This Bangkok Mass Transit Authority project will either make or break Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government, which appears to be trapped in coalition politics.
Sophon met Deputy Premier Suthep Thaugsuban - the most powerful Democrat - at Government House yesterday, and after emerging from the hour-long meeting, he said the project had been revised down because of a lower interest projection.
"Some people may question the substantial reduction and wonder if it has been done in order to gain approval. However, in actual fact, the revision is due to a lower projected cost of interest," he explained.
Sophon added that the project would help tackle the problems faced by the BMTA, which is currently losing Bt6 billion a year.
"Should we let BMTA continue suffering losses, when this project will help improve things and help it make a profit?" Sophon questioned.
Meanwhile, speaking from South Korea, Abhisit sidestepped the issue about the Cabinet approval and instead said that the government should be able to tell the public about the benefits of the project, which had been pushed back for revision earlier.
"Since last year, there have been questions about this project's pricing etc. We have to answer all of them, and if they can be answered, then things can move ahead," Abhisit said. He was in South Korea for a special Asean-South Korea meeting.
Meanwhile, Suthep said there was nothing unusual about the bus-leasing deal, which has been revised over the past two or three weeks after the Transport Ministry had been told by the Cabinet to do so.
"There is nothing exciting about this. It has to go to the Cabinet for deliberation," Suthep said.
Political sources, meanwhile, have said that Suthep had already lobbied the premier for this project and it appeared as if Abhisit was going to go along with it in order to guard the stability of his government.
In addition, the Bhum Jai Thai Party, of which Sophon is a member, has threatened to strike the government if the Democrats fail to push it through as promised.
However, it is not going to be an easy ride. About 40 senators, led by Paiboon Nititawan, Som-chai Sawaengkarn and Rosana Tositrakul, have threatened to impeach the Cabinet if it approves the controversial project.
"The project smells of corruption, and I believe that 150 senators are against it," Rosana said. "Sophon Saram acts as if he is a concessionaire because he keeps reducing its price almost on a daily basis."
Somchai said if the Cabinet pushes the deal through, the Senate would vote down the 2010 budget bill and block the executive decree for a Bt400-billion loan package, as well as have 20,000 Thai citizens sign up for the impeachment of the entire Cabinet in retaliation.
The Senators were quoting an independent study, which found that the cost of the project could be brought down by 40 per cent.
Meanwhile, core leaders of the Chart Thai Pattana Party met yesterday to discuss the bus-leasing issue, and suggested that Sanan Kachornprasart, one of its leaders, keep quiet when the Cabinet was deliberating the deal and leave the floor open for the Democrats and Bhum Jai Thai to fight it out.