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Thai official denies bribery in 3G auction

Publication Date : 21-10-2012

 

Thailand National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) member Suthiphon Thaveechaiyagarn yesterday denied rumours that NBTC members were bribed to hold the 3G auction in a way that favoured existing business operators, saying the stories were spread by ill-intentioned people.

"I was a court judge for 10 years. I received the ... King Scholarship, I was a secretary-general of the Election Commission and I am a person of consistency. A single year here [at the NBTC] cannot change me," he said.

"I have my future ahead of me, I have my family to take care of, I don't have any reason to be corrupt or be bought. I have no financial problems. If I had any financial problem or wanted to make money, I wouldn't be doing this job. Please be fair to me. I know myself best; if I did anything bad, I would be ashamed," he said.

The NBTC has been criticised heavily since the 3G auction last week. The main complaints include the fact that the auction might have violated the state bidding law and that it might have favoured the existing industry operators.

Suthiphon, one of the four members of the watchdog's telecom committee who voted to endorse the results of Tuesday's auction, said rumours had circulated that the nine NBTC commissioners who had voiced support for the auction's methods and rules were paid off. There are a total of 11 NBTC commissioners.

He declined to say whether he had discussed the rumours with the other NBTC members. He said the appropriate response to the rumours was a personal decision for each member, but he was confident that they were not true.

The two NBTC members not accused in the rumours are Supinya Klangnarong and Prawit Leesatapornwongsa.

Before the auction, Suthiphon said, he was worried it wouldn't succeed. When the auction was finished, he was worried that the result - which saw the bid prices end up only slightly above the reserve price - would be problematic. He added that he was later relieved to learn, in discussions with the other commissioners, that the outcomes of such auctions were similar in many countries.

"After the auction, I am not worried, but I am saddened that I worked hard for the country's sake only to be blamed and face accusations of bribery. Earlier, I expected that if it was a success, I would be proud. Now I am proud, but also sad because I have been blamed every day," he said.

The commissioner said he would be able to explain everything about the bidding, especially its legal aspects. He was confident that the NBTC had followed the laws strictly.

"Anyone who has doubts can take action according to the [legal] process. I assure them that nothing was done in violation of the state bidding law. But someone might take action against us for malfeasance. However, I still insist that we followed the law. Even if finally the court says we were malfeasant, I repeat: I don't think we were malfeasant. At any rate, the finished auction cannot be scrapped," Suthiphon said.

He said the NBTC could not just change the bidding regulations upon learning there were only three bidders. The NBTC might have faced malfeasance charges if it had changed the rules, the commissioner said.

"We would have done that [changed the rules] if we could. But we couldn't. When we drafted the regulations we didn't know that there would be only three bidders. But if we had just amended the announcement, that would be abusing the law and simply doing what we wanted," he said. "If we had set the reserve price at 6.440 billion baht (US$209 million) per slot, we would have faced charges of intervention as we would be preventing minor operators from taking part in the auction and favouring only the major ones."

"A coin has two sides; we have to be careful. I think Thai society now is too paranoid. Thai society needs to be careful and listen to information from all sides. I'd like Thailand to look ahead and figure out how to make the most of the auction, as I don't want it to end up in paranoia and political issues," Suthiphon said.

He refused to say how the auction had become a political issue. "I cannot say it. But what I heard was that rumours were intentionally spread that we were bribed."

Suthiphon said that before the NBTC handed the licences to the operators, the companies would have to provide to the NBTC the details of their fee rates and service standards.

"The NBTC will do its best to protect the people's interests," he said.

 

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