Prem and corruption in high places

12 12 2015

The Bangkok Post has a quite interesting op-ed by Nopporn Wong-Anan, who is deputy editor of the Post.

The op-ed is ostensibly about Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and his campaign against corruption.

It begins in a laudatory manner, observing that the grand old man (meddler) is “physically and mentally healthy for a 95-year-old…” and says that “the older he grows, the more active the¬†nonagenarian is in campaigning against corruption.”

When we read the next paragraph, we were taken aback:

Seen as clean, honest and royalist, the former army chief and former prime minister — as well as the cabinets he led during 1980-1988 — barely faced any allegations of corruption.

Hold on, we thought. And then Nopporn gets it right:

Though his political opponents attempted to launch a censure motion against him and his administration on charges of graft, they were foiled by men in uniform.

Prem never faced any parliamentary scrutiny when he was premier, being protected by monarchy and military. When corruption claims were made or ministers were criticized, including against then minister Chirayu Isarangkun, who is now head of the Crown Property Bureau, they were always seen off with little debate and lots of covering up.

Prem was the butt of considerable criticism before being parachuted into the Privy Council when some critics threatened to reveal his “private life” and other matters associated with his government.

Nopporn then makes another point that few have ever taken up. Prem has occupied “Baan Si Sao Thewes — the official residence of the army commander-in-chief that he has occupied for over 30 years…”.

As far as we know, he pays no rent or tax on this publicly-funded perquisite. Nor does he pay for other houses the military has built for him in the provinces.

Nopporn also observes the somewhat curious relationship Prem has with the military and other hangers-on:

Invited to the receptions [at his home] are the “children” and “grandchildren” of Pa Prem, an affectionate term he uses for his subordinates, who take advantage of the occasion to show the soft-spoken, kind and fatherly man respect and gratitude for his blessings and support.

On corruption, Prem has “called on society to eliminate the ‘disgusting creatures’ who perpetuate corruption.” He says they are “bad guys” who are “robbing the country every day.” Nopporn observes that “Prem also criticised Thailand’s centuries-old, deep-rooted patronage system.” Yet his “critics see him as a patron for many young, newly-commissioned officers in the armed forces.” Some position him at the center of the patronage system.King-Queen-Prem

Nopporn lists Prem’s mantra on corruption and then observes:

Gen Prem’s remarks hit the nail on the head, but is it easier said than done in the current political context? Has the government been transparent in the way it has handled the Rajabhakti Park scandal?

Are the ruling generals abandoning subordinates who were allegedly involved in the suspected corruption? How many alleged corrupt officers are on the run? Will they ever be brought to justice?

Is this military-run government taking swift and drastic action against colonels and generals accused of robbing the country?

What mechanisms does Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha have in place to check on cabinet ministers’ honesty? If he or she is accused of taking a bribe, will the junta chief fire him or her on the spot rather than transfer the person to an “inactive post”?

Even in the circles of civil servants and military personnel, one doubts if the selection is based on meritocracy. Is the patronage network the deciding factor?

Exactly the questions that need to be asked and positioned with Nopporn’s last and telling observation:

Gen Prayut, as one of Pa Prem’s outstanding children and the country’s most powerful man for now, should act and prove that I am totally wrong.

What Nopporn forgets, is that there is “good” corruption carried out by “good people.” This means the powerful and royal connected, and obviously includes the exceptionally wealthy top brass in the military. Bad corruption seems limited to elected politicians and their associated civil servants, who are not morally well-located in royalist circles.


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