'Deeds' under microscope
When deputy Democrat Party leader Nipit Intarasombat floated an allegation that the return of land title deeds to debtors, who used them as collateral to borrow from loan sharks, held at ceremonies in a number of provinces was fake, many people were not surprised.
He was referring to the government's assistance programme that involves police mediation efforts between loan sharks and their debtors.
Mr Nipit claimed the returned titled deeds given to debtors at the ceremonies presided over by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon were not authentic and the events were staged to please the boss.
Such allegations reflect a common practice in Thai bureaucracy in which local officials set things up ahead of visits by senior government figures to make their work look successful -- on the surface.
It is known in Thai as the culture of "pak chee roy na". The term is literally translated as "fresh coriander sprinkled on top of a dish" (to make it look more appetising).
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha was afforded a similar reception during his trip in 2017 to a village in Sa Kaeo province.
Officials presented "progress" of development, showing off the village's "newly installed" tap water and electricity.
A few days after his visit, the power poles and electricity wires were removed from the village while the tap water ran dry.
Regarding the return of land title deeds, Mr Nipit alleged that officers forced certain loan shark creditors to give them land title deeds just for use at the ceremonies in exchange for more lenient legal action against them for charging debtors much higher interest rates than the law allows.
After the ceremonies, the documents were given back to the creditors, alleged Mr Nipit. This was all to give the impression that the scheme is successful.
Mr Nipit also claimed that some police officers may have set up these events to please "a senior figure in exchange for promotions".
The Royal Thai Police and Gen Prawit denied the allegation, insisting the returned title deeds are real.
Unfortunately, at another ceremony to hand back title deeds on Thursday, a group of 30 debtors of loan sharks from several provinces in the Northeast showed up uninvited to file a petition to Gen Prawit.
They said they were given back title deeds at previous ceremonies but when they went back home the police seized back the documents from them. They were then forced to repay debts or sign new borrowing contracts to get back the title deeds.
The objective of the government programme is good because many people have suffered from injustice in the informal lending system. But its implementation is questionable.
Since the scheme started in July last year, the government claimed it has handed back a total of 21,312 land title deeds covering 59,000 rai worth 30.6 billion baht to debtors nationwide. Gen Prawit has personally presided over 12 ceremonies held to hand back the title deeds.
But the question of how many land deeds have actually been returned to debtors remains.
Gen Prawit, who is tipped to reclaim his deputy prime minister post in the new cabinet, should demand a full investigation into all cases of land title deeds being handed back to debtors in order to ascertain exactly how many of them were genuine beneficiaries of the scheme and how many ended up being fooled by authorities.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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