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Full BBC inquiry urged

 

A SPECIAL House of Representatives committee must be formed to inquire into the unusual circumstances behind the collapse of the Bangkok Bank of Commerce, which will be seeking the outrageous sum of Bt178 billion not Bt90 billion as previously understood in rescue money.

''I don't think the Opposition bloc can sit idle now," said a well-informed source. ''They will certainly call for a full House inquiry to get to the bottom of the issue, which has been seriously distorted so far."

The Fund for Rehabilitation and Development of the Financial Institutes has already injected Bt35 billion into BBC through three rounds of recapitalisation. BBC has also received some Bt25 billion in liquidity support from the Fund since it has no shred of credibility left to do business with other institution. As part of a management contract with the Industrial Finance Corporation of Thailand, the Bank of Thailand has agreed to inject another Bt48 billion to cover 60 per cent of BBC's total bad debts; to aval Bt50 billion in BBC-guaranteed commercial papers; and to hand over another Bt20 billion in fresh liquidity to keep the bank's operations going.

The bail-out package for BBC will eventually total a staggering Bt178 billion equivalent to 17.66 per cent of the 1998 national budget or 3.56 per cent of Thailand's gross domestic product.

Given the 60 million or so people living in Thailand, in effect each will be handing over Bt2.96 million to rescue the failed bank. If a low-wage worker is making the minimum Bt157 a day, he will have to sweat it out for 18,853 days about 52 years or much more than his entire working life to pay off his Bt2.96 million share of the national tragedy.

Dr Amnuay Viravan, the finance minister, has agreed to go along with a recommendation of Rerngchai Marakanond, the BOT governor, who decided to ''save" the Fund's Bt60 billion already invested in BBC by throwing another Bt118 billion into the pit after it. They apparently share a belief that the official bail-out of BBC has gone too far to pull out now.

This model of throwing good money after bad was also an article of faith for Vijit Supinit, Rerngchai's predecessor. During the tenure of the Chuan administration, Vijit, who tried to cover up BBC's rotten situation, suggested to the then finance minister Tarrin Nimmanahaeminda that the Fund and the Government Savings Bank subscribe to the capital increase of BBC at Bt16 a share, in the hope of making capital gains once the bank became healthier, perhaps with a share price of Bt30-Bt40 apiece.

Tarrin left office before he had the time, knowledge or experience to act on the deteriorating status of the bank, whose damages had their beginnings way back in 1992, before it collapsed in May 1996 under a mountain of Bt80 billion in bad debts.

Rerngchai's move to rescue BBC also runs against the orthodox sermon these days which preaches government belt-tightening. Bt100 billion is to be cut from the 1997 fiscal budget and even then this amount has been viewed as not sufficient to allow the BOT to loosen its present tight monetary policy.

Yet the Fund a rescue arm of the BOT will be spending lavishly, digging into its pocket for Bt178 billion just to prevent a rogue bank from going under. With the advantage of inside news of the BBC's bail-out, speculators have recently been snapping up BBC stocks, which hit ceilings for six days in a row by climbing from Bt3.70 on April 17 before reaching Bt6.20 last Friday.

If the House inquiry into the BBC is to be formed, it is Amnuay not the Bank of Thailand who will have to answer to the public over the need to spend Bt178 billion to rescue an obvious failure.

 

BY VATCHARA CHAROONSANTIKUL and  THANONG KHANTHONG

 

 

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