The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has refused to back down on a new rule that requires mandatory asset declaration by university council chairpersons and members, but said it is likely to postpone its enforcement.
NACC chairman Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said Monday that senior government executives are legally required to submit lists of assets and debts, but the anti-graft body will consider delaying the enforcement after it triggered threats of mass resignations, which could affect affect the running of university affairs.
The issue will be further discussed on Tuesday, and the enforcement of the regulation is likely to be put off, possibly for 30 days, to give university councils and their members time to prepare.
The asset and liability regulation was issued under a new anti-corruption law that also covers judges and other state officials, their spouses and children, including those who are not yet of age.
Published in the Royal Gazette on Nov 1, the rule will take effect on Dec 2.
The regulation caused an uproar in academic circles, with some university council members threatening to quit out of concerns over excessive paperwork.
"Exactly how long the enforcement will be postponed will be clearer tomorrow. If it is delayed by 30 days, it should give university councils enough time to prepare to comply with the regulation. This approach will not cause disruptions," he said.
According to Pol Gen Watcharapol, the postponement, if agreed, will be applied across the board, not just to university council chairpersons and members.
However, he added that the Supreme Patriarch, who serves as chairman of the Mahamakut Buddhist University council, is not required to declare his assets and debts, but other senior monks who are members of university councils are.
Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (CAT), has voiced support for the NACC, saying the rule is needed more than ever.
Citing a report by the Office of the Higher Education Commission (Ohec), Mr Mana said corruption adversely impacted the quality of education, as some university executives and council members allegedly operate based on reciprocity.
"The NACC must forge ahead with this new regulation," he said.
However, he also urged the NACC to sit down with academics to find out why they are reluctant to declare their assets and work out a solution.
According to Mr Mana, some 40,000 people are currently required to declare their assets and debts to the anti-graft body.
The new rule means an additional 3,000 people will have to do the same -- including those in public organisations and state enterprises -- but the dissent came from some 500 university council members, he said.
"The NACC should take a proactive approach by talking to them and finding out what their reservations are. If it is really about paperwork, perhaps the NACC can work something out," he said.
Mr Mana said Thailand has signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), while the 2017 charter and the 20-year national strategic plan have championed for greater transparency.
He said the new regulation must not be abolished because it will negatively affect public confidence in state efforts to combat graft.
"The fight against corruption demands collaboration from the people. It would be a waste if the regulation is dropped, and the public will start to question our efforts," he said.
Somlak Judkrabuanphol, a former member of the NACC, urged the anti-graft agency to streamline the declaration process to avoid excessive paperwork.
She said she is opposed to a proposal that Section 44 should be invoked to exempt some position holders from declaring their debts and assets, adding that the rule is in line with the constitution and the organic law.
Paisal Puechmongkol, an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, called on the government to seize the opportunity to reform university councils in case of mass resignations.
He said on Facebook that the NACC's regulation will reveal vast conflicts of interests in universities and that the time is ripe for the government to overhaul the system.
Meanwhile, public support is mounting for the NACC's new regulation.
Dr Suthee Rattanamongkolkul, of Srinakharinwirot University's faculty of medicine, launched a signature campaign on Nov 9 which has drawn almost 1,500 supporters.
According to Dr Suthee, universities are particularly vulnerable to abuse and graft due to their size and interests, and it is hoped the asset declaration rule will promote good governance and transparency.