BANGKOK: Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has confirmed that a Hong Kong company has been contracted to conduct a full feasibility study on the plan to build a canal across southern Thailand as an alternative international shipping route to the Malacca Straits.
Chavalit, who chairs a government committee on the Kra Canal, said Hong Kongs Phuket Pass Project Limited, a shipping company, had paid US$1mil (RM3.8mil) and entered into an initial agreement with the Thai government to conduct the study, which would cost up to US$50mil (RM190mil).
There is no reason not to accept the money, given the fact that the memorandum of understanding with Phuket Pass Project makes clear that the donation is made unconditionally, Chavalit said on Tuesday.
The agreement, signed over the weekend, is open-ended to allow other interested parties to participate in the feasibility study as it proceeds, Chavalit said.
Another company, Chanoknant, a consortium of Thai and foreign investors, has already expressed interest in collaborating with Phuket Pass Project, he said.
The company said it might invest in the canals construction if the project got the go-ahead, Chavalit said.
Chavalit stressed that the feasibility study contract has no strings attached, and that no company had been promised any privilege or preferential treatment if and when the canal project moved to the construction phase.
The government has not committed itself one way or another on whether to approve the canal project, he said.
To show good faith, Chavalit said the agreement with Phuket Pass Project also requires the Hong Kong company to prove that the money donated for the feasibility study was raised through legal means.
Under the contract, Phuket Pass Project is required to transfer another US$4mil (RM15.2mil) to the Thai government within 45 days after having paid the initial sum of US$1mil, and another US$45mil (RM171mil) after another 90-day period. The Nation/Asia News Network
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