A dream of no bad apples in parliament
I have a dream about the new parliament. I dream that it will be served by 500 decent and reliable MPs and 250 senators whom people can pin their hopes on and who will not repeat the mistakes and abuses of the past.
At a recent orientation session for new parliamentarians, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai referred to the bad behaviour and indiscretions of parliamentarians in the past which tarnished their reputation. It spoke volumes about why many people do not place as much trust in MPs as they should do in a democracy.
Mr Chuan urged his fellow MPs not to repeat such behaviour. Restoring public trust in parliament is one of the missions the newly appointed House Speaker aims to accomplish. Restoring parliament's honour during this period in time will take some impressive work by Mr Chuan.
I do hope that from now on Thai parliamentarians -- MPs and senators --will not abuse their power or use their privileges for personal gain, like many have in the past.
I dream that we will no longer have members of parliament who exploit their privileged status to board a plane, train or bus for free. I also hope that there will be no parliamentarians who cancel planned business trips for no justifiable reason and consequently waste tickets paid for with taxpayers' money. I dream that there will be no "frequent-flyer" MPs who board planes too often such as by taking both morning and evening flights on the same day or flying almost every day, for no justifiable business reason.
In the past, some parliamentarians went as far as demanding aircraft pilots to delay flights for them because of their tardiness. That wastes the time of other passengers, and I dream they won't continue doing that in future.
Each parliamentarian is entitled to appoint his or her own adviser, secretary or personal aide, each of whom will be given a monthly salary of 15,000 baht. I hope no one allows their wives, children, or canvassers who have no expertise in the political arena to take these jobs, or simply be offered the chance to enjoy a government salary as a reward. Those who used to do it, please don't do this anymore! It is time qualified people did these jobs.
To those members of House committees, please take your duties seriously by attending committee meetings and don't just show up to sign an attendance sheet to get the per diem payment and then disappear. (The per diem rate is 1,500 baht per meeting for a committee chairman and 800 baht for each member.)
In the past, many of those sitting on the House Budget Committee, tasked with scrutinising and approving proposed government budgets, were accused of collusion in the allocation of certain budgets for development projects in their constituencies. The money usually ended up in the pockets of local contractors who served as their canvassers. Notorious cases included the allocation of budgets to Suphan Buri, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Buri Ram provinces. Hopefully that will now end.
Another notorious issue is overseas trips. Every House committee has a budget set aside for this purpose -- no less than three million baht a year. Many cunning MPs used to collude with tour operators in organising "work-related" overseas trips. But the actual work usually lasted for half a day. The rest of the time was spent on recreation or shopping with their families or mistresses. Some did not do any work at all. Worse still, they bothered Thai embassy officials into laying on recreational activities for them and their groups.
Upon returning home from overseas, many MPs used their privileges to bring back excessive amounts of goods and pass through immigration without paying duty, according to media reports.
For instance, some MPs reportedly brought back nearly 100 mobile radios for themselves but arranged to have parliamentary staff travelling with them to carry them through immigration. Its a practice that should not be resumed since no member of the public appreciates it.
Misconduct that was rarely reported in the news because victims often did not dare complain about it was inappropriate behaviour by male MPs towards female parliamentary officials. Although advances were not spurned in some cases, in many others, MPs abused their power by harassing female staff.
There was even one scandal where a government official was involved in "providing sex workers" for MPs, which sparked a disciplinary probe. Let's just hope there is no repeat of such behaviour.
One of the most annoying habits adopted by lawmakers was the notorious "wallpaper" presence of MPs at parliament meetings. These MPs just showed up at meetings for the sake of publicity. They usually sat in a row behind an MP speaking during a televised debate so their faces would be seen by the cameras. They hoped their constituents would see them and believe their MP was busy representing them in parliament. Once the broadcast ended, the session carried on, but the "wallpaper" politicians did not care to stay. They just bolted for the door.
In my dream I see new parliamentarians not resorting to such shameful tactics to deceive the people.
Previous senators were not squeaky clean either. Many senators just raised their hands indiscriminately in support of policies proposed by governments. The new batch must not do the same. They must realise that their job is to serve the public and provide proper scrutiny of proposals and bills.
All this bad behaviour occurred again and again for years. Yet no one ever dared tell these MPs and senators to stop what they were doing.
However, nowadays social media has taken public scrutiny to a new level. Parliamentarians will be under close watch. Even minor abuses of power are more likely to be detected, which will tarnish not just the offender but parliament as a whole.
Such misconduct and self-serving behaviour is irritating and angers the public.
It has seen many frustrated people express their support for the intervention of "non-democratic elements" such as the military in politics.
Here I am making this call on all parliamentarians. Share the same dream with me.
Nauvarat Suksamran is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.