PM must step in to crisis
Just days after he claimed he had become a politician, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is letting down the country. He's not alone in refusing to approach the important scandal involving the watches and jewellery of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon. Others also are battling to avoid any accountability. Most notably, the junta-appointed National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has acted so poorly, it should stand aside and turn the issue over to a trustworthy person or group.
Last Wednesday, the prime minister made a large point about his identity. "I am no longer a soldier," he said, "I am a politician who used to be a soldier." Of course this was confirmation of a long-established fact. But now he is openly dedicated to politics, Gen Prayut also must show he can stop thinking like a soldier. When in political situations, he must show he can respond.
In Gen Prawit's case, he is failing obviously. He is the direct and legal superior of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. When ministers act badly -- and there is no doubt Gen Prawit is acting very badly indeed -- it is up to the prime minister to step in and right the upset applecart. The prime minister's statement that it was Gen Prawit's problem is almost as unacceptable as the unspoken excuse that in their personal relationship, Gen Prawit always has been "big brother" to Gen Prayut.
Of course, the primary and legal responsibility for examining the case of Gen Prawit's watches is supposed to fall on the NACC. There was suspicion from the very beginning, the day Gen Prawit put up his hand to shield his eyes, that the junta-appointment men of the NACC would not have gumption enough to truly examine such a case. So far, that suspicion has been borne out and magnified.
Last week, acting on its own weak "demand" that Gen Prawit account for his tens of millions of baht worth of jewellery by yesterday, the NACC backed off. The chosen spokesman, NACC deputy secretary-general Worawit Sukboon, meekly changed the rules. Gen Prawit now has another two weeks.
In the meantime, the NACC will hush up everything Gen Prawit has said to them. And, a full month after taking the case, Mr Worawit claimed the NACC will try to get around to interviewing four mysterious witnesses whom he claimed had knowledge of how the general gained access to at least 16 watches and other jewellery on his salary -- the only income he earlier swore he had.
It is this total conspiracy of silence from Gen Prawit and from the NACC that has the public clamouring for answers. Indeed, they and Gen Prayut's government have a duty to report on the progress of such an important and sensitive case. Gen Prawit has been caught red-handed in highly questionable circumstances. The public is entitled to believe that if there is no explanation of where the jewellery and at least 22 million baht worth of watches came from, then the actual explanation must be extremely harmful to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit.
Meanwhile, Gen Prayut is sticking with his ill-considered decision to remain aloof. This time, however, he cannot. As a politician, as prime minister and even as the three-decade sidekick of his old friend, he has a duty to do the right thing.
There are numerous ways Gen Prayut can proceed. For example, he can remove the NACC from this inquiry and hand it to a different, competent and trustworthy man or group. There is no shortage. He can step in himself and convince Gen Prawit to show spirit. By remaining silent, he takes the political risk of becoming negatively embroiled in this fast-escalating crisis.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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