PM ruling must end flak

PM ruling must end flak

The Constitutional Court's ruling on Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha staying at an army residence beyond his retirement should set a precedent on this rather ambiguous issue.

Gen Prayut is not the only retired army official occupying an army house after all.

According to news reports, as many as 108 retired army generals stayed on in the army's "welfare" residences beyond their retirement at the end of last year.

Of the number, 86 are scheduled to move out this year.

The remaining 22, however, are retired army generals who have "contributed to the country" and are thus exempted from having to move out including the PM, ministers, MPs, senators and other holders of political office.

It must be noted that the army's welfare residences and the questions about who should be entitled to stay in them were thrust into the spotlight following a shooting rampage in Nakhon Ratchasima early this year which left 29 dead.

The mass shooter, a soldier, reportedly conducted the deadly rampage after a dispute over a loan to buy a welfare house with a relative of his commanding officer.

The tragedy prompted then army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong to vow to investigate inappropriate business deals involving army officers and their subordinates.

He also acknowledged the possibility of officers exploiting military housing loans and welfare programmes for personal gain.

At that time, Gen Apirat drew a line in the sand and announced that all retired army officials must evacuate the army's houses by February this year and let those who are entitled to the official residence move in.

Obviously, "all" retired generals does not mean "all".

PM Gen Prayut, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda are among the 22 retirees who still occupy the army's facilities even though they have been retired from the service for many years.

In defending the PM's occupation of the official residence, the army argued that there is an exemption to its welfare housing regulations which allows former army chiefs to stay on even after retirement.

Both Gen Prawit and Gen Anupong served as army commanders at a different period.

The army also stated that the house inside the 1st Infantry Regiment, King's Guard, where PM Gen Prayut and his family has stayed since he served as the army chief until his retirement in 2014 and up until the present was not a "welfare" residence.

According to news reports, the house's classification was changed from an army welfare residence to a guesthouse in 2012.

The army also cited the PM's contribution to the country and his safety as reasons justifying his right to live behind the army barracks.

The Constitutional Court's decision on this matter carries hefty political weight.

If the court rules that Gen Prayut has breached the constitution and committed a conflict of interest by accepting benefits of over 3,000 baht, he could be disqualified as prime minister and the cabinet disbanded.

If the court rules in Gen Prayut's favour, then the army should take the opportunity to rethink its retiree benefits and make its welfare housing and other schemes more transparent.

Privileges should be kept to a minimum, if any, to prevent the army from being criticised for pampering its own kind at the expense of the taxpayer.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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