Credibility of NACC at risk

Credibility of NACC at risk

Having been criticised for the lack of significant progress it has made in recent years, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in the past month might have found cause to celebrate.

A number of its cases have now reached the judicial stage. It is also actively digging into more high-profile cases. Unfortunately, most are highly political in nature, and have little to do with corruption, unusual wealth or abuses of power for personal gain committed by government officials or politicians -- the core mandates of the anti-graft agency.

While Thailand has become as politically divided as ever since the 2014 military coup, the NACC's actions -- and indeed its inaction -- suggest it has not remained politically impartial, the core quality of an independent agency.

The agency's increasingly political role is a questionable mandate that will do more harm than good.

This month, its three cases against politicians from one camp, the Pheu Thai Party, entered the judicial process. One case involves the Somchai Wongsawat government's dispersal of yellow-shirt protesters in 2008 while the other two concern the implementation of the rice-pledging scheme of the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

In the Somchai case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted all four defendants, including ex-prime minister Somchai, of abuses of power, reasoning they had no intention to cause injuries or fatalities.

Recently, an NACC source revealed the agency is probing 11 more cases against the Yingluck cabinet. One concerns the multi-million-baht compensation her government paid to victims of political conflict that started since 2005, claiming it was not paid in line with the law. The other 10 cases mostly concern alleged administrative wrongdoings.

As long as the NACC does not explicitly demonstrate how these cases involve outright corruption and abuses of power for personal gain, and were driven by ill motives, such political cases will continue to cast doubt about the agency's effectiveness and impartiality.

NACC secretary-general Sansern Poljeak insisted the revelation of the 11 cases against Ms Yingluck was not a bullying tactic. But his remark sounds less than convincing. For one thing, other governments have also implemented similar compensation schemes but no one has yet faced such a probe. Other governments have also implemented similar rice-pledging schemes, but none of them have been prosecuted.

Several corruption and abuse of power complaints filed against politicians from the Democrat camp have proceeded at a snail's pace.

To the disappointment of many, the NACC's probe into the alleged wrongdoing by members of the military regime since the coup had also raised suspicions. The graft agency has dismissed many of them without providing a sufficient explanation.

Its transparency has also been questioned. For instance, it repeatedly, for eight months, refused a request by a media outlet for information about its probe into an asset concealment allegation against Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha in 2015. The NACC subsequently agreed to disclose it at a later stage.

While the agency has been active with these cases, it has not made much progress on others concerning alleged corruption. These include its probe into the Rolls-Royce bribery scandal allegedly involving two state enterprises, which is still at a "preliminary stage" more than six months after a revelation by the UK Serious Fraud Office.

While its pursuit of legal action against one political side has drawn criticism for a lack of partiality, the agency's model of law enforcement is also questionable. By slapping criminal charges against politicians and government officials for their alleged administrative missteps or policy flaws, the NACC has used a legal basis, the malfeasance law, which critics argue is not suitable in this context.

As long as its mandate is geared in this direction, the anti-graft agency will further risk undermining its credibility, which is already waning, while outright corruption will continue to persist.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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