Not a scintilla of change in police force

Not a scintilla of change in police force

Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks at the Royal Thai Police headquarters on Friday. He has announced he would oversee the force to drive police reform. SOMCHAI POOMLARD
Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks at the Royal Thai Police headquarters on Friday. He has announced he would oversee the force to drive police reform. SOMCHAI POOMLARD

All opinion polls on the issue of police reform conducted in the past five years under the junta's rule showed most people backed change.

But sadly, the junta, otherwise known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and its hand-picked government, failed miserably to bring about any reform.

Five wasted years of no changes for the better in the monolith police force despite the fact that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta chief and prime minister, had the magic wand in the form of Section 44 of the interim constitution to effect much-needed changes.

And now, the prime minister has recently announced he would take charge of overseeing the Royal Thai Police (RTP) to drive the engine for reform.

Why no reform at all in the police force, despite the fact the junta pledged change as one of its top priorities? There was no explanation from the NCPO, which is now dissolved, or from the prime minister himself.

But maverick political activist Veera Somkwamkid claims he has a clue, citing Gen Boonsrang Niampradit, chairman of the former government-appointed Police Reform Committee, who was quoted to have said: "The boss didn't want to pursue [reform] due to vested interests".

Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, who was deputy prime minister and defence minister, was designated to oversee the Royal Thai Police.

This may explain why Prime Minister Prayut, under the new government, decided to take over both the defence portfolio and the RTP supervisory from Gen Prawit.

He has also taken over from Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak as head of the government's economic team.

Gen Prayut is also taking the extra role of overseeing the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), which is under the Justice Ministry.

While it is welcome to see him directly overseeing the RTP to bring about much-needed reform, there is doubt in many circles, myself included, that he will succeed where the junta, himself included, failed the last time.

The big question is whether Gen Prayut has the political will to meet resistance from the police, which will surely surface as it did before.

And of course he no longer has the special power embodied in Section 44.

There were countless discussions and recommendations about this long overdue issue, even before the junta took over from the ousted elected government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra more than five years ago.

Hence, there is no need for yet another committee to study police reform.

To begin with, the prime minister can just dust off two bills -- the Police Reform Bill and the Inquiries of Criminal Cases Bill -- which were drafted by a committee headed by former chief of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Meechai Ruchupan, who was appointed by the previous government.

The prime minister can ask Gen Prawit where to find the bills, if he is reluctant to ask why they were not submitted to the now-defunct National Legislative Assembly last year.

Even Mr Meechai himself was in the dark about the whereabouts of the bills and reportedly believed Pol Lt Gen Amnuay Nimmano, a member of the Police Reform Committee, hijacked the measures.

Pol Lt Gen Amnuay admitted he met Mr Meechai by chance one day. He asked him whether he was one of those who signed up to oppose the two bills -- and where were they now?

One of the proposals for police reform is to separate the job of interrogating criminal suspects from the police who make the arrests under the principle of checks and balances to ensure fairness and justice for suspects.

Or public prosecutors and local administration officials must be involved in the interrogation process. But this proposal has been resisted by the police, for the simple reason that they will lose the power that they have been familiar with for decades.

The other proposals deal with promotion in the police force which is no longer determined by performance, merit or seniority but influenced by money.

Police positions "for sale" appear to be normal practice, so much so that many police have accepted it as a fact of their life if they want to advance in their career.

But one taboo issue that fails to appear in the two Meechai bills -- and may never be raised by the prime minister because of its sensitivity as far as the police in general are concerned -- is the decentralisation of the RTP to make the monolith organisation smaller, more efficient and more manageable.

Decentralisation of the RTP and the independence of the inquiry police officers are regarded as the heart of real police reform.

But I doubt Prime Minister Prayut or any prime ministers will have the political will and courage to go that far. What we can expect instead, is a cosmetic reform.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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