By RICARDO V. PUNO JR.
In our last piece from Singapore, we told you about a front-page article which appeared at The Straits Times in regard to alleged operational problems being encountered at Bangkoks new Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The facility was inaugurated only last September, nine days after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was kicked out of office by a military coup.
The head of a government panel of engineers investigating the airports problems was cited by the Straits Times as complaining about “cracks” in the runways and taxiways at the airport, a faulty baggage scanning system, a lack of public toilets, non-existent signage, crowded arrival and departure halls due to an excess of concessionaires, and other such defects.
But the very next day, on the front page of the international Herald Tribune , there was also a story, this time quoting the same government investigating panel as saying that reports of damages to runways and taxiways at the airport were “significantly overblown.” There were no cracks in the asphalt , but ruts in the taxiways which could easily be fixed, said the panel.
There seems to be agreement that the ruts or the few hairline cracks seen in a small area of the runways do not pose a safety hazard for the airlines now utilizing the airport. There have been no reported incidents on take-off or landing of aircraft and there have been no operational complaints from airline airport staff. This kind of “damage,” says a member of the investigating body, is “common,” even in US airports.
Some friends of mine whove used Suvarnabhumi, mostly European frequent travelers, profess puzzlement at the brouhaha over what they deem to be simple normal start-up problems at a major international airport, particularly one with the mega-size of the Bangkok facility which is intended to handle up to 45 million passengers a year.
Cantankerous baggage carousels, long walks to airline gates, overcrowded passenger halls, among other inconveniences, are par for the course, they insist, but are eventually sorted out by airport personnel. They shared with me more horrific stories about their own misadventures in other new airports in Europe, the US and Asia.
I dont know if being travel veterans has taught my peripatetic friends to be a lot more forgiving than other airline pax who, the Thai investigating panel claims, have been bitching about Suvarnabhumi. But it does seem to me that the problems of the spanking new Bangkok airport are inextricably bound with the fate, or perceived future plans, of the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thats because the military-run government now ensconced in Thailand seems bent on proving that the Thaksin government rushed the new airport into completion and that the entire process was riddled with corruption, which is why the new facility has supposedly turned up so many problems.
As the head of the investigating panel told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand last week, “Even though we spent a lot of money (about US$4 billion), supposedly for a five-star airport, we got a three-star airport.”
Even that assessment is too generous, if a former consultant to the airport authority is correct. He is certain that further investigation will uncover more problems: “What were seeing Tuesday is just the tip of the iceberg.” He alleges that every aspect of the project the duty-free concessions, the parking lot construction, the baggage system “has got something hidden underneath.”
Those are the claims of non-admirers of Thaksin. The problem is that, so far, no concrete evidence has been produced by investigators, including those of the ruling Council for National Security which has sworn to file charges against the former premier by the end of this month.
Suvarnabhumi has become such a sticking point for Thaksin defenders and opponents because, it has to be said, the former PM made the airport a showcase project. With good reason, since the airport had been on the drawing boards since the 1960s, well over four decades. Previous Thai PMs had failed to get the project done, but Thaksin managed to get the facility, touted as a regional hub which would take business away from Hongkong and Singapore, completed during his five-year tenure.
The question, however, is at what cost and whether the rushed construction was tainted by rampant and pervasive corruption. Indeed, corruption is one of the battle cries against Thaksin. The military juntas CNS is now looking into 52 alleged graft cases.
Essentially too, military leaders are concerned that Thaksin, despite his repeated disclaimers, is really preparing for a comeback and has a substantial kitty stashed in foreign banks to make that happen. In fact, they think he or forces still loyal to him were responsible for those New Years Eve bombings in Bangkok. Those bombings, incidentally, have yet to be solved by the government now in power.
When asked directly by Newsweek magazine recently, Thaksin flatly denied charges of corruption, calling them “baseless,” as well as any intentions of making a comeback. He insisted he has no further political ambitions, and is “calling it quits.”
In that Newsweek interview, he joked that, in place of his old party, the abolished Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais), he is organizing a new party called the Enjoy Life Party. Thaksin says the platform of his new party will be to play golf, travel, relax, and meet friends. His new slogan, the exiled PM says, is: “Dont be too serious about life.”
No ones laughing at that attempt at comedy. Others, it would seem, are still taking him pretty seriously. For example, Newsweek says this: “Even as the citified middle class rallied for months to dislodge him from office, rural masses clung to a leader whose populist policies were seen as evidence of his devotion to the poor.”
