Junta’s use of Section 44 on Thai-Chinese railway project puts public safety at risk

Leading Thai architects and the national association of engineers have denounced the use of Section 44 to speed up the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway line project between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima, pointing out that it puts public safety at risk.

“The use of the special law as an exception to building an approach to good governance … may cause confusion and mistrust in the rush to implement the project,” reads the statement of the Engineering Institute of Thailand Under H.M. the King’s Patronage (EIT).

The statement was issued after Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, on 15 June 2017 invoked his absolute power under Section 44 of the Interim Charter to issue National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Head’s Order No.30/2017.

The order clears away legal and technical obstacles to the much delayed 252-kilometre high-speed railway from Bangkok to the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. The order mandates the State Railway of Thailand to hire a Chinese state enterprise to supervise the railway project.

Under the order, the Ministry of Transport is required to work with the Chinese firm and Thailand’s councils of engineers and architects. However, the order exempts several articles of the 2000 Architect Act, allowing architects who have not been certified by the Architect Council to work in the project.

According to the EIT, the current Thai-Chinese railway deal is not beneficial to the country, adding that the Order to override several regulations in order to rush the project jeopardizes public safety.

Agreeing with the EIT, Chatree Prakitnonthakarn, an architecture lecturer at Silpakorn University, said that it is not only Thai engineers who feel disheartened by the act but also architects who have to study for over five years.

Chatree, however, pointed out that the more worrying issue is the fact that the use of Section 44 to rush the project also overrides several laws related to public procurement, making the railway deal less transparent.

“I would like to propose that the Architect Council cooperate with EIT and the Association of Siamese Architects, together with academics in architecture and engineering who are knowledgeable about these matters, to formally take a public stand against the Section 44 Order this time and to organise academic activities and communicate more with society in order to bring about changes in or revocation of the order,” Chatree wrote.  

Duangrit Bunnag, a well-known Thai architect, wrote on his Facebook account that the Order violates several multi-national agreements, such as the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Architectural Services, the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services, the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), and the National Treatment principle of the WTO.

“This is equivalent to liberalizing the [architecture] profession in an unequal way. Thai people in the profession have to take extremely difficult examinations, but foreigners can just carry their luggage in and go to work. Buildings collapse, Thai people die, but they are not held accountable to the slightest degree,” wrote Duangrit.