Graft-fighting 'smart cards' for monks due by October
ID cards show history, expected in 3 months
Monks will receive "smart ID cards" clarifying their backgrounds within three months so they can be more easily scrutinised by authorities, according to Ormsin Chivapruck, a minister attached to the Office of the Prime Minister.
The move comes as a spike in the number of high-profile cases showing ethical and legal abuses by abbots, novices and other monks is causing public indignation.
Mr Ormsin was speaking after meeting three members of the Sangha Supreme Council -- Phra Prom Molee, the fifth ecclesiastical regional governor; Phra Prom Munee, of Wat Ratchabophit Maha Simaram; and Phra Prom Bundit, abbot of Wat Prayurawongsa.
They agreed with the proposal but must seek the opinions of other council members next week as to what personal information should be shown on the new ID cards, he said.
Details should include what tasks the monks have been assigned, when they were ordained, which temples they are attached to, when they were promoted, whether they have previously left the monkhood, and any criminal records or history of drug abuse, he added.
"I was informed the department of provincial administration is ready to cooperate with us," Mr Ormsin said.
"We think these smart cards will be similar to regular ID cards but with added information such as their monastic name, honorific titles and of course an updated photo," he said, adding that using the same system would lower their cost.
"I expect we'll be able to roll them out in three months," he said.
Currently, monks hold paper-based identification documents that are difficult to track.
The latest proposal is part of the government's effort to address a series of temple scandals, mostly involving monks who had sought monetary benefit, he said.
The meeting also touched on how temples should make their income statements and expense accounts available for examination, he added.
Mr Ormsin said the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) requires temples to submit their financial statements but most temple accounts do not meet accepted standards and lack details.
"About 90% of the 46,000 temples nationwide have already submitted their financial statements, but only a small number were able to follow the NOB's instructions as they do not have a background in accounting,'' he said.
He said he has instructed the NOB to inform temples they only need to prepare their income and expense accounts with the necessary details so that temple finances can be checked for transparency.
Meanwhile, council members raised concern during the meeting over the amount of media coverage that temple scandals and monks' misconduct are getting, fearing it might affect the public's faith in Buddhism, Mr Ormsin said.
"The media sometimes report stories that have not been proven, so it seems like the monks are already guilty but it often turns out they are innocent," he said.
"We discussed whether we need a committee to oversee all issues related to monks and temples. And we would need an official source who can provide the facts to the media."
Mr Ormsin said the Sangha Supreme Council recently set up a committee headed by Somdej Phra Phutthachan of Wat Traimitr to look into this problem.
It consists of Somdej Phra Phutthachanm, the NOB director, and six or seven council members.
"We agreed to appoint NOB director Pongporn Pramsaneh as the sole media spokesperson or source for information about problems relating to monks and temples," Mr Ormsin said.
"He will be in charge of this from now,'' he added.