Bangkok MRTA’s Orange Line needs scrutiny

Construction News

Bangkok MRTA’s Orange Line needs scrutiny

Bangkok Post Editorial

The decision of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA) to scrap bidding for construction of the western section of the MRT’s Orange Line while a court decision is pending bodes ill for transparency.

After such a controversial decision, the project will become yet more damning evidence of the country’s poor ranking in the international transparency and corruption perception index.

An integrity pact is necessary for the project to regain public confidence.

The MRTA decision was made with a legal dispute still pending an Administrative Court ruling.

The agency said it could not predict when the court would hand down a ruling and the project could be affected by the uncertainty. It considered cancelling the bidding to be the best solution.

Still, this stance contradicts the previous remarks of MRTA governor Pakapong Sirikantaramas who said the court would give the ruling soon and the project would commence in March.

Based on this assumption, the MRTA should not scrap bidding, as this would only further delay the project.

The Orange Line is important for rail transport in the capital as it will link the west of Bangkok to the east while connecting all other major rail routes.

The controversial 120-billion-baht western section will run from Bang Khun Non to the Thailand Cultural Centre station and link the under-construction eastern section to Min Buri.

Two investors submitted tenders for the western section. They are the Bangkok Expressway and Metro Plc (BEM) who operate the Blue Line subway and a BSR Joint Venture, which is made up of Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC), the operator of the BTS skytrain, and Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction plc.

Whoever wins the Orange Line tender will reap significant benefits from connecting the major rail grid in the capital, and both groups are believed to be backed by political interests.

It is the showdown between these behind-the-scenes powers that is believed to be behind difficulties in getting work under way, while commuters bear the brunt.

The project was tendered to the public in July last year but the MRTA changed the criteria by adding a technical score worth 30% to the requirements despite having already sold bid envelopes.

The new criteria means that the bidding winner might no longer be the one who offers the lowest price.

The BTSC petitioned the Central Administrative Court saying the new bidding terms could lead to unfair competition.

The court issued an injunction requiring the MRTA to stick to the original criteria pending the court’s final ruling.

The MRTA then surprised everyone last Wednesday by cancelling bidding.

There is widespread speculation about an exchange between winning the Orange Line contract and the 30-year extension of Green Line concession for the BTSC.

Speculation is rife, and has led to concerns over the transparency of the project.

The government should bring in outsiders to observe all stages of new bidding for the Orange Line western section to ensure its transparency. It is strange that no such arrangement has been signed for the Orange Line while other major routes, including Purple, Blue and Dark Green lines all used a similar process to ensure transparency and accountability.