Army reform inevitable

Army reform inevitable

The shooting rampage in Korat on Feb 8, which saw the loss of so many innocent lives, has exposed the rot in the army and showed the public how reforms are inevitable. Among the problems is army housing which are illegitimately, if not illegally, occupied by retired generals who are supposed to vacate these properties to make way for their successors.

A scandal involving a military housing project for low-ranking officers in Nakhon Ratchasima appeared to be the reason why 32-year-old Jakrapanth Thomma of the Surathampithak Camp began his shooting spree, accusing his commander of cheating him out of his cut for the dubious project. Later, it was found that the project in question contained a number of irregularities.

At a press conference in the aftermath of the killings, Gen Apirat Kongsompong pledged to clean up the army. While Gen Apirat insisted that the army is a "sacred" organisation that should be protected from blame, it turns out that the agency is riddled with officers who take what they are not entitled to, such as welfare housing. In making that statement, Gen Apirat has actually opened a Pandora's Box.

The army chief then revealed his plan to take back army houses from retired generals, as it appears that there are too many generals who are enjoying undeserved gains while their successors can only look on. One of them is Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompu, deputy leader of the Future Forward Party. He confessed that he, too, was among those who had stayed on despite having retired four years ago. He claimed he was "in the process of moving out", and needed some time before he could leave.

It is a costly scandal for him, as Lt Gen Pongsakorn has had to step down as FFP deputy and leave the party's executive board. The party said Lt Gen Pongsakorn, who is said to be abroad, will clarify the matter soon.

As part of damage control efforts, deputy army spokesperson Sirichand Ngathong yesterday came out to clarify that the house Lt Gen Pongsathorn occupied does not belong to the army. Instead, she said, it is "part of a unit under the Royal Thai Armed Forces". What a laughable twist.

The deputy spokesperson should know full well that soldiers above the age of 60 must leave houses that are designated for serving officers. As a matter of principle, no retired generals should be making use of state property.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, meanwhile, has turned a gigantic army welfare housing into the Office of the Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation under his long-standing chairmanship. The 75-year-old deputy prime minister defiantly disputed claims that he resides there, saying he is only using it as the foundation's office. Is this correct? Or is Gen Prawit enjoying undeserved privileges? The army has to clarify this, too.

Now the ball is in Gen Apirat's court. Can he respond positively to public expectations? What would be ideal would be if he allowed public scrutiny of military assets to determine how they have been used, or misused.

Returning welfare housing to those in service is just a small step toward the military reforms Gen Apirat has promised. The best policy now is to call a spade a spade.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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