Thai's 2010 national budget (image : Bangkokpost)
The opposition Puea Thai Party is accusing the government's Defence Ministry budget allocation of 170 billion baht (5.366 million USD-ed) of being "unnecessarily high" and disguising possible graft.
The military budget nevertheless managed to sail through its second reading in the lower house last night following a long, intense debate over transparency in the procurement of weapons, armoured vehicles and airships.The Puea Thai Party failed in its attempt to seek a 10% to 30% cut in the 170 billion baht defence budget, which accounts for 8% of total spending in the 2011 fiscal year.
A majority of MPs, 242, approved the budget last night.
"I'm sure we have sufficient weapons and armoured vehicles compared to our neighbours," said Puea Thai MP Plengmanee Rengsomboon.
There is no need for the country to possess such a large amount of weapons because anybilateral conflict could be mediated by international organisations like the United Nations, Ms Plengmanee said.
"Some of this money is part of our borrowings so why don't we use it for something necessary like improving people's quality of life?"
Ms Plengmanee questioned the planned purchase of six Gripen fighter aircraft to add to the six already ordered by the Royal Thai Air Force. That should be enough for now, she said.
Corruption scandals in military procurement schemes showed this was not the time for the army to be getting more money, MPs said.
The Royal Thai Army would be given 20 billion baht over the next three years to buy 1,500 machine guns, 60 armoured vehicles, two planes, 11 helicopters and three large trucks.
Puea Thai MP for Bangkok Anudit Nakornthap said several weapon purchase projects had been tainted by corruption.
Grp Cpt Anudit cited the army's purchase of an airship costing 300 million baht to improve security in the lower South. The craft is troubled by apparent construction flaws and delays in delivery.
The army's 4 billion baht procurement of 96 armoured personal carriers from Ukraine had also caused problems. The APCs have still not been delivered even though the agreement was signed in July 2008.
Puea Thai MP for Khon Kaen Preechaphol Pongpanich said the defence budget exceeded that of other ministries that worked to help improve the quality of people's lives.
Lt Preechaphol, who was a minority voice on the house budget bill scrutiny committee, said he felt there were irregularities in the military budget.
The military asked for 10 million baht to renovate 10 houses inside the 11th Infantry Battalion in Bang Khen where the government based its operation against the anti-government red shirts.
He accused Democrat MP Suwaroj Palang, also a member of the scrutiny committee, of joining influential figures in the army to push for the money.
Mr Suwaroj denied the allegation. "No one can order me about," he said.
Army commander Anupong Paojinda Thursday defended the spending, saying it was in line with the armed forces development plan.
Gen Anupong said the purchases did not come out of thin air. The procurements were studied and regarded as necessary for military development."
We have a plan for this. We have researched what our troops need," he said.
"I don't just wake up, head to a market and look around for what to buy.
"Thailand's defence spending should be about 2% of gross domestic product, he said. The 170 billion baht accounts for 1.4% to 1.5 %.