The cabinet on Tuesday decided to send the US space agency’s request for use of U-tapao naval airbase in Rayong for a climate study to a joint sitting of parliament in August for debate, a decision likely to result in the cancellation of the project.Deputy government spokesman Chalitrat Chandrubeksa announced the decision.
He said the request would be debated at the next session of parliament, under Section 179 of the constitution, which does not require a vote.
Therefore, the US National Aeronautic and Space Administration (Nasa) project was unlikely to go ahead this year as planned, he said.
“Because of concern for neighbouring countries and opposition by some political parties, as well as the possibility of the government being seen as not protecting the country’s interests, the cabinet agreed to call a parliamentary debate under Section 179 to make everything clear,” Mr Chalitrat said.
Nasa earlier made it clear the request for use of the airport for scientific studies in August and September would be withdrawn if approval was not forthcoming by June 26, because of the need to move in equipment ahead of the project.
The parliament is in recess and not scheduled to resume until August.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said after the cabinet meeting that it would be a pity if Nasa withdrew its request for use of U-tapao for atmospheric studies.
Ms Yingluck sdmitted the cabinet’s decision might cause the space agency to cancel the project.
Although the Council of State, the government’s legal adviser, confirmed that the request did not require parliamentary approval under paragraph 2 of Section 190 of the constitution, and the appropriate ministries had publicly explained the benefits of the Nasa project, there was still conflict of opinion, she said.
Moreover, the opposition feared it might affect the country’s interests.
For the sake of transparency, the cabinet decided to forward the matter to parliament, she said.
“The cabinet is of the opinion that we should use parliamentary mechanisms to scrutinise the request in the interests of the country. If the scrutiny process is slow, leading to Nasa cancelling the project, it will be a pity,” Ms Yingluck said.
The premier said Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul would explain the decision to the US and she hoped that Washington would understand and respect it.
The cabinet decided not to call an extraordinary parliamentary session to consider this matter because even then Thailand would still fail to meet the deadline set by Nasa.
The foreign minister blamed the opposition for the decision to refer the matter to the parliament for debate, and probable loss of the project
Mr Surapong said the opposition’s accusation that the government was not protecting the country’s interests was serious and could have led to many later problems.
“The government wants to explain everything to society because the opposition has accused it of not protecting the country’s interests.
“Since the accusation is serious, the cabinet agreed it should ask parliament to scrutinise the issue because it does not want the public to misunderstand.
“If the matter is not passed to parliament, some people may seek the Constitution Court’s interpretation,” Mr Surapong said.
The minister said it was a pity the project might now be cancelled.
Even if the government decided to give the green light and bypass parliament, there would certainly be a proposal for the court to give a ruling and the proceedings would come to a halt.
“They are playing too much of a political game,” Mr Surapong said.
Mr Surapong said he would formally inform the US embassy of the cabinet’s decision.
He wondered if Nasa would ever return to Thailand and resume the project if it was cancelled, because the US space agency also had plans to conduct the same climate studies in other parts of the world.