NLA whip: Leaked clip doctored

NLA whip: Leaked clip doctored

A leaked audio clip indicating the prime minister was not happy with the 14 telecom regulator candidates, which led to the selection being scrapped by the National Legislative Assembly, was doctored, says a whip.

Somchai Sawaengkarn, secretary of the NLA whips, said on Saturday that the NLA president would set up a panel to look into the clip as it damaged the assembly's reputation.

“I insist the sound did not come from whip meetings on the issue," said Mr Somchai. "I was present at all of the meetings and there was no such talk. It was also unlikely to have come from the screening committee either because I too attended its meetings."

Mr Somchai speculated after listening to the clip that it had been created by using excerpts from various other meetings because the background sounds were different. “However, I can’t confirm whether the voice was of an NLA member.”

He also denied the content was true. “The prime minister can’t and has never ordered the NLA [to vote in any direction],” he said. Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha also denied meddling with the NLA's decision.

The NLA was scheduled to select seven commissioners of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) on Thursday. But it voted to scrap the entire selection instead. It reasoned that eight of the 14 candidates were not qualified even though they had been vetted by a screening committee made up of supposed experts.

The NLA members said some of those on the shortlist should not have passed screening since they had held shares or been executives or employees of telecom-related companies over the past year.

Since the law requires the number of candidates for an independent body to be selected by the NLA must be two times the required number, members decided to scrap the entire selection for fear of future complications.

The NLA has been increasingly struggling to ward off criticism of being a rubber stamp for the junta. Key legislation normally taking several days to vet under an elected government such as budget bills has been approved within hours with overwhelming votes and little or no debate.

It has also been accused of helping the junta justify a delay in the general election as poll-related bills have taken far longer than expected to pass or have faced unforeseen hurdles in its chambers. 

It earlier scrapped the selection of candidates to other independent bodies -- the Election Commission and an Ombudsman -- forcing a start from scratch of the process and keeping the incumbents in an acting capacity.

The current NBTC members have had lame-duck status since last October when their original six-year term ended. However, they continue to make policy decisions by virtue of an extension granted by the military government.

Political sources have said that Gen Prayut might invoke Section 44 to further extend the existing panel's term so that it can prepare for a critical frequency auction this year.

The NBTC is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the auction of the 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum, a process it intends to speed up as Thailand is scheduled to adopt 5G technology in 2020, secretary-general Thakorn Tantasit said on Saturday.

He admitted the NBTC had put certain issues on hold pending the selection of the new commissioners on Thursday. Since the selection was scrapped, it would proceed in the best interest of the public. 

5G technology accommodates speeds of up to 10 gigabits a second, compared to 1 Gbps of prevailing 4G.

Seats on the NBTC are among the most coveted positions in the public sector. The amended NBTC bill reduced the number of commissioners to seven from 11 and merged the broadcasting and telecom boards to consolidate power. 

Each commissioner receives a salary of 269,000 baht a month and the chairman is paid 335,520 baht. Each is also entitled to up to 200,000 baht a month in entertainment allowances (receipts must be provided), plus overseas first-class trips.

Each member may appoint advisers (120,000 baht a month per adviser), working panels and subcommittees as they see fit. They also get paid an allowance of up to 10,000 baht for each meeting they attend.

The monthly remuneration exceeds what Gen Prayut receives as the prime minister and chief of the National Council for Peace and Order combined (around 250,000 baht a month) but Gen Prayut also gets allowances from the several other positions he holds.

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