Bid riggers jailed, corruption agency and universities sign pact

pix 1.5The Supreme Court struck a blow in support of honest government last week slapping five-year sentences on two former New Bangkok International Airport executives for rigging bids during construction. Meanwhile, the National Anti-Corruption Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with 11 organizations, mainly leading universities, to collaborate in fighting corruption.
In handing down its guilty verdicts, the Supreme Court overturned acquittals issued earlier by the Appeals Court. The Supreme Court found that Priti Hetrakul, then managing director of New Bangkok International Airport, and his deputy at the time Pramual Hutasing, inflated the reference price for grading the land at the airport during the 1990s. The airport is commonly known as Suvarnabhumi Airport. By inflating the price, they inflicted huge damage on their organization and the public, the court said.

The median bidding price to grade the airport construction site was raised from $302 million to $340 million. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) originally filed the case against the executives in 2009. The NACC accused the men of abusing their authority, alleging they had changed the median price without the knowledge and agreement of the committee overseeing bids on construction of the airport.

Suvarnabhumi Airport took over 40 years to move from idea to reality. The government purchased the land for it in the 1960s, but it did not open until 2006. Construction began in earnest in the mid to late 1990s and rumors of corruption circulated at the time. Not long before its opening, a group of Thai academics published a research paper claiming that as much as 40 percent of the airport’s $4 billion price tag was lost to graft. Infrastructure projects in many countries, and especially in developing countries, are prone to graft and Thailand has been no exception.

Arrest warrants were issued for Priti and Pramual, as both failed to appear in court for the verdict and sentencing. Despite the Appeals Court acquittals, the Attorney General decided to continue to pursue the case, insisting that the evidence from the NACC was solid. The Supreme Court agreed with the prosecutor, and the five-year sentences that had been overturned were re-imposed.

A new alliance to fight corruption was forged last week when the NACC signed a memorandum of understanding with 11 top universities and other groups, to join forces in the fight against graft.

“It’s important to form a network to better tackle corruption by means of prevention, suppression and fostering awareness about public participation in the fight,” said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a speech during the signing. “We must act together to tackle corruption at its root causes. And we have to start with our families.”