NLA kills Oil Corp plan

The ‘national oil corporation’ was deleted as the National Legislative Assembly approved a still-controversial petroleum bill. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted to approve a controversial petroleum bill Thursday but removed a heavily criticised provision to set up a national oil corporation (NOC).

Following a lengthy debate on the bill, NLA Chairman Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said he and NLA whips agreed that Section 10/1 of the bill, which deals with the establishment of the NOC, should be withdrawn.

The NOC proposal will be annexed to the end of the bill and a one-year study period required before an NOC can be set up, the assembly chief said.

Observers noted that such an annex is not usually legally binding and that it is up to the government to consider whether to use it.

In this case, it is tantamount to cancelling the proposal, which raised critics’ concerns of a power grab by the military. However, the NLA voted 227-1 to pass the petroleum bill on its third reading.

Section 10/1 of the bill states that a national oil corporation (NOC), which would have authority over the county’s petroleum resources, would be set up “when everything is ready”.

This would be based on a feasibility study conducted by various agencies. But the proposed NOC has met with opposition from prominent figures including former deputy prime minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula.

During the NLA meeting, the People’s Alliance for Energy Reform (PAER), which supports the NOC proposal but opposes the bill, gathered outside parliament to hand over a protest letter against it and another on related income tax.

The group said it wants the NLA to withdraw the bills, arguing they would allow the existing concessionaire to maintain its monopoly on energy resources.

The NLA debated both bills Thursday, with the second and third readings held for the income tax bill.

The PAER protesters then moved from parliament to Government House as police set up barricades to block them at Chamai Maruchet Bridge.

Authorities told them their gathering was banned as it was illegal under the law regulating public assembly.

Kamolphan Cheewaphansri, a key member of the PAER, was detained and taken to the 11th Army Circle base.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has stressed that he will not allow the military to control national energy resources.

“I’d stake my life on it. I will not allow anyone to seek [an unfair] benefit. I insist the military will not seek any role in energy issues. If anyone has such an idea, I will not allow it. Trust me,” he said.

The prime minister said the government should listen to the public but also protect the nation’s interests.

He handed out copies of a six-page document at Government Housem detailing how the controversial petroleum bill came into being.

It was issued by the secretariat of the Senate acting on behalf of the NLA.

The document claims the government had to propose the bill as operating concessions for the Erawan and Bongkot petroleum blocks in the Gulf of Thailand are due to expire in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

Initially, the bill aimed to cover both the system of awarding concessions to companies and a production-sharing contract (PSC).

It was tabled to the NLA for deliberation, with an NLA committee on energy tasked with gathering opinions from civil groups that subsequently called for the NOC to be set up.

This proposal was then forwarded to the cabinet, which agreed to have it included in the petroleum bill at the NLA committee scrutiny stage.

The proposal was not raised in its first reading by the NLA because the government did not want the matter to cause conflict, according to the statement.

Moreover, the bill clearly stated that the NOC would be set up only “when everything is ready”, which would be based on a feasibility study conducted by various agencies, the document said.

NLA energy committee chairman Gen Sakon Sajjanit said at the deliberation meeting that the country’s petroleum supplies have been acquired through the concession system without relying on hiring contracts or other systems.

But the petroleum bill focuses only on exploration and production, Gen Sakon said.

Gen Sakon stressed that the NOC is a major issue that requires careful action.

The NOC proposal should be a long-term plan that needs to be thoroughly studied first.

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