PM must pick allies with more care

PM must pick allies with more care

There is no question the two former army commanders have a close relationship, but there is disagreement over whether it is too close. (Bangkok Post file photo by Thanarak Khunton)
There is no question the two former army commanders have a close relationship, but there is disagreement over whether it is too close. (Bangkok Post file photo by Thanarak Khunton)

Once again a key ally of our dear leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has become embroiled in yet another controversy, and in the days and weeks ahead it is very likely that the prime minister is going to come out to defend this action.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, who Gen Prayut counts as one of his closest associates, has hit the headlines once again and this time, again, it is for the carelessness of his decision making. The latest issue flared up from the proposal he put forward to the cabinet for the procurement of 849 handheld speed gun detectors with a total purchase price of 573 million baht.

The decision by the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation to procure the 849 laser detectors for what social media has called an exorbitant amount is the latest of many blunders this former army chief has made ever since he along with his group of people seized control from the civilian government in 2014.

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

Gen Anupong defended himself, saying that he was unaware of the pricing of the equipment and it was only his role to pass on the requests of the agencies to the cabinet. The cabinet did not ask too many questions and approved the procurement plan presented by Gen Anupong.

Talk that the price for these guns ranges from a mere US$1,000 to $4,000 apiece against the price tag of nearly $20,000 that the Thai government plans to pay has flooded social media and is casting yet another black spot on the clean image that this military government has been keen to portray.

This is not the first time that Gen Anupong has made the headlines -- only a month ago he was at the centre of controversy over the 340 million baht airship that was purchased while he was the army chief. The airship that came into service less than a decade ago never really worked and was eventually decommissioned a month or so ago.

Criticism of how the 340 million baht was wasted by the state to appease the then army chief was rebutted by Gen Anupong, who stated that the airship cost was merely 100 million baht while the rest of the money was used for equipment that was stripped from the airship and is now being used in helicopters.

Talking about decisions made by Gen Anupong while he was the army chief reminds us of the infamous GT200. The 300 million baht army project, again signed off by Gen Anupong, to procure the bogus bomb detector was something that not only cost the country a significant amount but also cost countless soldiers their lives.

But then when the time came for Gen Prayut to show his leadership and prosecute someone close to him, his response was simply that the incident took place a long time ago and other countries were duped too.

Sir, does the fact that the decision maker from another country was duped like a few others by the British firm justify not prosecuting the wrong decision maker in our country?

One may think that Gen Anupong may have made mistakes with the airship and the GT200 and that one should forget the past and look to the present and the future.

Well, just last month Gen Anupong was in the headlines when an Interior Ministry document giving permission for Huai Mek community forest in Khon Kaen to be run by KTD Property Development leaked. Permission was given for the firm to build a reservoir for its planned beverage factory.

Gen Anupong stated that no locals opposed the planned development as it was a dry area that did not benefit the surrounding population. What the leak of the document and pictures showed was a very different story as there were indeed people who opposed the plan and the reservoir was also a fertile area. No public hearing was ever held ahead over the decision.

Finally, KTD Property withdrew its planned development after Gen Anupong was forced to withdraw the bill.

Gen Anupong has also managed to become one of the 28 members of the National Strategic Committee (NSC), which has the job of formulating the 20-year strategic plan that all political parties have to follow as per the 2017 constitution.

One can only take solace in the fact that hopefully there are some sane minds among the 28 members of the NSC committee who might question the wit of the likes of Gen Anupong and keep the country's future intact. If such individuals continue to wield influence, bigger blunders than the airship, GT200 or speed guns will proliferate while the country goes down the drain.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

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