Teething problems or construction flaws? Questions over leaky new Thai Parliament
Thailand’s 12-billion-baht Parliament complex opened in May last year after eight years of construction – yet it is still drawing complaints of defects and quality issues.
Since its inception in 1992, the project to build a new Parliament building — Thailand’s third — has run into problem after problem.
It took many years and governments before a decision on its location was finally made. In 2008, the Samak Sundaravej administration opted for a picturesque 123-rai plot on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, in the Kiakkai neighborhood of Bangkok’s historic Dusit district. The location was deemed the best of the three options.
The Parliament complex — officially called Sappaya Sapasathan, or “place of assembly for good deeds” — covers a floor area of 424,000 square meters and is the world’s largest legislative building.
More than 100 households in two communities, as well as a large government school with some 3,500 students, had to be cleared to make way for the construction.
On April 30, 2013, Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction (STEC) was hired as the main contractor to build the complex with a budget of 12.28 billion baht. The company was given 900 days to complete the construction, with a deadline of November 24, 2015.
However, that completion date was repeatedly postponed as the project ran into trouble. Initial delays were caused by difficulty in evicting the original occupants and the deferred handover of land, as well as slow transportation of soil from the construction site, according to then-House of Representatives secretary-general Jare Phanprueang, who was in charge of the project at the time.
In October 2015, just a month before the scheduled completion date, junta leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha sacked Jare over efficiency issues. Prayut explained that he wanted to see the construction of the new Parliament speeded up but had been told it was stalled.
Parliamentarians began using the complex’s Chandra Hall for meetings in August 2019 despite ongoing construction work. Construction was further delayed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020.
The Parliament complex officially opened its doors on May 1 last year, a day after the handover by constructors. However, work on the complex is still far from complete today, as defects and problems are still being discovered, according to coalition Democrat Party politicians who are scrutinizing the project.
Leaks and flooding
In September 2021, about four months after the official opening, rainwater leaked into several areas of the building and caused flooding. The following month brought reports of another major leak – this time from a pipe.
Former Democrat MP Watchara Petthong claimed that a series of similar incidents had gone unreported thanks to cover-ups by Parliament officials. “Construction work was not up to standard. Water leaks occur so often,” he said.
In early March, the complex was partly flooded after a tap-water pipe sprang a leak, causing “what looked like a big waterfall”, Watchara reported, citing a video clip of the incident as proof.
Just over a month later, leaking pipes left the complex’s underground car park under water.
In the latest incident last Friday (July 1), Watchara reported another water leak in the compound that flooded its ground floor, where an exhibition for the 90th anniversary of Thai parliaments was being held. He claimed that after heavy rainstorms, there were leaks in “dozens of spots” throughout the complex.
The House of Representatives Secretariat later said in a statement that the flooded floor was caused by strong winds sweeping rainwater into the building.
Adding to the controversy over defects are allegations that the constructor failed to follow many of the requirements in the contract, meaning the original specifications were not met. For example, a different type of wood than specified has been used for the flooring while the parliamentary committee rooms are not soundproof, as required by the contract, according to Watchara.
Vilas Chanpitak, another Democrat ex-MP scrutinizing the construction project, pointed to wooden poles — 2,400 out of 4,200 — he said had gone moldy due to insufficient drying. Also, more than 340 replanted large trees and many smaller ones had died but not been replaced, he said.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk