Come clean on drug past

Come clean on drug past

Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister, Thamanat Prompow, dismissed the 'Sydney Morning Herald' report which painted a vivid detail of his criminal past, saying he was 'in the wrong place at the wrong time'. CHANAT KATANYU
Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister, Thamanat Prompow, dismissed the 'Sydney Morning Herald' report which painted a vivid detail of his criminal past, saying he was 'in the wrong place at the wrong time'. CHANAT KATANYU

Yesterday, as he denied an Australian press report on his previous conviction for heroin trafficking in Sydney in the 1990s, Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Capt Thamanat Prompow, also urged Thais not to dwell on the past and put the matter of his record to rest.

Thailand can live with a criminal past, but only if Capt Thamanat's version of the story is true -- that he was found guilty of a minor offence by an Australian court. Otherwise, without proof of his claim, his "big ask" -- for the country to accept the rock-bottom low bar of having an ex-drug convict hold a top government job -- goes too far.

In its report on Monday, The Sydney Morning Herald cited court documents for its vivid depiction of Capt Thamanat's criminal past. The paper revealed that he, under the name 2nd Lt Manat Bophlom, served four years in a Sydney jail for involvement in trafficking of 3.2 kilogrammes of heroin from Thailand to Australia. He was deported upon his release from prison in 1997.

Capt Thamanat, however, stuck to his original account -- the one he gave in July when the issue was reported by the Thai media -- that he was arrested but not involved in trafficking, saying he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time".

He claimed he only spent a limited time in custody before resuming a normal life in Sydney selling sanitary products.

It is extremely disappointing that the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has taken this matter so lightly. Since the matter hit the headlines in July, the administration should have cross-checked facts with Australia prior to placing him in the job and assigning him the crucial role of being a "fixer" among coalition parties.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, in charge of legal affairs, said he had no information about the matters described in the Australian press report.

Another deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, simply asked Thais to leave the past in the past, saying the case has already been cleared up and that it was a matter concerning one person that has nothing to do with the country.

The last message is wrong in every aspect. This is not a personal matter, but a government affair.

If the government doubts the news report, it can just ask its Australian counterpart to verify the information. Otherwise, how can it expect Thais to unconditionally give the man their trust to help run the Agriculture Ministry, be part of the cabinet that makes key decisions impacting the lives of millions, and be a liaison with coalition parties?

Being an alleged member of a drug cartel that smuggled heroin with a street value of up to AS$4.1 million (about 86 million baht) is not a minor offence. Even if the government sets its ethical standards that low and assigns any suspected drug convict a ministerial post, the constitution does not allow it. The charter bars former drug convicts from serving in governments.

In addition to a drug conviction, anyone who has lied to the public about significant matters should not be allowed to serve as a minister. Capt Thamanat has yet to prove his version of the drug story. The government must take immediate action to verify the facts and find out if he is really suitable for the job.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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