The many and various oversight mechanisms of the new constitution became ever more tangled over the last week with the revelation that the National Anti-Corruption Commission has initiated an investigation into alleged irregularities at the National Ethics Assembly after a petition by members of the Senate. In turn, the Senate announced it would pursue impeachment proceedings against the National Ethics Assembly in response to a report from the National Anti-Corruption Commission looking into unethical behaviour by the ethics watchdog.
These moves are thought to be responses to criticisms by the National Ethics Assembly about improper practices of the other two agencies. Other important national policy-making bodies have been drawn into the debate, such as the Cabinet and Wat Dhammakaya.
One of the issues at stake was the discovery that numerous members of the newly-appointed Senate had given positions as aides, assistants and hangers-on to family members, business associates and people they owed money to. Since these positions are funded by the taxpayer and the appointees in many cases seem to be as bereft of suitable qualifications as they do of any substantive work results, the National Ethics Assembly issued a finding of nepotism.
The Senate, which under the new constitution is described as ‘partly unelected’, meaning that it is chosen without the part that involves elections, pointed out that the continuing tenure of National Anti-Corruption Commissioners was in their gift, and requested the Commission to investigate the National Ethics Assembly.
The NACC found that the mandate of the National Ethics Assembly was to ‘uphold traditional Thai moral practices’. They then argued that nepotism was very much a traditional practice in Thailand. Citing numerous previous examples going back decades (the documentation filled 2 ten-wheel trucks), the Commission charged the Assembly with overstepping its remit and recommended its impeachment.
The Senate, at a sitting where many votes appear to have been cast by aides acting for their Senator bosses, endorsed these findings unanimously and scheduled impeachment hearings against all 55 members of the Assembly.
The Prime-Minister-designate-in-the-event-of-a-national-emergency-requiring-an-unelected- Prime-Minister, Gen Prayut Chan-ocha, intervened at this point. He noted that it was important for all good people to be able to rely on the assistance and advice of those they could trust, which naturally would include cousins, cronies and creditors. With unanimous mumbles of approval from the Senate-approved Cabinet, he called on National Ethics Assembly members to ‘show national spirit’ by resigning for their attempt to uphold non-Thai ethics.
If they agreed to do so, the General hinted, they would be eligible for re-appointment to the Assembly, since they would have demonstrated that they are in fact persons with the required high moral standards.
Further controversy was caused by the issue of quotas for female participation in governance, which had been the subject of a petition to the National Ethics Assembly. The Senate, in its constitutional role of ultimate arbiter of what can and cannot be discussed, ordered the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the matter with a view to silencing the debate.
‘The whole idea of quotas is inherently un-Thai,’ said a Senator who was appointed as a member of the quota for former high-ranking state officials. ‘Many important government agencies have achieved great things without being hobbled by quotas,’ noting that the NACC itself has only 1 female commissioner as against 8 males.
The NACC, with one dissenting opinion, concluded that important state positions required men of wisdom, experience and a true sense what is right and wrong by Thai standards. It would be difficult if not impossible to find sufficient women to fill these positions, the Commission judged.
It is understood that Wat Dhammakaya was prepared to issue a statement to all its followers in support of the non-quota stance of the Senate, just as soon as it was decided which monk’s bank account should receive the Senate’s cheque.
Amid rising public concern over this unseemly inter-agency squabbling, former Deputy Prime Minister and constitutionally-designated Establishment Apologist Wisanu Krue-ngam called on the media to show responsibility by not commenting on these scandals, citing a threat to national security. He blamed the media for causing disharmony by reporting disagreements among various government bodies.
‘More talk, more conflicts,’ he said. ‘The more people discuss these issues, the more likely it is that they will begin to form their own opinions, which risks the possibility that these opinions will differ. This will cause great harm to national unity which the current constitution was specifically designed to imagine, assume and impose. The less people are told, the less they will be tempted into thinking for themselves and the less the country will suffer.’
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).
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