Energy giant PTT becomes a target in political rivalry

The opposition Democrat Party has stepped forward to warn the public to keep a close watch on whether the Pheu Thai Party plans to ‘suck blood’ from PTT because politicians believe that the energy giant is their treasure trove, writes Watcharapong Thongrung.

The Democrat Party recently caused some fuss by pointing out that Thai Consultant and Public Relations had been selected to manage public relations for 17 PTT projects. It is a small example of criticism in which the Democrats want the public to investigate whether ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is eyeing the energy giant’s enterprises.

In addition, PTT has come under pressure on whether it practises good governance as promoted.

It is very common for large companies like PTT to throw some big projects to other firms. But the Democrat Party revealed that Thai Consultant and Public Relations had close relations with Deputy Agriculture Minister Natthawut Saikua, as one of its shareholders.

As Thais direct more criticism towards this state-run enterprise, it puts more pressure on concerned government agencies to verify the transparency of PTT’s procurements.

Because of the Democrat Party’s revelations, PTT has been widely criticised for monopolising the country’s energy sector with unreasonably high costs, and ignoring the needs of Thai people to generate massive profits.

The company’s annual public relations budget of Bt1 billion, the opposition says, is a lure for “bloodsucking” politicians.

It may be normal that Thai Consultant won a few projects from PTT. On the other hand, the company has managed public relations for 17 PTT pipeline-construction projects.

Although each pipeline project costs about Bt10 million, the Democrat Party warned the public to focus on PTT’s total investment, which is set at about Bt91 billion this year. This will allow politicians to reap more benefits from investments by the Kingdom’s oil giant every time, it claims.

PTT has been kept in spotlight over interventions by politicians in the coalition government. The company is closely involved in fuel-price restructuring, which directly affects consumers of natural gas for vehicles and liquefied petroleum gas.

However, PTT has been one of the major donors to flood-relief activities since the disaster last year, contributing Bt1 billion towards recovery efforts.

Moreover, the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has raised the idea of privatising PTT by selling a 2-per-cent stake, to expand investment in a foreign country where Thaksin has business interests. The Democrat Party has urged Thais to monitor PTT closely, not only its management, but also its procurement in all activities and investment.

Thaksin has had investment interests in the energy sector for years since the US-based company Chevron won an exploration concession in Cambodia. That business appears to be still in his mind as he foresees making a huge profit in the long run.

Meanwhile in the latest Cabinet reshuffle, Arak Chontaranont was appointed as the new energy minister. He worked closely with Thaksin in the Shin Group.

Arak’s three priority jobs are to consider energy-price structures to calm public protest over the increasing cost of living, to negotiate with neighbouring countries including Cambodia and Burma on potential shared oil-drilling areas, and to encourage PTT to expand its investment overseas, particularly in those two countries.

As a listed company, PTT has been closely monitored by concerned agencies such as the Office of the Auditor-General and the Securities and Exchange Commission so that it will not affect investors’ confidence. Moreover, the awards granted by many international authorities have highlighted PTT’s good management.

The company is also considering setting up a special task force to provide correct information to the public so they have a better understanding of PTT’s performance in the areas of business and politics.

So far, PTT has been a victim of both the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties. However, the company has learned very well from this situation by trying to clarify its position, particularly on the political side. The special task force will handle this issue in an attempt to prove PTT is politically “clean”.

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