Isoc power boost 'not political'

Isoc power boost 'not political'

Security agency denies it is NCPO's engine room heading into the next poll

Gen Peerawat Sangthong, a spokesman for the shadowy Internal Security Operations Command, denies there are any politics involved in the wider powers that Isoc has assumed. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)
Gen Peerawat Sangthong, a spokesman for the shadowy Internal Security Operations Command, denies there are any politics involved in the wider powers that Isoc has assumed. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

The National Council for Peace and Order chief Prayut Chan-o-cha invoked his Section 44 powers to amend internal security legislation to set up the Internal Security Administration Committee on Nov 21 last year to help the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) deal with domestic threats.

The move was seen as expanding the power and responsibilities of Isoc, as well as increasing its penetration by paving the way for the military to have an upper hand in politics ahead of a general election, an argument denied by Isoc spokesman Peerawat Sangthong.

"Basically, the order requires regional internal security administration committees and provincial internal security administration committees be set up. In the past, there was only the administration committee in the national level," Maj Gen Peerawat said.

Adding administration committees at regional and provincial levels can expedite work better, he said.

InquiryLines, published bi-weekly on Mondays is a Bangkok Post column to present in-depth details of a range of issues from politics and social interest to eye-catching everyday lives.

Chaired by either the prime minister or a deputy prime minister, a security administration committee will supervise and advise Isoc on security operations and laying down guidelines governing its operations.

Currently it is Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, in charge of national security, who chairs the administrative committee.

The defence and interior ministers serve as deputies with members including commanders of the armed forces and the Isoc secretary-general, who also serves as the committee's secretary.

The order also requires that regional internal security administration committees and provincial internal security administration committees be set up.

At the regional level, the internal security administration committee is now chaired by the Isoc region director, chief of the army region by position, with the most senior regional prosecutor, the most senior regional police chief and an interior representative as deputies.

At the provincial level, the committee is chaired by the Isoc provincial director, provincial governor by position, with a deputy governor assigned by the provincial governor as a deputy.

"Security threats are fast-changing. They can become complex and take many forms and they can come from outside and within," the order said.

The situation calls for further amendments to the Internal Security Act to authorise [Isoc] to handle those threats," it added.

On criticism that Isoc is under the military's control, so could be used as its tool to impose order for political reasons, Maj Gen Peerawat said the prime minister is the head of the Isoc by position. In future, whoever holds the PM's post will be the head of the Isoc.

Although it was true the Isoc deputy director and secretary-general, the army chief and the army's chief of staff respectively, are from the military, Maj Gen Peerawat said the national administrative committee members include civilian government officials of C-11 rank, which is the level of ministry permanent secretary.

"And the provincial governors are the head of the Isoc administration committee at provincial level," he said.

In the main agencies of Isoc, there are over 200 civil staff members out of about 700, he said.

Maj Gen Peerawat said the Isoc has about 5,000-6,000 staff nationwide, excluding those working in the restive South, and there currently are 500,000-600,000 internal security volunteers, as well as tens of thousands of people in its information network.

And after the definition of "security" and "threat" were changed, the Isoc has more responsibility, and power, to take charge in case of natural disasters, cyber security, drug problems, justice issues and the promotion of reconciliation. Maj Gen Peerawat denied that was a huge expansion of power for Isoc, or that Isoc was amounting to a "state within state".

According to the Internal Security Act issued in 2008, the Isoc can request transfer of government officials to help work at the agency. "We are main synergy agency. We work on particular missions and we will not meddle in the work where there is a responsible agency, but we will look into the problems that must be jointly solved by many agencies," he said.

He said the agency, under the PM's Office, will have to reduce the gap among agencies where they are needed to work together to solve a problem, eradicate redundancy and to make sure all the agencies involved are supporting one another.

"To tackle the problems of violation of intellectual property rights, for example, you need the Commerce, Industry, Interior and Labour ministries to work it out together," he said.

He raised another case of polluted water in Khlong See Wa Pa Sawat canal in Samut Sakhon, where industrial factories, farmers, residents have to be responsible together with the commerce, industry, natural resources and environment, and interior ministries, along with the Royal Irrigation Department and local administration organisations.

"When we say the factories had to be responsible for releasing polluted water into the canal, what can we do? If we use harsh punishment according to the law, we have to close the factory, other problems will follow, a lot of people will lose their jobs.

"Then we invited all stakeholders and agreed we needed to join hands. We needed to make sure the factories comply with the law when releasing used water into the canal."

Nor are the only tools available to Isoc those which give it great powers. According to the law, the Isoc director, with the approval of the cabinet, can impose the Internal Security Act in situations where there is a threat to national security.

It can impose a curfew, prohibition of entry or prohibit the transportation of goods with Isoc in charge of arrangements, for a particular period of time. After the situation has passed, it must lift the imposition of the act, and report its decision to parliament.

This law is considered the mildest choice on offer compared to martial law and the emergency decree in controlling a situation. The imposition of the internal security law has been extended in Pattani's Mae Lan district and four districts of Songkhla -- Chana, Na Thawi, Saba Yoi and Thepha -- to protect the people from incidents in the restive South, according to the Defence Ministry.

Former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva imposed the internal security act in 2007, 2009 and 2010 while former premier Yingluck Shinawatra imposed tougher security under the act in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

However, the Isoc spokesman insisted his agency has nothing to do with politics. While it was true that the Isoc was brought into being started to fight the threat of communism, it no longer performed that function.

"Political conflicts themselves are not a threat to the country. We can have different views and exchange opinions on political ideology. "However, if there is any use of force or weapons, that is a problem as it can lead to conflicts that destroy the country," he said.

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