How a silly mistake put national economy in limbo
What appears to be an act of stupidity or carelessness of a government lawmaker -- who left his electronic voting card in the card reading device at the House as he left for home in Phatthalung province in the middle of the debate on the budget bill during Jan 10-11 to attend a funeral and chair a Children's Day event, and an unknown colleague used his card to vote in favour of the bill -- has now developed into a serious transgression that threatens to render the bill, which was passed by both the House and the Senate, null and void.
That the 3.2-trillion-baht budget bill could be nullified by the Constitutional Court, widely thought to be a certainty, is not the main concern, however. The real concern is the impact of the nullification of the bill which means the budget, particularly the investment budget, will not be disbursed and most, if not all, the crucial projects that will drive the country's economic engine will be temporarily bogged down.
The budget bill is already a few months behind schedule since the start of the 2020 fiscal year last October. The court will take at least two months to deliver its ruling and, if the ruling is negative, the government will have to start the budget bill process all over again, which will take time. Or it can fast-track by issuing an executive decree to bypass the parliament -- an option which Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is still reluctant to agree with at this stage.
How have we have arrived at this desperate situation? Of course, the Bhumjaithai MP for Phatthalung, Chalong Therdwiraong, should be blamed and strongly reprimanded by the party for his lack of responsibility and inability to judge the importance between attending the budget bill debate and chairing a Children's Day event as well as a funeral of some relatives. But the role of the whistleblower, Democrat deputy leader and former Phatthalung MP Nipit Intarasombat, is also worth scrutinising.
Surprisingly, Mr Nipit was not much praised for his exposure of Mr Chalong's alleged proxy voting followed up, later on, with another proxy vote by Natee Ratchakitprakarn, another Bhumjaithai party-list MP, who was abroad during the debate of the budget bill.
It was alleged that Mr Nipit's whistle-blowing against Mr Chalong was motivated by his personal agenda because he was defeated by the latter in the March 24 election.
The former Democrat MP acted as if he is not a part of the coalition government. I wonder if he had been appointed to cabinet, would he have blown the whistle?
His action, apparently by his own initiative and without party's approval cast the Democrat Party in a bad light as an untrustworthy coalition partner. He should have realised the negative consequences which would befall the coalition government and, by extension, the impact on the economy from delayed budget disbursement.
It is unthinkable that several MPs have treated proxy voting as a casual practice like office workers who punch a time clock on behalf of their colleagues. Proxy voting by lawmakers is against parliamentary rules and amounts to cheating, which deserves to be condemned.
I did not find it surprising that Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said, in an apparent defence of a Palang Pracharath Party MP who was also caught in the act voting on behalf of his fellow MPs by using their cards during the budget bill debate, that the MP did so because there were not enough reading machines available. Such an excuse is unacceptable as voting is a personal right and should be exercised by the person involved.
This latest predicament for the government is, after all, a product of its own making -- the actions of a handful of stupid and irresponsible MPs who should be punished and not protected.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.