Lift the lid on army deals
Amid reports that a shady army welfare housing scheme may have triggered a soldier's murderous rampage in Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday, army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong promised to launch an internal audit to review and clean up fishy projects being run within barracks.
However, his help is not necessary. What the army actually needs to do is allow greater external audits.
According to media reports, the motive behind the mass shooting, in which 30 people were killed and 58 injured, was likely a financial dispute between 32-year-old Sgt Maj 1st Class Jakrapanth Thomma and his commanding officer whose mother-in-law was allegedly running a shady real-estate project, in which she made deals with the army unit and soldiers seeking home loans.
Gen Apirat on Tuesday admitted that there were many "unsound" welfare housing and loan projects that involved cooperation between military units and business people.
However, the army chief needs to be reminded that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
For years, there have been allegations about unsound and fishy financial operations involving the military as a whole. Instead of being open to criticism and investigation, the military has always taken a defensive stance by slapping those daring to question its financial deals with legal action.
These include the sedition and computer crime charges filed by the former military regime against Thanet Anantawong, who once shared an infographic detailing the alleged corruption related to the military's Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin.
Mr Thanet has been on remand for more than three years as he continues fighting the case.
Last December, the Defence Ministry also countered the opposition Future Forward Party's (FFP) move to scrutinise its 18-billion-baht off-budget spending in the 2020 fiscal budget.
This funding is off-limits to public disclosure or scrutiny by the Lower House thanks to the 2018 Financial and Fiscal Discipline Act passed by the former military regime. This law allows internal audits of such off-budget spending.
The biggest problem here is that not many people are really convinced that the military's self-regulation can ensure transparency.
For instance, FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit had earlier alleged that the Defence Ministry granted an interest-free 1.2-billion-baht loan to a loss-ridden company -- 50% of which was owned by the army and the other half held by 10 members of the top brass. That loan obviously came from this off-budget spending.
Mr Thanathorn also questioned transparency in the financing of the army's Lumpini Boxing Stadium in Bangkok and the racecourse in Nakhon Ratchasima.
While the annual defence budget has been constantly rising over the past decades, many have criticised that its expenditure, especially on the procurement of weapons and military hardware, has not been transparent. Only broad details have been provided to the public about each line of spending.
Gen Apirat calling the army a "sacred organisation" is pointless. What he needs to do is have the army open its doors to scrutiny by both the public and state bodies such as the Lower House and the Finance Ministry.
Without allowing greater external audits, the army risks harbouring more and more shady operations.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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- off-budget spending
- army chief