Govt tells BMTA to rethink Bestlin blacklist reprieve

Imported buses park at the port. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The government has told the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) to review its decision to remove embattled Bestlin Group from its blacklist.

The BMTA’s decision paved the way for the company to enter the new bidding round for 489 natural gas vehicle (NGV) buses, but has led to complaints by the opposition Democrats that it sends the wrong message on corruption.

Deputy Transport Minister Pichit Akrathit said he has urged the BMTA to discuss the matter with anti-corruption organisations and consider revising its decision.

Although the BMTA’s decision is not yet final and remains an internal affair, the transit authority said it would discuss the matter with the government and offer a formal explanation as to why Bestlin can participate after it failed to deliver the 489 buses under a previous contract.

On Sept 1, the BMTA plans to announce the list of qualified contenders. One week later all qualified bidders will be allowed to offer their quotes for the project to the BMTA, Mr Pichit said. After the bidding wraps up, the new buses are expected to be delivered to the BMTA later this year.

Super Zara Co, which handles imports for Bestlin, was accused by the Customs Department of making the buses appear as though they were manufactured in and imported from Malaysia, to reap a tax-exemption benefit based on an Asean free-trade agreement.

If the vehicles were made in Malaysia as claimed, Bestlin would be eligible for a 40% import duty exemption worth 1.2 million baht per bus. The Customs Department suspects the vehicles were in fact produced and assembled in China.

After Bestlin failed to deliver the contractually-agreed number of buses on schedule as stipulated in the 3.3-billion-baht contract, the BMTA scrapped it and blacklisted the company.

But Somsak Hommuang, deputy permanent secretary for transport, said earlier that BMTA deputy director Yuk Charupum, now serving as the acting BMTA director, later took Bestlin off the blacklist.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday warned the BMTA that all the people responsible for organising and approving a fresh round of bidding for 489 city buses will be held responsible for any mistakes that may result from the BMTA’s decision to allow Bestlin Group to join the new bidding round. Gen Prayut said if Bestlin wins again and is proved guilty in the previous scandal, all members of the bidding committee will be punished.

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