Engineers in Thailand have heavily criticised the government for its failure to set out clear terms for a massive program of water and flood prevention projects worth 350 billion baht ($A 10.665 billion).
The Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT) has called for the program’s terms of reference (ToR) to be either improved or withdrawn, a report in the Bangkok Post says.
EIT director Suwat Chaopreecha, who questions whether or not conditions in the ToR intentionally favour a handful of well-connected large-scale firms, cites a number of problems.
First, he says, the wording is vague and far from clear in many places.
Second, the ToR was written only in Thai, meaning that any foreign investors interested in the projects have to translate the requirements themselves.
Third, the terms of reference require any company that bids to have previously completed a project worth 30 billion baht – and if the bidder is a consortium, each consortium member must have handled tasks worth over 2 billion baht over the past 10 years.
Suwat says these terms unduly favour large local firms. The lack of English translation, he says, serves to dissuade foreign firms while the experience requirements and unclear wording make it difficult for smaller firms to participate.
Suwat is not alone. Teekawut Buddhapirom, an engineering lecturer at Kasetsart University, criticises the ToR for its failure to specify whether or not environmental impact assessments (EIAs) – a typical requirement for large-scale civil engineering projects – would be required for projects awarded under the program.
Another critic of the ToR, professor Thongchai Phansawat, an independent engineer and former environmental engineering lecturer with Chulalongkorn University, says the experience requirement spelled out in the ToR is unnecessary since ideas, knowledge and sufficient levels of information and expertise should be sufficient for any company to deliver successful outcomes under the scheme.
Wicha Jiwalai, a member of the Council of Engineers, who has called on the government to delay the program and set up a team of experts to oversee its implementation, says the ToR does not even spell out any form of precise criteria with regard to candidate selection.
To be sure, not all engineering commentators are disappointed with all aspects of the process. EIT vice-president Kari Tangsanga, for instance, agrees with the idea that local companies should be given preference over foreign firms since local firms would be required to maintain the water management system and infrastructure even if foreign firms won contracts for project design and construction.
But for the most part, engineers suspect that the ToR was either simply poorly written or deliberately written in such a way as to advantage well-connected and influential large Thai firms.
The water and flood management program is a response by the Thai government to improve water management and infrastructure following severe flooding in the Monsoon season which killed more than 800 people and affected 13 million people across 65 provinces.
At that time, the newly elected government headed by Yingluck Shinwatra was criticised for its handling of the situation, with claims that upstream dams were inadequate and that communication when the flood hit was poor.