Prawit welcomes submarine purchase investigation

Prawit: Done by the book.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Monday welcomed the state auditor's probe into the navy's 13.5-billion-baht submarine purchase scheme, saying the process was transparent and efficient.

Gen Prawit, also the defence minister, said the procurement of a Chinese Yuan Class S26T submarine was being done according to procedure and the budget earmarked for the scheme was vetted by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).

Earlier, Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas said he wanted to open a probe into the navy's procurement of the Chinese vessel due to strong public interest.

The scheme is expected to be forwarded to the cabinet this month. If the navy does not obtain approval this month, the purchase will have to come under next year's fiscal budget, leading to delays.

Gen Prawit said he has no idea if the scheme should wait until it is cleared by the Office of Auditor-General (OAG). However, he insisted the procurement was being carried out in a transparent manner. He also noted the submarine would be purchased through a government-to-government deal.

Under the plan, the navy would buy a fleet of three Yuan Class S26T submarines from China with the first expected to be purchased this year. The navy has secured 13.5 billion baht to buy the first craft expected to enter service in six years' time.

Mr Pisit said the public is interested in the spending involved. The OAG has asked the navy to forward various documents including the purpose of the plan, specifications of the submarine, and steps in the procurement process. He said the probe is to work out the cost-effectiveness and transparency of the deal. Mr Pisit also said a government-to-government deal could not guarantee transparency, pointing to the bogus rice purchase scheme which caused billions of baht in damage.

Critics are not opposed to the navy's desire for a submarine to safeguard marine resources, but question the navy's decision to buy from China. China is offering three submarines in return for 36 billion baht, but the proposal does not include key elements such as an integrated logistics service (ILS) and spare parts. Some critics also ask if China's submarine technology can rival that of developed countries.

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