By the time the Corrections Department and the Justice Ministry decided to communicate with the public about former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's health, it was too little, too late. The agency's reputation has been badly tainted as a result.
For more than two months since Thaksin was admitted to the Police General Hospital (PGH)'s premium ward -- shortly after he set foot on Thai soil -- the department has kept the public in the dark about what was wrong with Thaksin's health amid suspicions he may have faked his illness to avoid being jailed. He looked in fine fettle when he emerged from an airport in Bangkok on Aug 22.
Speculation mounted the 74-year-old might not have been hospitalised but rather granted shelter at his residence. The department's silence in response to requests by whistleblowers to meet Thaksin has merely fanned the flames.
Pheu Thai defended its boss by saying that any investigation would derail attempts at national reconciliation and those taking action only wanted to reignite past conflicts.
In recent weeks, activists have staged a series of protests, demanding explanations from state agencies as to whether Thaksin -- who didn't spend a single night in "jail" -- has been a beneficiary of nepotism.
Political activist Srisuwan Janya vowed to submit a petition to the Medical Council of Thailand (TMC) on Tuesday, asking it to launch an investigation into the ethics of the hospital doctor handling Thaksin's case.
The Justice Ministry finally spoke out yesterday, insisting he has been treated in hospital for health complaints. However, there are still ambiguities.
Sahakarn Petnarin, the ministry's deputy permanent secretary and acting corrections chief, said Thaksin underwent orthopaedic surgery on Monday.
He did not provide details, except to say the ex-PM was transferred to the hospital's Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after surgery and that his condition was being assessed.
Shortly before he made that statement, a picture of Thaksin lying on a hospital gurney, surrounded by hospital staff and two women who may be his daughters, emerged on social media. He was being taken for a scan, the public was told. Yet many remain unconvinced.
It also remains unclear how long his recovery is expected to take, meaning he will continue to extend his get-out-of-jail card.
Some rights advocates may argue that a sick patient is entitled to treatment. Of course, that would be acceptable if all sick inmates were treated equally.
But in practice, only a few are allowed access to such a service, which raises the question of double standards.
There are reports of sick inmates dying in jail without being transferred to hospital. Thaksin seems to be an exception.
By refusing to release information about his illness, citing his rights as a patient, the hospital has ramped up public suspicion.
Due to a royal pardon, Thaksin's jail term has been reduced from eight years to one year.
It is anticipated that he may benefit from another royal pardon on the occasion of Father's Day in December. If true, he could walk out a free man without serving any real time.
The government, Justice Ministry and Corrections Department in particular must be aware of the cost of mishandling the Thaksin case now that public trust in the justice system is going downhill.