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Piyasvasti under pressure to probe status abuse

Piyasvasti under pressure to probe status abuse

Piyasvasti Amranand

Thai Airways International president Piyasvasti Amaranand is facing a major challenge just two months into his new job.

The former energy minister, who has an impressive track record as a competent technocrat and professional manager, will have to prove that transparency and accountability are now key features of his new management team.

Yesterday, a document detailing the alleged unacceptable behaviour of at least two senior THAI executive and board members was circulating in Bangkok.

The document did not name the persons, but alleged that a board member of the airline had travelled with his spouse to Japan and returned on November 14, 2009 with 40 suitcases, weighing a total of 520kg aboard Flight TG 677.

The belongings were allegedly allowed into the country, bypassing the Customs Department as they were classified as lost-and-found items.

A THAI source said the permitted baggage weights for economy, business and first-class passengers are 20kg, 30kg and 50kg per person, respectively, so it is not possible to carry such a huge weight without paying a huge fine.

The source said airline staff are, however, less strict if passengers are top management or board members because they would be doing a favour, but the overall excess baggage should not be that much.

Wallop Bhukkanasut, chairman of the airline's executive board, yesterday denied any wrongdoing, saying he was persecuted because of an internal management conflict in which those who lost powers in a previous restructuring decided to turn against him.

"This is awful as I never carried that many pieces of luggage. There was no unusual report from the Customs Department either. In that flight, I remembered I got only three suitcases with some souvenirs and Japanese fruits," he said, adding that he is ready to cooperate with any investigator.

Following his retirement, Wallop returned to THAI five or six months ago as chairman of its executive board. His priority was cost reduction via the centralisation of airline procurement.

According to Wallop, many people in procurement were affected by the restructuring and cost-cutting measures, which aim to reduce costs by Bt1 billion this year as far as procurement of wine, blankets, personal amenities for passengers and crew's overseas accommodation is concerned.

Wallop said he had saved a large sum in terms of the crew's accommodation in Manila, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Munich, Tokyo and Osaka, while cutting the wine procurement by Bt40 million this year.

Besides Wallop, another senior THAI executive, Pruet Boobphakam, executive vice president for commercial department, was also accused of wrongdoing. Pruet yesterday declined to comment.

Another senior THAI executive, who asked not to be named, but was familiar with the issue, said it was possible that the recent restructuring and centralisation of procurement had led to the internal conflict because some people were negatively affected.

However, the airline has gained from increased bargaining power in procurement and lower costs.

In addition, the airline is in the process of acquiring new aircraft, so various groups are lobbying to gain an upper hand via several members of the airline's board.

To set the record straight, Piyasvasti should set up an impartial body to investigate the alleged wrongdoings.

As president, he will have to ensure that the airline's management is transparent and accountable or else his credibility will be hurt.

After assuming the top management post, Piyasvasti has sought cooperation from staff, top management and board members to help reduce the airline's expenses.

He urged senior managers and board members to voluntarily reduce their privileges in using THAI's flight services free of charge.

For example, board members and top management who are entitled to first-class seats should consider switching to only business class seats.

Ampon Kittiampon, chairman of the THAI board, said the airline would have to deal with the allegations with fairness.

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