Atiya Achakulwisut is a Contributing Editor, at the Bangkok Post. In the current circumstances, where witnesses are being “found” dead and their bodies hurriedly cremated and with a testy military dictatorship lording it over the country, Atiya seems quite brave. Brave because she has an op-ed that calls for transparency and scrutiny of the alleged corruption associated with the military’s homage to the monarchy at Rajabhakti Park near Hua Hin.
She states that “[a]ccording to its website, the army intended to use the 222-rai park located in the popular resort town of Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, as a venue for its important ceremonies and to welcome international figures during their official visits.”
She says the “allegations [of corruption] may cause visitors to feel unsure about what aspect of the park they should be in awe over.” Now that it is associated with several deaths, perhaps murders, visitors may wonder if the ghosts of violent death will haunt the place.
Atiya commends the Central Investigation Bureau for having the “courage to look into alleged irregularities even when they are associated with such a high-profile project under the care of the most powerful institution in the country.” We are sure she means the military, not the monarchy, although the prince did open the place.
She asks “how far the probe will go, and how transparent the army and relevant organisations will be about the case.” Now that those who raised the possibility of corruption are dead or have fled the country, we don’t expect much “progress” unless it is to nail more junta or palace “enemies.” We would guess that all the contractors who were involved will now be very frightened. If this sounds Mafia-like, that’s because it is.
Atiya states that the “park is located on the army’s land, [and] the budget for its construction, estimated at about one billion baht, came exclusively from public donations.” She adds that “donations for the park’s construction can be made to the ‘army’s welfare fund’ account.” The project is “managed” by the Rajabhakti Park Foundation.
One of the people who must be worried for his career and health is former army chief and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr as he heads up the Foundation. The Army, Atiya contends, has “put a little distance between itself and the majestic park,” saying that it is “still technically under the care of the … Foundation.”
Udomdej might consider an overseas trip.
Atiya concludes with a call: “With allegations flying around, the army just has to refute them with evidence. Share the information. Show the public that it indeed did everything aboveboard.”
We don’t think there’s much chance of that.
Udomdej has talked about the Park. He has insisted that “everything was transparent and accountable.” He bleats about “sincere intention of making it national property” but that is unlikely to save him if the powers currently at work take a dislike to him. We already know that the current Army boss doesn’t respect his predecessor.
Udomdej tries to close the distance between the Park project and the Army. He says he only headed the Foundation when he was Army chief and that thw finances were “handled by the army’s financial department, which was ready to show details of the spending with clear evidence.”
He makes a very odd claim in the current circumstances, admitting that “during construction of the project some people demanded kickbacks from some owners of factories that cast the statues of the past kings for the park. After this was uncovered, the money was returned to the factory owners, who agreed to donate it to the project…”. An offer the could not refuse no doubt.
When asked about “Col Khachachart Boondee, commander of the 1st Artillery Regiment, who has been charged with lese majeste and abusing his authority for personal gain in two criminal cases, Gen Udomdej declined to comment, saying the matter was now being investigated by police.” We don’t blame him. After all, the colonel was favored during Udomdej’s time as commander.
When Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, deputy prime minister and defence minister, was asked Khachachart, he tried to claim that “his alleged offences were a personal matter and nothing to do with the Rajabhakti Park Foundation.”
We guess that both hope that the deaths of two suspects who were singing to police about the “irregularities” means case closed. They are wrong. We may expect the body count to increase further still.