Prof Arayah Preechametta discussing inequality at the Faculty of Economics, Thammasat University, on 6 Feb 2020. Source: EconTU Official

Anti-corruption commission candidate disapproved for having ideas "contrary to the conservatives"

The unelected Senate has voted 146-38 not to appoint Prof Arayah Preechametta to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The meeting minutes are confidential, but Isara News cites an anonymous source in the Senate claiming that the candidate was not approved because his ideas were contrary to the conservatives. 

Prof Arayah Preechametta from the Faculty of Economics, Thammasat University, was nominated by the Selection Committee in April. Among 14 candidates, the Selection Committee voted in 3 rounds before coming up with the final candidate. Rejection of the nomination by the Senate on 1 Aug means that it has to look for a new candidate for the third time. 

The search for the NACC's new commissioner began after Pol Gen Sathaporn Laothong retired at the age of 70. Supreme Court judge Jaturong Sornnuwat was the first nomination in October last year, but dropped out after facing scrutiny from a Senate committee over credit card debt and a dispute over the purchase of a piece of land in Chiang Mai which had been resolved before the nomination.  

In considering Prof Arayah, the Senate ruled unanimously not to reveal any details of the meeting minutes. It also ruled not to reveal any details of a qualification assessment report produced by its committee. Isara News cited an anonymous source in the Senate claiming that during the meeting it was mentioned that a person filed a complaint against Arayah because he had political ideas in opposition to the conservatives. The Senate eventually voted to reject Arayah. 

After the vote against the nomination, AVM Chalermchai Krea-ngam, an unelected senator, thanked everyone involved in the nomination and said that it was the first time that the Selection Committee had a full 9 members working on the nomination of a commissioner to an independent body. He said this made the approval process of the Senate run smoothly and transparently. 

Prof Arayah Preechametta, 62, received a Distinguished Researcher Award from the National Research Council of Thailand in 2019. A graduate of Thammasat University and the University of Pennsylvania, he also received the Best Paper Award of the Applied Economics Journal in 2021 for his Thai-language article "Spatial Dynamics and the Persistence of Inequality in Siam during 1782-1855."

Opposite to its function

The impartiality of the unelected Senate, the NACC, and other independent bodies including the Election Commission, have been questioned by the public for years. Under the current Constitution, it is widely viewed that their functions have been moulded and their members selected in order to prolong the government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the coup leader in 2014 and the current prime minister.  

After a no-confidence vote in July, Pol Capt Thammanat Prompao, a former government fixer who left to form a new political party, revealed that MPs from micro-parties were receiving 100,000 baht a month from the establishment, a scandal which also implicated Gen Prawit and the 5 Provinces Bordering Forest Foundation, where political negotiations were facilitated. Gen Prawit said that he was not afraid of scrutiny by the NACC and the result would be the same as in the luxury watches case. The NACC said that they are investigating.

In December 2018, the National Anti-Corruption Commission decided by majority vote that Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan had no intention of making a false assets declaration by omitting 22 luxury watches he had been seen wearing. In September 2018, Prawit said to reporters that "the watches are not mine because I borrowed them and wore them for 10 years. I have now returned them all.”

On Tuesday, the NACC also released its Integrity and Transparency Assessment report for the fiscal year 2022 which covered 8,303 governmental departments nationwide with 1.3 million government personnel and citizens who use government services participating in the assessment. It claimed that the national average score improved 6 points from last year (81.25 to 87.57). 

It also claimed that all the Ministry of Defence's departments passed in terms of combating corruption and misconduct including the Royal Thai Army (92.63), the Royal Thai Navy (98.87) and the Royal Thai Air Force (95.22), Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters (93.96), and the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence (96.83). 

While Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) are not as up-to-date, they give a completely different picture. In 2020, Thailand received a CPI score only 35 out of 100, making it the 110th out of 180 countries. Its score has been in a steady decline since 2017. In terms of GDI, Thailand is in band E described as at "very high risk" of corruption. 

"Institutional resilience to corruption is extremely low in Thailand," said Transparency International. "Defence exceptionalism is strong, exempting defence institutions from standard financial, budgeting and procurement regulations. External oversight is also poor, including in policy-making, and safeguards to corruption are limited on operations and in personnel management."

With regard to the unelected Senate, iLaw has recently reported on what can be called "the appointments industry." From 2019-2022, more than 2.2 billion baht was spent on salaries for the 250 senators and their associates. One senator can appoint up to 8 associates to be paid monthly by the government. iLaw found that 50 out of 1,830 associates are relatives of the senators, 57 associates share 26 surnames, and 493 were police or military officers.     

In another report, iLaw said that from 2020-2022, 98% of senate votes went in the same direction. Calling it a " house of robots", iLaw found that the Senate always passed laws unanimously in favour of the government and opposed laws proposed by the opposition. The pattern remains the same even if the law is controversial and passes the House of Representatives with only 60% of the vote. It still also has the power to vote to select the prime minister together with the elected MPs after the next election as the relevant temporary clause in the constitution remains in force until May next year. 

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