Saturday, November 5, 2011

Irrigation dept chief slams governor over accusation

Irrigation dept chief slams governor over accusation

The conflict between the central government and the Bangkok authority heightened yesterday when the governor and the chief of the irrigation department engaged in a war of words during a meeting on flood control.

During the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Irrigation Department directorgeneral Chalit Damrongsak accused Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra of spreading false information through the media that the department refused to provide water pumps to help Bangkok.

"I have checked with the national Flood Relief Operations Centre [FROC] and found there was no such request from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration [BMA]," Chalit said.

"The governor should not have said in a television interview that the Irrigation Department had refused to send water pumps to help Pasichareon district. Such remarks damage the reputation of the department," he said.

Sukhumbhand denied that he had made the remarks to the media, but Chalit insisted that he had himself heard the governor make the allegation about his department and demanded that Sukhumbhand retract his words through the media.

Prime Minister Yingluck tried to calm them down, saying the meeting should be a forum for consultation to solve problems.

Sukhumbhand asked BMA permanent secretary Charoenrat Chutikan to explain the situation. Charoenrat said the request for water pumps was made to the FROC and not to the Irrigation Department directly.

Chalit could not be assuaged and asked Prime Minister Yingluck to consider the matter and have a better understanding of the Irrigation Department.

"Prime Minister, please be fair to the department and help explain the situation to the public. We are hurt by such allegations," Chalit said.

Sukhumbhand lost his cool and said immediately, "I don't need to take back my words. When reporters asked whether I had got the pumps, I simply said 'not yet'. It is true. I'm waiting for the pumps."

The Royal Irrigation Department revealed later that after examining official documents from different agencies, it had not found the letter seeking water pumps for Bangkok. However, examination of records with other agencies found a letter dated November 3, 2011, signed by the BMA permanent secretary and addressed to the Interior Ministry permanent secretary, asking for 60 water pumps.

Pheu Thai Party secretarygeneral Jaruphong Ruangsuwan asked both sides to let bygones be bygones, but Sukhumband insisted that he had not insulted the Irrigation Department and was still waiting for the pumps.

Prime Minister Yingluck tried again to cool them down saying all concerned parties should not take the nitpicking seriously.

Justice Minister Pracha Promnok, who heads the FROC, said he would check again whether the BMA had made any request for the pumps. "So far, I have not seen the request in writing but I'll check again where it is," he said.

Tempers cooled down for a while and Prime Minister Yingluck continued the meeting. However, towards the end Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadi launched another attack on Sukhumbhand, asking why the Bangkok authority did not issue warnings to people in western parts of the capital to prepare for evacuation.

Plodprasob asked why the warning was not issued when the Bangkok authority expected all of the western part could be inundated. Sukhumbhand justified his action, saying he did not want people to panic. Also, he did not believe the entire area would be under water.

"We order evacuation only when 70 per cent of the area is inundated," he said.

Sukhumbhand told reporters after the meeting that the BMA did not have any conflict with the governmentrun FROC, saying the Bangkok authority had opened many sluice gates to release water flow.

The governor said he was still worried about the situation in the western part of Bangkok as the BMA and Irrigation Department's drainage systems are not adequate to drain the water out. The BMA can drain only 10 million cubic metres out of the capital, he said.

Prime Minister Yingluck told reporters after the meeting that the BMA and the FROC were separate, hence the two agencies needed to have more consultation and cooperation.

Every province wanted to release its own water but nobody talked about the huge mass of water. "If we want to talk about Bangkok's problem, we have to talk with surrounding provinces, too," she said. "In the long run, Bangkok has to work with Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani."

The Royal Irrigation Department strongly averred that there was no conflict with other agencies.
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