11 July 2024

The Thai Prime Minister’s advisor Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, recently in charge of the three-decade-long Hopewell saga, which is a case between the Thai government on one side and Hopewell (Thailand) on the other, has attributed last Friday’s success in winning approval for a retrial of the case to one dedicated SRT official whom he described as “a little man with a big heart”.

The Thai Supreme Administrative Court overturned a ruling by the Administrative Court, which had rejected the pleas of the Transport Ministry and the State Railway of Thailand (SET) for a retrial in the conflict over the elevated road and rail project. An arbitration committee has ordered the two state agencies to pay Hopewell (Thailand) 24 billion baht in compensation for unfair cancellation of the project.

Both parties had agreed to take the case to arbitration for settlement. Both the Transport Ministry and the SRT appealed the arbitration committee’s ruling to the Supreme Administrative Court which reconfirmed the committee’s ruling.

Subsequently, however, the two state agencies asked the Administrative Court for a retrial of the case, claiming that they have new evidence that Hopewell (Thailand) was not properly registered and that it was not the same company which won the project bid. The court, however, dismissed the appeal, prompting a further appeal to the Supreme Court, which has now ordered the Administrative Court to conduct a retrial of the case.

In his Facebook post on Saturday, Pirapan said he would not have succeeded in being granted a retrial without the help of Suthirak Yimyoung, aka “Yim”, an official at the SRT’s health office.

Pirapan said his work on the case over the years has involved an enormous amount of documentation and Yim was key to helping him in this area because he appears to remember every detail about the nearly thirty year old dispute.

Asked how he knows so much detail about the case, Yim told Pirapan that he had read all the paperwork and hoped that, one day, his knowledge would be useful.

Pirapan said he realised Yim had been in the same position for a long time and asked him why he had not been promoted. Yim said his superior was about to retire, but that he would prefer one of his colleagues to take the job because, if he were to be promoted, he would not have the time to help out in the Hopewell case.

Pirapan said he then asked whether Yim had thought about his future career. Yim responded by saying he was content to remain there, so he could concentrate on the Hopewell case.

“Can you believe there is such a person in this world?” asked the PM’s advisor rhetorically.

He went on to say that several people have lauded him for his legal success, but he admires and appreciates Yim as a “little man with a big heart” at the SRT.

Officially known as the Bangkok Elevated Road and Train System (BERTS) project, it involves an elevated road and rail system, extending 63.3km from Bangkok, at a total investment of 80 billion baht. In return, the project owner would have the right to collect toll fees for 30 years, estimated at 53 billion baht and has the right to utilise land, covering about 100 hectares, along the route through the concession period.

Businessman Gordon Wu, of Hopewell Holdings in Hong Kong, won the bid and a contract was signed in 1990, between then-Transport Minister Montri Pongpanich of the General Chatichai Choonhavan administration and Hopewell (Thailand).

The project encountered prolonged delays due to land acquisition problems. Two years later, following the coup which ousted the Gen Chatichai administration, a new government, led by Anand Panyarachun, reviewed the project and scrapped it. The project was revived by the next government, led by Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, only to be cancelled again by the Chavalit government in 1997. By then only 17% of the project was complete.