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A Law unto Themselves

Sorry, but are we living under a military dictatorship or not?

This morning’s paper has a lead that says the military are about to throw Deputy Defence Minister, former Army Commander-in-Chief and chairman of the Rajabhakti Park Foundation General Udomdej Sitabutr to the anti-corruption wolves (or at least those of them who are less selective in their outrage). 

And right below that is a report of former ‘graft-busting’ Auditor-General Jaruvan Maintaka getting busted for, er, graft.  The Unlucky Ducky with the son as personal secretary on a government salary was always suspiciously aggressive against any corruption with a Shinawatra name attached to it, but otherwise not interested.  But being only half-good at fighting corruption is a mite different from indulging yourself.

This is not supposed to happen with Article 44 lurking in the Constitution. 

Methinks it is a lack of legal training that has befuddled the military mind.

First we have the allegation that an anonymous amulet trader wangled a commission (estimates start at 10% and climb) from the foundries making the Rajabhakti Park statues.  But then the soldiers made him give it back (for the already-bullied statue-casters to make it a gracious donation). According to Gen Udom, that’s alright, then.  End of story.

So when the next ladyboy is hauled into Bangrak copshop and disgorges the mobile phones and wallets she has nicked, then all the police have to do is locate the owners, give them back their belongings and we all go home happy.  And if I slander a high-ranking member of the government for having the IQ of linoleum, and she or he objects, then all I have to do is say ‘Sorry, only joking, you’re a brain and a half’ and we’re all quits. 

I don’t think so.  Even attempting to extort a bribe is an offence.  As is discovering evidence of bribery and failing to report this to the authorities.  In spades if you are the authorities.

Then there’s the unusual view of Army chief Gen Theerachai Nakvanich towards the death penalty.  At the press (but no cameras) conference (but no questions) after the first Army whitewash of the Rajabhakti Park affair (and let’s be charitable, everyone knows you need at least three coats of whitewash to get a proper finish), he blurted out the following:

“Do you want them [those involved in the project] and their all family members executed? They did nothing wrong, but you still want to make them look guilty.”

Now there are a number of prima facie offences swirling round the overpriced statues, trees and banquet tables, but none of them involve the death penalty.  And certainly no law in the land visits the sins of the father on other family members.

This is simply a wild exaggeration with no basis in legal fact.

And there is the arrest warrant for the poor sod who’s been doing porridge for the past 2 years in Khon Kaen high security.  They’ve got form on this.  Remember Kritsuda Khunasen?  Got arrested for 7 days’ attitude adjustment on 28 May last year but never re-appeared.  Her family started a search but then on 17 June she received a second ‘invitation’ to report in.  Which it turns out was impossible for her to respond to because she was still in detention from the first time.

There must be hundreds of thousands of red shirts who could plausibly be fingered for plotting something amazing, terrifying and totally unsubstantiated.  Why did they have to pick one who’s already inside?  They’ll be summonsing the dead next. 

In an attempt to save what is left of their face, one police officer claimed that the plotting must have predated his detention (so this is a threat to assassinate members of a government that didn’t exist when the plot was hatched?).  But listen to what Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said on the topic: ‘He must have done something wrong.’

So much for the presumption of innocence.

Then he tries to shift the blame onto the courts.  They must have had something to back up the warrants, he says.  For sure, but wouldn’t that something be supplied by the police and army?  Who of course have never in their wildest dreams ever thought of fitting anyone up.

See, you bank on a moral crusade against corruption earning you enough forbearance to offset the stagnating economy, the farcical foreign policy and the brainless attempts to shut people up by giving them maximum publicity.  And then somebody on your side gets caught with their hand in the till and you make a pig’s breakfast of covering it up and it all goes whoopsy.

You’d think they’d have learned.  One of the first anti-corruption organizations in Thailand was called the Board of Inspection and Follow-up of Government Operators (BIFGO).  It was led by the (military) son of the PM of the day who would storm unannounced into government offices and expose corruption.  And then take his own cut.

His name?  Narong Kittikachorn.  When he (and his father Thanom and father-in-law Praphas Charusathien) fell from power, the government seized US$30 million in illegally acquired assets.

We’ve been here before and it all ended in tears.

About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).