Rajabhakti needs glory of transparency

Rajabhakti needs glory of transparency

Adorned with towering statues of seven great Thai kings of the past, the Rajabhakti Park was intended to be a pride of the army, a larger-than-life display of its dedication to the monarchy.

However, following media reports that a probe has been launched into alleged irregularities in the construction of the 1-billion-baht park, down to the procurement of what seem to be unusually expensive palm trees, will people look at the park and see only gigantic loyalty?

It's a pity for the army that its hallmark project has now come under scrutiny for alleged corruption.

According to its website, the army intended to use the 222-rai park located in the popular resort town of Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, as a venue for its important ceremonies and to welcome international figures during their official visits.

The reported investigation will surely wipe the shine from the otherwise glorious-looking park, which has quickly become a new tourist attraction in the area.

According to media reports, casting factories claimed that they had to pay kickbacks to the tune of millions of baht not just to make the bronze figures that make for the park's highlight but even to cast decorative trays.

The allegations may cause visitors to feel unsure about what aspect of the park they should be in awe over.

The possible blemish, however, could still be a welcome sign.

The probe shows the authorities, the police's Central Investigation Bureau in this case, have the courage to look into alleged irregularities even when they are associated with such a high-profile project under the care of the most powerful institution in the country.

What remains to be seen is how far the probe will go, and how transparent the army and relevant organisations will be about the case.

It must be stated that at this point, no one has been charged in association with the Rajabhakti Park construction yet and all that have surfaced are allegations as reported in the media.

The army denies that there was any corruption in the project. It insists the construction of the park was done in line with regulations that left no room for exploitation.

Still, the case has provoked some thoughts, or questions, about the nature of corruption and how best to get rid of it.

Construction of Rajabhakti Park started in November 2014. Its two main parts, the statues and open court, were finished in about eight months.

While the park is located on the army's land, the budget for its construction, estimated at about one billion baht, came exclusively from public donations.

According to the army's website, donations for the park's construction can be made to the "army's welfare fund" account.

After news reports emerged of the graft probe, however, the army seems to have put a little distance between itself and the majestic park. According to a report in Matichon, the army said the park is still technically under the care of the Rajabhakti Park Foundation headed by former army chief and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr. The army will only take ownership of the project once it is finished.

It's not clear whether the comment means that what goes on during the construction phase of the project will have nothing to do with the army. If so, why did it lend itself to being used so prominently for its fund-raising?

The force's decision to build the park out of public donations is another aspect that is worth discussing. Even if we assume that every single baht raised from the process was not abused or skimmed off, it's still debatable whether it is appropriate for the army to ask people to chip in for its project.

Considering its status in the country at the moment, should this donation drive, if it is ever brought to anyone personally, be considered a request you can't refuse?

It does not help that as numerous reports about the Rajabhakti Park case have been published, army spokesman Col Winthai Suwaree has simply said there is no such probe involving the park. He has not shown details of the park's construction or its financing to the public either.

The army should have done otherwise. It does not matter whether there was a police investigation into the park's construction. With allegations flying around, the army just has to refute them with evidence. Share the information. Show the public that it indeed did everything aboveboard.

That is the only way for the park to be admired for its true splendour.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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