Perilous park precedent
The Centre for National Anti-Corruption (CNAC) is setting a dangerous precedent in clearing an allegation that commission fees were paid for work in the Rajabhakti Park construction by calling it "charges for recommending jobs".
Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) secretary-general Prayong Preeyajit even vouched that it is normal for a business to pay 6-7% of a project's total cost as a reward to people who brought them the work.
Nothing suspicious, said Mr Prayong, who was put directly in charge of an investigation into the alleged kickbacks in the army's one-billion-baht project.
The CNAC's announcement on Wednesday followed a high-profile controversy that several million baht were demanded by an amulet trader from foundries contracted to cast statues of past kings that adorn the army's park in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan.
After the so-called "kickbacks" were found out, the amulet businessman who apparently served as an intermediary between the army and foundries, returned the money through a donation to the Rajabhakti Park foundation set up to look after the park site.
The CNAC, chaired by Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya, comprises all major state corruption busters including the PACC, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG). Its approval should have restored the tainted park to the glory it deserves.
Unfortunately, the coalition of public graft-busting organisations let the public down when it resorted to euphemism and round-about explanations instead of tackling the accusation squarely and straightforwardly.
In short, the the CNAC found out five foundries paid about 20 million baht to the amulet trader identified as Sian U for "recommending" the jobs of casting oversized statues of past monarchs at Rajabhakti Park to them. The amount is also considered remuneration for advice that Sian U gave to the foundries during the casting process, according to the CNAC.
For most people, a payment given to people who recommend jobs or serve as a sales facilitator is called a commission.
The CNAC, however, seemed to go out of its way to gloss over the dubious practice in its Wednesday announcement.
The coalition of graftbusters said the money was paid between private parties. It reasoned the rate was in line with market prices, and that the amulet trader had enough expertise to serve as a consultant to the foundries.
These explanations are not relevant to the central question regarding the kickbacks scandal.
The Rajabhakti Park is an army project built partly by money raised through public donations. What gave the amulet trader the authority to "recommend" jobs in the state project to private businesses? Why was he allowed to make money as a go-between when the process of finding contractors to cast the park's statues should have been carried out in an open and fair manner in compliance with state procurement practices? What connections did he enjoy with the army that allowed him to claim he could "recommend" its jobs to private business?
More importantly, the CNAC acknowledged that the Sian U was later told by the army not to keep the money so he donated it back to the Rajabhakti Park fund. If the money was a clean, aboveboard business transaction, why did the army have to tell the amulet trader to "donate" it?
Sadly, the CNAC did not appear to pay attention to any of these crucial questions as it explained away the scandal with irrelevant facts. Worse, by suggesting that it is acceptable for people to charge money by recommending jobs in state projects to private businesses, the graftbusters are opening up vast new areas for fraud and deceit.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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