per each and the flight duration would have been 16 to 33 hours (in case of transit flights), rather than 11 hours for the chartered flight.
Pisit refused to disclose the passenger list, arguing that they were national-security officials whose names should not be publicised.
He reiterated that in the verified list, the delegation did not include two executives from an agricultural conglomerate and an anchor for the Army-run Channel 5 whose names appeared in an unconfirmed list leaked early this week.
He said the charter flight’s estimated cost of almost Bt21 million was set by the national carrier, plus a 120-per -cent profit. He said the quoted estimate was a median of the carrier’s normal market prices for chartered flights.
However, THAI has not yet calculated the actual expenses for the charter. According to the airline, it will take two months to finalise the bill.
Meanwhile, Prawit yesterday responded to former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s call for a clear explanation from the government about the Hawaii trip. He said that he had made all the necessary explanation.
“Please tell Yingluck to come to me and I will explain to her personally,” he told reporters.
Prawit, who is also a deputy prime minister in conjunction with his Defence portfolio, also dismissed an allegation by ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra that the government was persecuting his younger sister.
In a related development, National Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said yesterday that his agency was not going to interfere with the matter, as it was being investigated by another agency.
He had been asked if the anti-graft agency would probe the alleged irregularity involving Prawit’s Hawaii trip.