Panels only prove PM's lack of teeth
'Even a hundred prime ministers will not be able to rid Thailand of illegal gambling dens."
Those were the defeatist words of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha acting like a boxer throwing in the towel before even entering the ring to the dismay of the crows who had paid to the see the fight.
You should know how the audience is likely to react and what their opinion of that boxer would be. They would boo and jeer and demand a refund. The suspicion of a fixed fight would not even cross their minds because the fight has not even started.
So, what the point of having such a prime minister? And can we place our hope and the destiny of this country and ours on him, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Not having the stomach to do the thing that he should have done to restore public confidence and his bruised reputation as a lame-duck prime minister, despite the immense power he has and the full support of the military, he chose the age-old, play-it-safe way of resolving the problem -- setting up a panel, this time led by former justice permanent secretary Charnchao Chaiyanukit, to embark on a fact-finding mission into the illegal gambling scandal and report to him with recommendations within 30 days.
A separate panel, headed by Pakdi Phothisiri from the National Anti-Corruption Commission, was also launched to probe the human trafficking racket responsible for smuggling illegal migrant workers, particularly from Myanmar into Thailand.
Many illegal migrants from Myanmar found their way to Samut Sakhon to work in factories there. Several were suspected of being infected with Covid-19, although asymptomatic, and have been blamed as the source of the second outbreak, which has now spread to over 60 provinces across Thailand with several thousand being infected, without anyone knowing for sure when the pandemic will be contained.
The impacts of this latest domestic chapter of the pandemic are already devastating.
What will the prime minister do when he receives the findings of the panels? As usual, he will pass them on to state agencies to follow them up. And those agencies, such as the Royal Thai Police, will do the same thing that the prime minister did -- set up disciplinary committees.
One committee after another will not solve any problem, especially the deeply-entrenched corruption which is the cause of illegal gambling and human trafficking rackets.
Just take a look at the findings of Vicha Mahakhun over the gross mishandling of the hit-and-run incident involving the Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya by the police and public prosecutors, which was sent to the prime minister last September.
Nothing has been heard since then from the Office of the Attorney-General and the Royal Thai police about the results of their disciplinary probes.
Mr Vicha talked about a systematic conspiracy, involving the police, public prosecutors, lawyers, witnesses and political appointees, in the interference of judicial proceedings from the very beginning to help keep the defendant from prosecution. The findings are damning, yet the prime minister has done nothing.
Adding insult to injury, the OAG did the unthinkable by inserting the name of Nate Narksook, the former attorney-general, who decided not to indict the Red Bull heir, in the list of promotions of a few hundred prosecutors for royal approval. Mr Nate's name was, however, detected by the secretary-general office of the PM's Office during the screening process and the whole list was returned to the OAG.
So far, no action has been taken against the real operator of the illegal gambling empire in Rayong province, Long Choo, who is well-known among residents and remains intact and untouchable. It appears the power of money has silenced all those responsible for maintaining peace and order from the top down to the bottom.
In wake of the Covid-19 and economic crises and all the national scandals, it is indeed a tragedy that the prime minister lacks the courage to take the right action even if it may be unpopular or hurt those close to him. That raises a simple question: What is the point of him staying in office?
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.