Regime angers critics over NOB transfer
Pongporn claims order to move him to South 'invalid'
The government is feeling the heat over the transfer of Pol Lt Col Pongporn Pramsaneh from the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) as he is now defying the order shunting him to the PM's Office, which has assigned him to the deep South.
The transfer of Pol Lt Col Pongporn has drawn mounting criticism against the regime as he was seen to perform well in tacking corruption and malpractice in Buddhism organisations, including the NOB and Buddhist temples.
PM's Office permanent secretary Jirachai Moonthongroy confirmed yesterday that he has assigned Pol Lt Col Pongporn as inspector-general supervising the southern border provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla, Satun and Yala.
On Aug 29, the cabinet transferred Pol Lt Col Pongporn from the NOB, naming him as an inspector-general at the Prime Minister's Office.
However, Pol Lt Col Pongporn has written to PM's Office Minister Ormsin Chivapruck, saying that he was neither aware of nor did he agree with the transfer and his new task in the South.
Mr Ormsin reportedly proposed his transfer and his successor to the cabinet.
In the letter, Pol Lt Col Pongporn said the cabinet's resolution appointing him an inspector-general was subject to receiving royal approval. This had not so far happened and the transfer was therefore not in effect.
Pol Lt Col Pongporn insisted that he remains the NOB director and has full power as the NOB chief until his transfer receives royal approval.
In light of this, the move to assign him to the new role in the South could contradict the cabinet's transfer order not to mention royal authority, Pol Lt Col Pongporn said in the letter.
He also wrote that the NOB was not under the Prime Minister's Office. The NOB is under the jurisdiction of the prime minister.
However, Mr Ormsin said that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had assigned him to oversee the NOB so he effectively is the superior of Pol Lt Col Pongporn.
Asked to comment on Pol Lt Col Pongporn's refusal to follow the transfer order, Mr Ormsin said it is impossible for him to defy a superior's order.
Pol Lt Col Pongporn was transferred from the Department of Investigation to the position of director of the NOB in February this year to tackle the scandal at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and the temple's former abbot Phra Dhammajayo who has been charged with money-laundering and is still at large.
Later, Pol Lt Col Pongporn was behind a push for transparency in the handling of temple funds, with stories about embezzlement making headlines. An investigation into temple funding expanded nationwide, reportedly in a way that could implicate certain senior members of the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC).
On Tuesday the cabinet appointed Manas Taratjai, director-general of the Religious Affairs Department, the new NOB director pending royal endorsement.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam yesterday said Pol Lt Col Pongporn was transferred not because he committed any wrongdoing and his transfer had nothing to do with an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of temple funds.
Pol Lt Col Pongporn was transferred because the government wanted to solve certain problems, Mr Wissanu said, without elaborating.
The deputy prime minister likened the NOB director's role to that of the cabinet's secretary-general.
"The cabinet's secretary-general is in no position to quarrel with the cabinet. In the same way, the NOB director cannot pick a fight with the SSC, either," Mr Wissanu said.
For investigations, he said, the NOB director has to investigate "from within" whether any NOB officials were involved with malpractices. If there is any evidence implicating "outsiders" such as monks, the probe then has to expand further.
Mr Wissanu added that if Pol Lt Col Pongporn felt his transfer was unfair, he can appeal through channels available and he would solve the problem in 24 hours.
However, Pol Lt Col Pongporn's transfer and the appointment of the new NOB director are awaiting royal endorsement, Mr Wissanu said.
He said following the transfer, efforts were made to turn monks against each other and pit monks against the government, adding the government already knows who was behind this move.
Paiboon Nititawan, former senator and ex-member of the defunct National Reform Council, said the decision to assign Pol Lt Col Pongporn to the South was unusually hasty.
It also contradicts Gen Prayut's earlier remarks that Pol Lt Col Pongporn's transfer was intended to help religious reform efforts. But as it happens, he has been reassigned, Mr Paiboon said.