NLA votes to pass Sangha Act
Law allows King to pick SSC members
The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted in three straight readings to approve the amendment to the Sangha Act that gives His Majesty the King the power to appoint members of the Supreme Sangha Council (SSC), the governing body of the Buddhist order.
The bill was approved by a final vote of 217 for, with four abstentions.
Once published in the Royal Gazette, the bill will replace the present Sangha Act that currently gives the council full control of monastic affairs and the selection of its members.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the King will now oversee the selection of SSC members, as was traditionally practised in the past, to ensure the monks' governing body is managed by members who are respectable and worthy of public trust.
Passage of the legislation through the NLA yesterday comes at a time when some council members and senior monks have been tainted by allegations of corruption and misconduct.
Senior monks at Wat Sam Phraya, Wat Sa Ket and Wat Samphanthwong were rounded up by police in May on charges that included embezzlement of funds allocated to their temples. They were later defrocked and then detained.
Mr Wissanu said moves to reform the council and monastic affairs were planned long before the crackdown. The arrest of senior monks damaged worshippers' trust and their respect for monks, he added.
The bill was passed by the NLA in three quick readings without a vetting committee being set up after the first reading, as is usual practice.
The tenure of the current SSC members ends in about two months, which is why the Sangha Act had to be amended promptly, according to Mr Wissanu.
Mr Wissanu added new SCC members must be installed to push for reform of Buddhist affairs in the country. He explained they will be taking a proactive stance on reform and follow through with the policy.
Paiboon Nititawan, former chairman of the defunct National Reform Council's Buddhist reform panel, said yesterday the amendment was catering to Buddhist reform as it would streamline the ecclesiastical order.
He said the composition of the SSC under the amended bill will be largely the same as the current one. The major difference, however, is that the King will name 12 of the 21 SSC members who include the Supreme Patriarch.
At present, the Supreme Patriarch appoints the 12 members, six of whom are from the maha nikaya sect and the other six from the dhammyuttika sect. The 12 members must hold a rank equivalent to a deputy somdet. Somdet is the highest rank in the monks' governing echelon.
Places for the eight other members are for the most senior monks holding the title of somdet. The King endorses their selection, a power he retains under the amended bill.