Punish graft in the courts

Punish graft in the courts

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra earlier this week appealed to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for fair treatment by allowing her the right to defend herself in court over the controversial rice-pledging scheme.

She faces an administrative order demanding compensation to the state for the huge financial loss from mismanagement of the scheme.

Unofficial reports say Ms Yingluck will have to compensate about 200 billion baht of the total loss of 536 billion baht incurred from the implementation of the scheme during her administration.

The accumulated loss from similar schemes by previous governments devised to shore up rice prices to help rice farmers since 2004 amounts to about 163 billion baht, according to the Finance Ministry. The figure was calculated by the ministry's accounting panel tasked with determining the damages caused to the state's coffers from all rice support schemes since 2004.

The government's legal team, led by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, has recommended invoking a little-known law called "Responsibility for Wrongful Acts by Government Officials B.E. 2539". This would empower the prime minister to issue an administrative law to claim compensation from Ms Yingluck, without needing to go through the normal court procedure

The reason cited for using this Act is that the statute of limitations of the case under this law will expire in two years, after which the government cannot issue an administrative order against her.

As far as Gen Prayut is concerned, he seems to be in favour of resorting to an administrative order to fast-track the process to freeze or confiscate Ms Yingluck's assets to compensate the state for losses.

The Office of the Attorney-General has indicted her for dereliction of duty in failing to rein in massive corruption in the scheme. But a final decision has yet to be made.

Of course, Ms Yingluck can appeal against the order to the Administrative Court. And if she wins the case, the government still has another option, which is to go through the normal procedure by taking the case to the Civil Court to demand compensation.

In normal practice, bringing a civil lawsuit to demand compensation for a wrongful act often takes place after finalising criminal litigation, with its outcome used as a basis for the civil case. This process is time-consuming and it may take at least five years if the case is to go through all three courts -- the Civil Court, the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court. By the time the case is finalised, the incumbent government and the next will be already out of office.

We must not tolerate corruption. Corrupt officials or politicians and those who assist this malpractice must be punished. The mismanaged rice scheme has done a lot of damage to the country. The culprits must be brought to fair trial before a court of law.

Given that the compensation is expected to be huge and the coup-installed government is still under the radar of the international community, the government should proceed in the case with caution, with respect to the rule of law -- and without being seen as discriminating against the former prime minister.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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