Between 2014–2019, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, invoked more than 400 orders using Section 44 of the military government's interim charter. Most of these orders, especially the ones on national security, were criticised for infringing upon human rights and freedom of expression, while its ordinances on economic policies, such the promotion of social economic zone and the Eastern Economic Corridor, were scrutinised for appeasing the rich private sector.
Yet, Gen Prayut was praised -- even by anti-government grassroots activists -- for using this interim regulation in 2016 to close a gold mine operated by Akara Resources in Phichit province.
The mine eventually closed in January 2017, and the coup maker was praised for his audacity in standing up against a gold mining company, which was a subsidiary of the Australia-based Kingsgate.
Prior to its closure, the company was accused by villagers and conservationists of polluting their community, an allegation the firm sternly denied.
Yet, despite this, local academics and researchers on pollution have suggested otherwise.
Aside from ordering the closure of the mine, the government at the time ordered related state agencies to clean up the pollution and provide medical remedies to affected villagers.
The case turned out to be a pricey lesson for the coup maker who aimed to use Section 44 without restraint. The NCPO order triggered an international arbitration lawsuit between Kingsgate and the Thai government when the firm brought the case to the Court of International Arbitration, asking for 30 billion baht in compensation.
An arbitration court in Singapore is reportedly going to read out the verdict on Monday.
To the surprise of many, the government last week reportedly allowed the same gold mine to reopen. In addition, the industry ministry has awarded a gold mining exploration opportunity across the country to the company.
Such treatment is in stark contrast to the government's stance just four years ago. It must be mentioned that the government has since 2017 relentlessly pursued a graft investigation against the company for allegedly mining in public areas outside of sanctioned grounds as well as conducting bribery.
It goes without saying that the prime minister has been rightly lambasted for his policy flip-flop, a part of his hasty decision-making four years ago that could end up with the country paying 30 billion baht to compensate a foreign mining company.
As a result, the opposition -- led by Pheu Thai -- is preparing to grill Gen Prayut in parliament this month, while civic groups have pledged to seek a legal path to investigate why the PM made such a decision. Is Gen Prayut resorting to horse-trading in a bid to spare himself and the country from paying 30 billion baht in compensation should Thailand lose the case?
While the authority has the right to let the company resume its business, the prime minister and the industrial minister owe the public an explanation.
If the gold mine was fit to close down back then, why has the government decided to reopen it now? What has been done in the past four years? Suffice to say, the PM's use of Section 44 to close the mine was a total waste of time.