In Thailand, Murky Dealings over Recommendation of Detection Systems

Section: Government & Politics - Senate committee zeroes in on haste of NIBA consultant in approving explosive detection and baggage handling system, The Nation reports.

The role of New Bangkok International Airport Co Ltd's independent consultant Quatrotec Inc is now the focus of the Senate committee on corruption, following the company's unusual haste in approving the Suvarnabhumi International Airport's baggage handling system design.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday the administration would reveal "in a straightforward manner" the findings of a government-appointed committee investigating the scandal. He also suggested that the content of a written reply from the US Department of Justice to Thailand's queries on the matter would be disclosed.

Documents have revealed that Quatrotec's job was to approve the design completed by California-based CAGE Inc as soon as possible, said a member of the Senate committee on corruption who asked not to be named.

He said it took the company only seven days to approve the design and it would resume work only after the delivery of the explosives-detection system.

Then, Quatrotec would only check if the delivered machines matched the specifications prescribed by CAGE.

CAGE's design is part of the Bt4.3 billion baggage handling system contract.

"It simply acts as a rubber stamp, for a return of Bt40 million," the source said.

The source suspects the NBIA played a crucial role in picking the CTX scanning machines for the Suvarnabhumi International Airport despite its lack of expertise.

Then Quatrotec was signed up just to approve the engineering work.

This rebuts NBIA's insistence that it approved the choice of CTX following the consultant's recommendation that CTX's qualities were better than the other machines certified by the Transportation Security Administration, the examiner of the L-3 Communications.

According to the source, the committee had also noted the unusual rush when the NBIA spent only 9 days to approve ITO Joint Venture Co Ltd's sub-contract of the baggage screening system to Patriot Business Consultants Co Ltd. While ITO submitted the sub-contracting proposal on March 20, 2004, the NBIA's board of directors approved the proposal on March 29.

"We're curious as to why Patriot was allowed to handle this complicated task, despite a lack of experience.

"Moreover, its engineers are from InVision Technologies - the manufacturer of the scanning machines. If it can't do this job, why didn't the NBIA award the work to an experienced foreign company. Is Patriot another puppet?" he said.

The source said the committee had a rough picture of the individuals who were behind the irregularities and that to confirm this, the committee only needed to follow the trail of money.

Aside from the consultants' role and that of Patriot in the Bt4.3 billion baggage handling system, the NBIA is now suspected of having violated government procurement law through the purchase of equipment and awarding the contract without median price range consideration.

The Democrat Party yesterday pointed to what it called irregularities involving the deal to buy CTX 9000 explosives-scanners for the airport.

"Irregularities in this project began with hiring consultants to design the system," said Democrat MP Kiat Sitthee-amorn, a member of the party's working group on communications technology and transport.

Kiat alleged both Quatrotec Inc, the consultants for NBIA, and CAGE Inc, consultants for the project's contractor ITO Joint Venture, specialised in CTX machines.

Kiat, an expert in international trade, said that was the reason why NBIA was not supplied with a report comparing CTX 9000 with similar machines in the market.

"It seems the consultants were hired just to serve as a rubber stamp for CTX machines," he said.

The opposition MP said it appeared the "independent consultants" were hired to prevent suspicion that the deal was fixed as the machines were bought with no median prices for comparison.