Our leaders like keeping it in the family

Our leaders like keeping it in the family

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is an unavoidable part of corruption and abuse-of-power allegations being flung at his younger brother Gen Preecha (right), Gen Preecha's wife Phongphan Chan-o-cha and the couple's eldest son and lucky construction bidder Pathompol. (Post Today)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is an unavoidable part of corruption and abuse-of-power allegations being flung at his younger brother Gen Preecha (right), Gen Preecha's wife Phongphan Chan-o-cha and the couple's eldest son and lucky construction bidder Pathompol. (Post Today)

With their fathers on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Pathompol Chan-o-cha and Panthongtae Shinawatra should not have anything in common.

But they do and that is unfortunate.

Many of us remember Mr Panthongtae's business empire thriving when his father and then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra ran the country. Mr Panthongtae was allegedly indicated in the KTB money-laundering case which occurred during the Thaksin administration.

As a businessman who runs a company with 1.5 million baht in registered capital, Mr Pathompol is supposed to remain little-known. But he is in the spotlight this week for two reasons. First, he is a son of Preecha Chan-o-cha, permanent secretary for defence and younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Second, the company he partially owns, Contemporary Construction, won bids for several army projects -- specifically with the 3rd Region Army where his father was commander before being promoted to his current position -- and other state agencies.

All the projects, under the contracts signed from 2014 to this year, account for 155 million baht.

With his father as the No.1 bureaucrat in the Defence Ministry, not to mention his uncle as prime minister, Mr Pathompol's successfully bid triggered public suspicion. Was it nepotism? Gen Preecha was quick to say it was not. He insisted his son had followed all the bidding regulations and the process was transparent, denying any involvement. The National Anti-Corruption Commission will face a tough test with the case.

It can't help that many may want to compare the case with the Ratchadaphisek land purchase case of self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin and his then wife Khunying Potjaman. Thaksin, who was toppled in a bloodless coup in 2006, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in 2008 by the Supreme Court for abuse of power for helping the khunying buy a plot in the Ratchadaphisek area from the state at a favourable price.

The bidding scandal is not all though, as controversy has surrounded the naming of a weir in Chiang Mai's Fang district after Mr Pathompol's mother, Ms Pongphan, happened to receive red-carpet treatment when she took part in the opening of Fai Pongphan Pattana weir.

It seems Gen Preecha's family -- once big brother Gen Prayut took control of the country as head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and prime minister -- has never been short of scandals.

Earlier this year, there was the case of his other son whom Gen Preecha appointed as a civil affairs officer attached to the 3rd Army Region. The case created public outrage as the appointment bypassed open applications.

Unlike the bidding scandal, Gen Preecha was quoted as saying about the appointment that nepotism is a "normal thing that everyone does". Perhaps, that can be applied to him being named a member of the NCPO-installed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and his climb to the top of the ministry's administrative ladder

Some may argue the 155-million-baht budget of the seven projects Mr Pathompol's company won is not that big an amount. Compared to high-profile graft cases during the Thaksin administration, the bidding scandal may look trivial.

Senior regime members have regarded the case as a personal attack on Mr Pathompol and a conspiracy.

When referring to the weir scandal, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon put it bluntly: "If he [Gen Preecha] wasn't the prime minister's younger brother, it wouldn't be news." The general even said there is no rule forbidding Mr Pathompol's company from participating in the bidding process.

Gen Preecha will continue to find comfort from his circle. Some phu yai, according to reports by local media, advised Gen Preecha not to engage in a war of words and keep a low profile until public attention fades, a short-term tactic that works well in Thailand.

But that may not be the case.

Those in the regime and Gen Prayut, the leader of the Chan-o-cha clan, should not forget that when the NCPO took power in 2014 by toppling an elected government that was plagued with high-profile corruption scandals, it created high public expectations and Thais will not accept anything less than "leading by example".

The regime can't afford to lose public faith. If that happens it will not regain it and Section 44 will not help them.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Former editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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