By going ahead with the purchase of two more submarines worth 22.5 billion baht, the Prayut Chan-o-cha government and the navy have shown they don't share the feelings of people struggling with economic hardship due to Covid-19.
Millions are out of work, numerous businesses have been forced to close and the country's debts are soaring as the government needs massive amounts of money for relief packages.
Navy big shots on Monday came out to defend the controversialprocurement, which was conceived in 2017 when the country was under a military regime running the country without checks and balances. The military-installed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) served the regime as a rubber stamp and no questions were asked as to whether the country really needed submarines which altogether cost over 36 billion baht. The navy boasted it was getting them for a special price, plus freebies like a missile that no one is certain will ever be of use.
The purchase of the first of the planned three subs was finalised using the 2017 budget. That sub will be delivered in 2023.
The navy's submarine plan had been stalled by elected governments, including Yingluck Shinawatra's, until the military took the control. The project was then dusted off and eventually passed in a non-transparent way.
The 22.5-billion-baht procurement was approved last week by a House panel scrutinising the 2021 budget following a tug-of-war between the coalition and opposition bloc after the navy rejected calls for it to be delayed until the country has emerged from its Covid-19 difficulties.
Panel chair Suphol Fongngam had to step in and voted to break the impasse but the opposition has vowed to continue to shoot down the procurement in a debate tabled for tomorrow.
Adm Sitthiporn Maskasem, the navy's chief of staff, insisted the procurement contract was legal and alleged the opposition was trying to politicise the issue, trying to attack the government and make political gains.
The officer is wrong. Public anger erupted after his press conference on Monday, with anti-submarine sentiment going viral on Twitter. Adm Sitthiporn and his team are sticking by their old invalid argument, saying the 36-billion-baht budget for the subs "is its own money" since it agreed to drop other purchase plans in order to acquire the submarines. Defenders of the purchase also say the payment is not being made in a lump sum but in a down-payment, plus installments of three billion baht a year over seven years.
They also insist that the money set aside for the subs could not be transferred to other projects if the purchase plan is aborted, only returned to state coffers.
A naval officer had a dig at his opponents for not accepting the 5:4 vote and in doing so he tried to politicise the issue by referring back to Pheu Thai's rice-pledging mistakes.
The officer forgot one fact: the budget is taxpayers' money and the procurement was wrong from the beginning.
People expect the government and navy to use their budget rationally. And they have failed public expectations in this regard.
Adm Sitthiporn and the government may not realise that the procurement will fuel public dissatisfaction with this administration.
Unless they learn how to fathom public sentiment, the submarine saga could snowball into a crisis.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.