Saturday, February 10, 2007

The amazing tale of Suvarnabhumi

You know that "milking" sculpture at the main entrance to the new airport? It wasn't actually meant to be that, it was meant to be a Thai barge. Oh by the way, it's in the wrong place as well. It wasn't actually meant to be blocking the entrance way. "How did that happen?" I hear you ask, well the (now former) manager of the airport seemed to be good friends with the construction group responsible, so you'd have to ask him.

That little story is the perfect symbolic representation of a weirder than fiction tale of Suvarnabhumi Airport.

At first it looked great. Visitors looked in awe at the grand architecture. The numerous complaints and charges of insatiable corruption were unknown to foreigners and forgotten by Thais and us farangs as almost everybody sad a sad goodbye to DonMuang and a grand hello to Asia's largest airport. The bad omens - such as the fact that monks were called in to exorcise evil 'spirits' who posessed a man in the airport were forgotton.

It didn't take long to - almost literally - start falling apart. It almost seemed like some symbolic Buddha redemption of the coup makers as not long after their overthrow, serious problems started to arise at the site. First it was relatively minor, confusion over the English version of the name (actually pronounced 'Suwanapoom' , nothing like its spelling!) a lack of signs (poor planning) , lack of security in certain areas (same again) , gross overuse of space by King power (kickbacks? , cronyism?).

Soon things began to get more serious. The most notorious being the cracks in the runway. These had actually been reported by a Bangkok Post journalist months before. Under heavy pressure from the regime at the time, he was sacked despite a retraction and sued his former employer. Now, they couldn't be covered up. The Airports Authority, perhaps fearing international actions , refused to issue a compulsory safety certificate to the airport. A sense of panic ensued.

Still it didn't stop. The press sensed a hot story and perhaps a tad of revenge, the coup makers sensed redemption and the public sensed a big fat load of corruption. Like a snowball rolling down an avalanche, complaints picked up. Water pipes were leaking , cracks were now not just on the runways but the taxi ranks as well , footbridges were errected incorrectly.
Even in a country not keen on placing blame, heads had to really for this one. Already two major figures at Airports of Thailand have "resigned" after quiet chats with the junta. The Assets Scrutiny committee have pressed ahead with several corruption investigations including the long running CTX bomb scanners scandal I discussed once before.

In all, it's been a disaster. Some international flights have been relocated to the old airport, engineers are investigating the runway but they are local engineers who have possibly been involved previously, many are calling for an independent international investigation. As the results of investigation is pending, the consensus of educated opinion is that sub standard sand was used in construction, as contractors sought to recoup their kickback costs)

Parts of the airport are closed and numerous investigations into multitudinous anomalies are underway.

And Mr Thaksin? Well his tack has changed just a little. The man who presided over the opening ceremony, landed the first plane and presented with people with "the aviation hub of Asia" made a simple statement through his verbose lawyer: "Mr Thaksin can't be expected to know every detail of the airport".

And yet amazing as it may sound, in my opinion this could be a heavy short term loss for a great long term gain in Thailand. The farce at Survarnbarmhi is unlikely to have escaped a single Thai. Its effect has the potential to be manifold. The coup makers - accused of dithering and procrastination against allegedly corrupt politicians - have been spurned into taking action. The scale of the debacle means they have been unable to surpress the media criticism as they would like and have been pressured to actually taking action. Likewise, the majority of Thais who take a passing interest in political events have become concerned and looking for action. Events have reached such a level that the un-Thai trait of making someone take responsibility has crept in. The gravity of events has paused many to snap out of nationalistic thinking and actually start thinking critically, at least momentarily.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this has happened at a time when a new constitution is being drafted. Perhaps I'm being optimistic, but I've been encouraged by the criticism from the head of he CDA (Constitution Drafting Assembly) towards the junta. It gives me some hope that the CDA will actually look to draft a constitution that prevents such disgraces from happening again.


svl said...

I like your blogging style . . really I do. No sarcasms, no regrets and no congratulations either . . just plain story telling of the Suvarnabhumi saga as it unfolds.

Keep it up and don't be discouraged. And may the (good) force be with you!

Rutt said...

The newly appointed AOT directors, and the investigators, are being stonewalled by AOT managers and employees to protect their TRT masters. Uncovering the rot at Suvarnabhumi won't easy.