Govt too quick to use S112

Govt too quick to use S112

In using Section 112 against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for raising questions about its vaccine procurement, the Prayut Chan-o-cha government could be said to have, at best, over-reacted. At worst, it's being criticised for abusing the draconian law for political reasons.

The PM was irked by remarks the Progressive Movement leader made during a Facebook Live session on Monday. In the PM's opinion, they constituted an act of irresponsibility and he has to "protect the government's credibility".

But the prime minister should know this is not the best way to secure public trust in the procurement plan. Mr Thanathorn is not the only one who has been sceptical about the procurement.

Such suspicions derive from fundamentally confusing data from the government from the beginning.

As a few dozen countries begin their vaccination campaigns, Thailand's own immunisation initiative appears to have got off to a slow start after hopes were pinned on Siam Bioscience. It injected 600 million baht into the firm to improve its facilities ahead of production, as the prime minister announced a timeline for administering the required two doses for each of the 100,000 most vulnerable Thais in February, with vaccines from China's Sinovac Biotech, and another 900,000 people over the following two months. Then it mentioned a plan to vaccinate 13 million Thais, using 26 million doses, in May, from AstraZeneca and Oxford University. As it's obvious that 26 million doses are not sufficient, the government said there will be another 35 million for 17.5 million people thereafter from international sourcing as well as production by Chulalongkorn University's faculties of medicine and pharmacy.

As of yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul confirmed a priority list of 19 million who will be the first to be inoculated.

What the public needs to know is a clear process and credible timetable for vaccination.

As confusion escalates, some cabinet members reacted poorly, resorting to playing with words rather than giving any explanation.

Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin, for instance, is among those attaching no importance to clarity. He rejected the idea outright when asked by the media if details of the procurement from AstraZeneca would be made public.

"It's not the duty of the government to explain," he adamantly insisted on Friday, without giving a reason.

Now, a number of agencies including the Thailand Research and Development Institute have come out to give their side of the story, mainly to support the deal.

Mr Anutin was as coy as ever again. Yesterday, he claimed consent from the company was required if the deals were to be made public. He also warned of the risks if Thailand reveals procurement details without the company's consent, saying it could abruptly end the deals or result in the price going up. This is ridiculous.

Using the contentious Section 112 has hurt the government's credibility both at home and abroad, especially after being perceived to have been quick to wield this contentious law against pro-government reform leaders already this year.

If the government considers Mr Thanathorn to have given misleading or false information there are other laws it could have used against him, including filing a libel suit under the Criminal Code and Computer Crime Act.

The Prayut administration must adopt a more conciliatory approach to clearing the air and rely less on the repressive lese majeste charges.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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