The ruling junta also seems unconvinced Thaksin has called it quits, despite his quips about now wanting to simply play golf and enjoy life.
In context, therefore, the debate about alleged defects at Suvarnabhumi may only partly be about construction or corruption, it may actually be more a reflection of deep and unresolved divisions still hounding Thailand these days.
And to add more AMUSEMENT, hereby I add the original the international Herald Tribune article.
Thailand's airport imbroglio grows
By Thomas Fuller Published: February 2, 2007
BANGKOK: Reports of damage to runways and tarmacs at Bangkok's new airport have been significantly overblown, a government panel of engineers set up to investigate the problems said Friday.
“There are no cracks,” Suchatvee Suwansawat, the secretary of the panel, said as he stood over a section of asphalt cut up as part of the investigation. The main problem was ruts, not cracks in the asphalt, Suchatvee and other experts said, contradicting several weeks of reports in local media here.
“The cement base is fine. The problem can be fixed.”
While good news for the more than 40 million passengers expected to use Suvarnabhumi Airport this year, the findings may complicate efforts by Thailand's military- appointed government to use shoddy construction at the airport as one of the justifications for the coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who pushed the construction project through during his five years in power.
Plagued by delays and allegations of corruption during four decades of planning and construction, Suvarnabhumi was touted as a regional hub that would take business away from airports in Hong Kong and Singapore.
But since opening in September, the airport has been criticized by travel agents and travelers for its overcrowded arrival and departure halls, lack of signage, long lines at immigration and lengthy walks to gates. The facility has been the focus of a fierce political firestorm, with the government accusing Thaksin of rampant corruption in the building of the airport.
An ally of Thaksin, Chotisak Asapaviriya, resigned Thursday as president of Airports of Thailand, the government-controlled company that manages Suvarnabhumi. Asapaviriya said the imbroglio over the airport had been so stressful that he needed to resign to maintain his health.
The panel of engineers said it was unusual for tarmacs at Suvarnabhumi airport to be damaged only four months after opening, but played down the magnitude of the problem. Reporters who accompanied officials Friday to what were described as the worst-affected areas saw ruts a few centimeters deep but only a small area with hairline cracks.
“This is a common type of damage. You see it in airports all over the United States,” said Noppodol Phien- Wej, a representative from the Consulting Engineers Association of Thailand and a member of the committee investigating the problems. (if it is not against myself, I will increase size of font to biggest one)
“What is unusual here is the scale of the problem and the speed it is happening.” About 70,000 square meters, or 84,000 square yards, amounting to 2.3 percent of the airport's total pavement, is damaged, said Noppodol, noting that damage to the runways is “minute.”
The finding dovetails with comments from airlines that use the airport. “Everything is normal,” said James Ward, a spokesperson for British Airways. “So far we haven't had any reported problems. Takeoffs and landing are normal. We haven't heard any complaints from the staff.”
Thaksin was both credited for speeding up a project that had stalled and criticized for rushing it into completion.
“To say that all the corruption was confined to the Thaksin regime is exaggerated,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a former consultant to Airports of Thailand who helped prepare the company for its listing on the stock market. “But most of the construction was done under Thaksin.”
Thitinan predicted that future investigations would reveal further problems and malfeasance. “What we are seeing today is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Every aspect of the project, Thitinan said, “the duty free concessions, the parking lost construction, the baggage system has got something hidden underneath.”
“This airport is really the embodiment of all that was wrong with Thaksin: the corruption, cronyism, the hubris,” Thitinan said. “It's reached a point where it's not just a national embarrassment. It could collapse the aviation industry and the Thai economy could really take a hit.”
Initial plans for the airport date back four decades but the bulk of the construction was carried out during the administration of Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001 until he was deposed in a coup last September.
With Suvarnabhumi running close to its capacity of 45 million passengers a year, the government will decide Tuesday whether to transfer some flights to the old airport, Don Muang, which today handles only charter flights. Proposals range from allowing low-fare airlines to use the old facility to reserving Don Muang for domestic flights.
Uamdao Noikorn contributed reporting for this article from Bangkok
For my own view, all only bullshit. What CNS can do?
I still doubt. And they (Thai faulty media) still say international medias bought by Thaksin.
I can only LOL .