TELECOM WATCHDOG: Doubts over NTC vote

2 October 2004
Source: The Nation

83 senators cast identical ballots; top ShinSat exec appointed

Some senators and telecommunications industry figures voiced disappointment yesterday over the list of appointees to Thailand’s first national telecom regulator, suspecting the voting was rigged.

Out of 199 senators, 186 took part in yesterday’s vote to select seven members of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), which is intended to act as a fair and neutral agent in deregulating the market and issuing new telecom licences.

Senator Chirmsak Pinthong said he had doubts about the results, because 83 senators voted for the same seven candidates.

There were 14 candidates in the final round of voting. Senators could vote for a maximum number of seven candidates.

“It’s hard to believe that 83 senators voted for the same seven,” Chirmsak said.

The seven NTC members include Rianchai Reowilaisuk, 60, directorgeneral of the Post and Telegraph Department; Prasit Prapinmongkolkarn, 56, a professor with the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at Chulalongkorn University; and Suchat Suchatvejapoom, 59, directorgeneral of the Public Relations Department.

Others are retired Army General Chuchart Promprasit, 63; Artorn Chantawimol, 61, a professor at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology North Bangkok; Sutham Yoonaitham, 46, a law professor at Chulalongkorn University; and Sethaporn Kusripituk, 63, former directorgeneral of the Post and Telegraph Department.

Chirmsak said he could not accept those NTC members with connections to private telecom operators. “Mark my words, [today] share prices in the telecom sector will rally,” he added.

One senator, who declined to be named, said that during the Senate meeting prior to voting, there was hot debate on the background of Rianchai, who also serves as vicechairman of Shin Satellite.

ShinSat is a subsidiary of Shin Corp, controlled by the family of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“They’re worried that Rianchai will favour a particular company. But in the end, he won the votes,” the senator added.

All seven NTC members must resign their current posts within 15 days.

Among the heavyweights weeded out were Kosol Petchsuwan, a Telecom Association of Thailand member; and Direk Chareonpol, adviser to the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre.

“The [NTC] should represent a mixture of people from all fields, not be plagued with heavyweight former state telecom officials, in order to prevent criticism that state officials were favoured,” said one telecom industry source.

He said that despite their comprehensive knowledge of telecommunications, the decision not to appoint Kosol and Direk was appropriate due to their advanced age.

“They’re almost 70 now. If they were selected, they could serve only a short time,” he said.

The maximum age for NTC members is 70, and they serve sixyear terms. But every three years, they vote out three of their number.

Then a new selection panel is formed to choose three replacements.

Meanwhile, Chirmsak said worries about possible rigging could also cloud the ongoing selection process for seven members to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), a cousin of the NTC.

An NBC selection committee is currently at work.

The NTC members will convene soon to select a chairman, with Sethaporn and Chuchart the two top contenders.

Telecom Reporters

The Nation