The Thai government said on Monday that it has asked the navy to reconsider its submarine purchase or delay it while the country struggles to cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri told reporters that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha in his capacity as defence chief had asked the navy to delay the purchases.
As a result, “the navy is considering to delay the purchases,” said Anucha. “The navy will have to talk to representatives from China on the possibility of postponing the deal for another year.”
Two weeks ago, the House of Parliament’s subcommittee in charge of the 2021 fiscal budget bill, approved the procurement of the submarines for 22.5 billion baht.
The moves were met with heavy criticism from the opposition and the public, citing that the money could be used to fund more relief measures for citizens and small businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Update: Submarines purchases delayed
As of Monday afternoon, the House’s budget scrutiny committee said that the committee has decided to lower the budget for the purchasing of the two submarines from 3.93 billion baht in 2020 down to zero.
The decision was made with a vote of 63 versus 3, who abstained, from a total of 66 members at the meeting.
Santi Promphat, the Deputy Minister of Finance, said the committee agreed that the purchases of submarines are necessary; however, given the current economic downturn, the committees, the defense ministry and the navy have all agreed that the purchases will be delayed during 2020-2021 fiscal years.
He added that given the importance of strengthening the country’s submersible fleet, the navy will continue to proceed with the deal with the use of its 2022 fiscal budget instead.