Tug of war harming decision-making at NT

Government instability caused by a standoff between the Prime Minister and his deputy is weighing heavily on the operations and decision-making of National Telecom (NT), according to a source from the company’s board of directors who asked the ‘anonymity.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon oversees several ministries, including the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES), which directly governs NT, a merged unit of CAT Telecom and TOT.

General Prawit has influence over the majority of NT board members as he endorsed their selection, while Minister DES fully supports Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the source said.

Several critical NT agenda items and projects have been stalled due to ambiguity in decision-making by company management amid government instability, the source noted.

The issue has also been complicated by the prolonged consolidation of CAT Telecom and TOT due to differences in their organizational culture and management structures, although the merger officially took place about a year ago.

PERFECT STORM

The source said that NT’s existing plans are going nowhere due to instability in the senior management of the government, which is impacting NT through its board of directors.

“The current situation is like a perfect storm for NT, affecting the entire organization,” the source said.

NT currently has nine board members, including the chairman. Six more people need to be added to reach the full complement of 15 board members.

The source pointed out that the appointment of the majority of the NT board was approved by General Prawit as he is the Deputy Prime Minister of the DES Ministry.

However, DES Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is a strong supporter of General Prayut, the source noted.

Sarath Ratanavadi, managing director and largest shareholder of Gulf Energy Development Plc, Thailand’s largest private power producer by market value, appears to have close ties to Mr Chaiwut and lends stronger support to General Prayut than to General Prawit, the source noted.

Mr. Chaiwut was previously an executive at Gulf.

Gulf is the largest shareholder in InTouch Holdings, the parent company of Advanced Info Service (AIS), the country’s largest mobile operator by subscribers.

“With the government instability caused by the competing power play, it is unlikely that we will see unity in NT decision-making between the NT Board of Directors, the DES Ministry and the government,” said the source.

SEARCH FOR PARTNERS

NT is now looking for partnerships to create a sustainable revenue stream.

NT is in talks with Advanced Info Service (AIS) on a new partnership agreement that would see AIS purchase 10 megahertz of bandwidth on NT’s 700 MHz range.

Another 10 MHz of bandwidth owned by NT is targeted for joint development by NT and AIS for the mutual benefit of both companies.

NT has also opened the door to talks with True Corporation, another major carrier, to pursue mutually beneficial cooperation.

True is a subsidiary of Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group, which has good relations with all political factions, the source said.

The source pointed out that the partnership agreements involving the 700 MHz range are complicated by some legal issues and it is unclear when they will be finalized.

NT is also taking on tough duties on the operation of the Thaicom 4 and 6 satellites, which were handed over by Thaicom in September last year after its concession expired.

ISSUES OF CONCERN

Mr Chaiwut accepts that the NT board majority selections were approved by General Prawit. He does not wish to comment on the internal problem regarding the decision-making procedure between NT and the Ministry.

However, the minister said NT was facing complex issues including the absence of a chairman, the previous resignation of several board members and the need to fill remaining positions, as well as efforts to ensure consolidation smoothly from CAT Telecom and TOT.

The push for several existing projects has been complicated by legal issues, the terms of the deal as well as the different parties involved, Chaiwut noted.

Referring to NT’s 700 MHz range deal, Chaiwut said he wanted to see it done by March. NT secured the 700 MHz spectrum through the 5G spectrum auction held in 2020, but the company has yet to capitalize on the frequency.

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