Maybe the military government is getting a bad rap over the alleged corruption concerning Rajaphakti Park. I know one of their stated excuses for overturning the constitution and ousting a democratic government was the elimination of corruption, but it would be unreasonable to expect any government to be 100% spotless.
Corruption has become so ingrained in the fabric of society (not just in this country, either) that some form of hanky-panky is almost bound to occur. The military itself has never been entirely free from such allegations. (It is rumoured that the person who signed off on the GT200 magic wand bomb detectors and the non-flying surveillance blimp is still in a position of influence.)
So what is more important than the mere existence of corruption under this government, is the way the government deals with it.
I mean, look what happened when allegations first surfaced of ‘irregularities’ surrounding the ‘commissions’ demanded from the foundries contracted to cast the statues. Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, then Army Chief and still Deputy Defence Minister until today, in an admirable show of public service spirit, immediately resigned his position as Chairman of the Rajaphakti Park Foundation so that the investigation into the alleged corruption could proceed without interference.
Oh hang on. No, he didn’t resign, did he? He’s still there. No, it was the manager of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation Krisda Ruang-areerat who decided to quit, to pave the way for a government investigation into the foundation’s spending. Sorry, it’s so easy to get mixed up.
The brave patriots who toiled and sweated to bring about Rajaphakti Park are all ready and willing to answer all and any questions about the affair and take the consequences for any wrongdoing they may have committed.
I mean, except for Col. Kachachat Boondee, Gen Udomdej’s factotum, who was named by the foundries as the bagman and who was last seen crossing the Myanmar border. And the curiously anonymous ‘amulet trader’ who was asking for kickbacks and who miraculously escaped capture and is reportedly in Hong Kong.
No, it is the Thai Health Promotion Foundation board members who stayed to be fired without charge or hearing under Article 44 of the Interim Constitution. The PM obviously had to use these extraordinary powers because of the extraordinary crimes in question. They have been suspected not of embezzlement, not of fraud, not of the wholesale trousering of millions, but … conflict of interest!!!
No matter that when Thai Health funded activities in organizations they worked for, they declared the conflict of interest and took no part in the decision-making process. No matter that this often concerned organizations that they had already quit. No matter that this had been going on for years in the full knowledge of the government agencies overseeing their operations.
And in the case of Rajaphakti Park, the authorities concerned have been quite open and transparent, have willingly submitted to independent external examination and have never publicly misstated the facts.
Apart from NCPO spokesperson Col Winthai from the outset declaring the allegations to be false (when the Justice Minister says everyone knows there has been corruption).
Apart from Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, and NACC Commissioner Wicha Mahakhun and Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas saying no government funds were involved so there could be no misuse of them (when the NACC and OAG later decided government funds were in fact involved).
Apart from current Army Chief Theerachai Nakvanich deciding to report on the independent and conflict-of-interest-free inquiry by the Army into the Army’s activities and finding that there has been no corruption so everyone should bug off and stay out of it.
Apart from the government not bugging off and staying out of it and holding a second Defence Ministry inquiry into the Army (part of the Defence Ministry), putting the PM’s brother in charge of it, and the report finding that everyone had ‘followed regulations’.
Apart from the full weight of NCPO diktats being brought onto the heads of people who were on their way just to look at the Park, so that they now face jail terms.
Apart from Deputy PM Prawit warning the media “Please stop mentioning this already. It damages confidence a lot. You’re Thais, why do this? The government is working for the country. Therefore, the media must help us out.”
Just contrast that with the hundreds of evaluations of Thai Health Promotion Foundation activities over the years and the fact that government sacked the board even before any inquiry into their alleged misdeeds.
So we can all remain confident that once this government applies the same scrutiny to the completely misunderstood and obviously spotless Rajaphakti Park case as it has done to the scurrilous malfeasance and sordid sleaze of Thai Health, then the nation will be rid of the scourge of corruption forever.
And pigs will fly.
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).