Cleaning up the military
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Cleaning up the military

New defence minister Sutin Klungsang has already captured the media's attention due to his clear commitment to military reform.

Even before the government was sworn in, the new civilian defence minister -- after having lunches with armed forces chiefs and big-wigs in the defence ministry -- publicly announced the government's plan to reform the military.

The reform plans include downsizing, ending military conscription, increasing welfare given to rank-and-file soldiers, and cutting the number of top-ranking military officials.

Mr Sutin on Monday also took many by surprise by pledging to look into a controversial 12.5-billion-baht submarine procurement that the Thai government signed with a China concessionaire.

The submarine procurement is a nasty legacy of the last administration, with Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, as both prime minister and defence minister, let the public down in his handling of the deal.

Despite Gen Prayut pledging earlier to cancel the procurement if the seller violated the original agreement, he let the Chinese concessionaire hold sway to the level that the Royal Thai Navy recently revised the contract to facilitate a new deal that permits the seller to use the prototype model -- the Chinese-made CHD260.

The original contract stipulated that the contractor must use a German-made engine or an alternative engine on condition that the replacement must be used in the navy of the seller country.

This stipulation ensured that the Royal Thai Navy would only use a proven engine, not a prototype.

It is now hoped that Mr Sutin and the new government will make a well-informed decision on the submarine.

The outcome must be acceptable to the public and the navy and, above all, be transparent.

Yet, the challenges awaiting the new defence minister do not stop at only arms procurement or making the military modernised and smaller.

Among the elephants in the room waiting for Mr Sutin is the issue of tackling corruption in the military.

Examples are army housing projects and unfair loans for defence personnel wanting to purchase houses and flats provided by the military.

One of the soldiers believed to be a victim of such graft was late soldier Sgt Maj Jakrapanth Thomma, who killed 29 people and wounded 57 at a Korat shopping mall in 2020.

The accusation was raised last year by two businesswomen, identified only as Ms Koi and Ms Bird, who were contracted by the army to build houses for army officers.

The women accused senior soldiers in the loan approval process of pocketing part of the money.

Both also claimed that graft in the lending system might be behind the massacre in Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, partly because two of the first people killed by the shooter were his commanding officer and a contractor in the army housing project who happened to be his commanding officer's mother-in-law.

The Department of Army Welfare -- which handles the housing projects -- has probed the claims, which led to several soldiers receiving lenient penalties and the issuing of a statement saying that such graft was unrelated to the mass shooting.

Mr Sutin must also look into this case and other military welfare projects to ensure no graft is involved.

Any attempt to modernise and reform will go nowhere without making the military corruption-free.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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