Scrutiny of assets a must

Scrutiny of assets a must

As waging war on corruption in the public sector is a core policy declared by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, there should be no excuse for his assets and wealth to be withheld from the public.

Over his past seven years in office, Gen Prayut's assets were declared to the public only once, thanks to the new anti-corruption law issued by the coup-installed National Legislative Assembly.

Normally, political position-holders must declare their assets to the public via the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) when they take and leave office, so that the agency and the public can keep tabs on their wealth.

For Gen Prayut, the NACC says he is not obliged by the regulations to disclose his assets to the NACC simply because the law exempts those who "roll over" their jobs -- for instance, by assuming the same position in a reshuffle.

As a result, Gen Prayut, who regained the premiership after the March 24, 2019 election, is exempt from the asset declaration rule. The exemption also applies to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

However, the two have voluntarily declared their assets to the NACC, reportedly for the sake of the public record. Unfortunately, the NACC declined to disclose their assets to the public, claiming the law does not authorise it to reveal the assets of the pair.

On Friday, the Official Information Commission (OIC) came out to say it disagreed, telling the anti-graft agency is obliged to disclose the assets declared by Gen Prayut and Mr Wissanu.

The OIC decided the NACC is obliged to reveal the information when requested, even if previous declarations by the pair were for record-keeping purposes. The objective of asset declarations is to let the public take part in such checks for the sake of transparency and clean governance.

As such, asset declarations are "public information" that the NACC is obliged to disclose, according to the OIC.

The ball has passed back to the NACC. The agency, one of whose core missions is to build up transparency and fight corruption, must not come up with excuses why it should not in this case perform its duty.

Political position-holders cannot be allowed to exploit legal loopholes to keep their wealth away from public scrutiny until the government completes its term.

The anti-graft agency's stance in this case is ridiculous. If it does not have the right to disclose the asset declarations of prime minister Prayut and deputy prime minister Wissanu, then who has?

With the NACC's stance, Gen Prayut could regain power at the next election and take office again as prime minister without having to disclose his wealth, which would mean his assets could be free of public scrutiny for 12 years.

The assets information, if is disclosed, would not only benefit Gen Prayut by giving him the chance to explain his wealth, but also benefit the country in terms of transparency.

Thailand's slid down the Corruption Perception Index ranking from 101 to 104 in the latest ranking, conducted by Transparency International last year.

The country's score has been unchanged for three years, at 36 out of 100. One core criteria is transparency of information in the public sector.

Ethical standards should go beyond what are required to comply with the law to address what is necessary to ensure transparency and governance, and the assets held by this country's leaders are no exception.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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