Govt dusts off mega-projects
Transport Ministry says rail investment can be used to inject new life into economy
The Transport Ministry will today seek Cabinet approval to call for bidding for three mass-transit lines next month, in order to inject some much-needed cash into the decelerating economy, according to ministers.
The government's decision to take the dust-covers off the mega-projects has come amid anticipation of a fresh general election later this year.
The Thai Rak Thai Party's popularity among Bangkok voters has been declining, because of its failure to implement any of the mass-transit lines it had earlier promised.
Thai Rak Thai has also lost points among voters who believe the government's recent attempt to block the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's plan to extend the BTS Skytrain lines was politically motivated.
Caretaker Transport Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal said yesterday the proposal to call for bidding emerged from a joint meeting last week of the Finance Ministry, the Budget Bureau Office, the National Economic and Social Development Board and his ministry.
The agencies agreed the government needed to inject money into the economy and should therefore speed up construction of one or two mass-transit lines this year.
"We need to inject money into the system, not cut off the flow of money," said Pongsak.
"The Transport Ministry has a clear objective of starting with one or two or three lines first, because it's impossible to do all of them at once," he said. The Cabinet is scheduled to decide at today's meeting on which lines it will start calling for bids. It hopes to call for bidding next month, or by mid-July at the latest.
Pongsak said the probable first three lines were the Red Line, connecting Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports to Chiang Rak; the Blue Line, which is an outer ring road to Bang Khae; and the Purple Line, which will connect Bang Sue to Bang Yai.
"These three lines are ready for implementation," he said.
Pongsak said that apart from the three mass-transit lines, the Cabinet would also be asked to approve the purchase of 2,000 natural-gas buses for the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority, in order to save on fuel imports.
Caretaker Deputy Finance Minister Varathep Ratanakorn said the government planned to inject an initial budget of Bt40 billion to Bt50 billion to support the implementation of mega-projects this year, in a bid to stimulate economic activity and growth.
"Once the Cabinet approves the proposal, agencies involved in the mega-projects will be urged to seek disbursement of funds from the Budget Bureau, in order to implement them quickly," he told reporters.
Asked if the caretaker government had the power to approve the mega-projects, Varathep said the projects in question were different from those under the government's modernisation programme, which would need to be approved by the new administration.
He conceded that a delay in forming the new government until next year's first quarter could affect the planned budget for fiscal 2007, which begins in October. However, he said only planned state investment projects would be affected by such a delay, while fixed expenditures - such as government officials' salaries - could be disbursed normally.
Assigned to do so by caretaker Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, caretaker Finance Minister Thanong Bidaya had called a special meeting of agencies for today to discuss budget-related problems and solutions, said Varathep.
Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday returned to work after his month-long break from politics that was meant to ease political tensions.
"But now the social, economic and political problems have severely affected people to the point where Thaksin can't leave it to caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya to make decisions on his behalf," said Government Spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee.