ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Thailand plans to sell off AIS concessions
This is another chapter in Thailand’s confused history of administering its telecoms sector. Thailand’s Information and Communications Technology Ministry is pushing ahead with plans to sell the mobile concessions of Advanced Info Service to a group of foreign telecom giants if compensation negotiations fail.
"We are in preliminary talks with eight international telecom firms and they all expressed interest in taking over the mobile operations of the country's largest mobile operator," said ICT Minister Juti Krairiksh yesterday.
The eight are Telecom Italia of Italy, China Mobile, NTT DoCoMo of Japan, SK Telecom of South Korea, Axiata of Malaysia, and three US operators.
Mr. Juti said he had held confidential talks with top executives of the eight firms along with executives and board members of TOT Plc at the Mobile World Congress in Spain last month. The discussion covered past concession amendments of mobile operators, including AIS, and the consequences following the asset seizure case against ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on February 26 last year.
Mr. Juti acknowledged that the prospective foreign investors expressed their interest in a partnership with AIS after he told them "the fate of the AIS concession is now hanging in the balance".
He said SK Telecom had already confirmed its interest, while NTT has been given two weeks to submit its proposal.
Analysts and industry veterans, however, warned that the ministry's move could harm the Thai telecom industry and shake foreign investors' confidence.
The TOT board on Monday decided to solve its dispute with AIS amicably by setting up a state panel to resolve telecom concession amendments in its efforts to demand 74 billion baht in compensation from the largest mobile operator.
The TOT had earlier intended to file a claimant lawsuit against AIS for violating the telecom concession.
Another ICT Ministry committee working to resolve telecom concession amendments on Monday also failed to conclude the compensation was to be demanded from the operators. The ministry asked the cabinet for another week to seek more information.
An ICT source said both AIS and Total Access Communication (Dtac) confirmed their standpoint that they would not accept any compensation claims by their concession owners. The companies said if they accepted the losses, it could mean they admitted that all their past contract amendments had been illegal.
AIS raised three key points at the committee meeting, chaired by the ministry's permanent secretary, Jirawan Boonperm, on Friday last week, reiterating that the past concession amendments between AIS and TOT did not cause any damage to the state telecom enterprise and each change was voluntarily approved by the TOT board and attorneys. AIS said the changes benefited TOT, telecom authorities and consumers. AIS also insisted it had done nothing wrong and complied fully with the concession.
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