PTT brushes off criticism

Three controversial new board members of PTT Plc have vowed to continue their drive for greater transparency at the oil and gas conglomerate despite strong criticism from opponents who expressed fears they would push forward a plan to sell more state enterprises.

Ex-energy minister Piyasvasti Amranand together with former energy permanent secretary Pornchai Rujiprapha and former deputy energy permanent secretary Karujit Nakornthap were appointed to the PTT board last Friday amid a push by the junta for board shake-ups at state enterprises.

Mr Piyasvasti, also former president of the flag carrier Thai Airways International and chairman of the Energy for Environment Foundation, is tipped to become the board chairman of PTT.

Their appointment came after seven board members including former chairman Pranpree Bahiddha-Nukara, resigned last month to pave the way for restructuring at PTT.

Mr Piyasvasti yesterday brushed aside pressure from opponents, saying their appointments were unlikely to be affected.

Meanwhile, PTT will sell all its shares in Bangchak Petroleum Plc and Star Petroleum Co in order to reduce its market influence in the retail oil and cooking gas wholesale markets.

"They should call the privatisation programme by the Energy Ministry a big success. It sets a good example for many countries that have taken big steps towards infrastructure development," Mr Piyavasti said as he accompanied Mr Pornchai and Mr Karujit for a press briefing yesterday.  

PTT, meanwhile, plans to set up a new gas pipeline company to spin off its gas distribution venture and allow more competition in the business by allowing third-party access, he said.

Mr Piyasvasti also called for the new government that will be named by the junta to include state enterprises under trade competition law in order to help them be more competitive and transparent.

"The new-look PTT will win trust among others by doing everything with transparency. They will also be humble and not overreact to criticism," he said.

Meanwhile, a group of activists and those against privatisation dressed in black and marched to army headquarters to submit a letter to junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha asking him to remove the trio from PTT’s board. The group's leaders expressed discontent with the privatisation of state enterprises over the past two decades, when PTT, Electricity Generating Plc and Ratchaburi Electricity Holding Plc floated shares on the SET.

"Privatisation has proven to be a tool for private firms and related businesses to reap benefits from these assets that in fact should belong to the state and not be put on sale to other companies," said Lt Col Kamolpan Cheewapansri, who joined 30 other demonstrators protesting against the appointment of the new PTT board members.

The group will continue to advocate the idea that all state assets should be owned by the state. State enterprises, in fact, should revamp criteria for board appointments to ensure transparency, and they should remain free from political intervention, she said.

If the government must enhance the service capability of state enterprises, it should introduce a strong key performance index, said Lt Col Kamolpan.

Deputy junta chief ACM Prajin Juntong, who is also a PTT board member and head of economic affairs for the National Council of Peace and Order, has said Mr Piyasvasti's experience in the energy sector made him suitable for the job despite opposition due to his stance against energy price subsidies.

Three others were also named as new PTT board: Gen Paibool Khumchaya, Kittipong Kittiyarak and Nuntawan Sakuntanaga.

PTT shares closed yesterday on the SET at 318 baht, up six baht, in heavy trade worth 2.2 billion baht.

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