Thailand's complainer-in-chief

Thailand's complainer-in-chief

Activist Srisuwan Janya has always been relentless in his fight for justice, even taking on the prime minister's right to be a candidate

You have a complaint, you come to me. Social activist and lawyer Srisuwan Janya vows to continue to keep state authorities in check. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
You have a complaint, you come to me. Social activist and lawyer Srisuwan Janya vows to continue to keep state authorities in check. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

Srisuwan Janya is not exaggerating when he claims he might hold the champion title of the country's biggest complaints-maker.

Over the past two decades, Mr Srisuwan, 51, has been a familiar face at many government agencies.

Officials at the Administrative Court, the Office of the National Counter Corruption Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman are familiar with his visits. When they see Mr Srisuwan's face, they know all too well a new complaint is to be lodged.

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.

His complaints dovetail from high profile political cases, consumers cheating, corruption in state agencies to environment cases.

Mr Srisuwan, who has been working as a social activist, could not tell exactly how many complaints he has brought against suspects, but during a talk with the Bangkok Post, he counted up to over 1,000 complaints since the military-engineered government ruled the country almost five years ago.

The latest complaint he is making today is to the Election Commission over whether Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is violating the election law when, as the premier, he plans to meet people in many districts. PM Prayut is the prime ministerial candidate for the Phalang Pracharath Party.

Previously, Mr Srisuwan, in his capacity of secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, had asked the ombudsman to rule whether Gen Prayut is fit to be a prime ministerial candidate as the charter prohibits registering state officials as candidates.

The ombudsman concluded last week Gen Prayut is not a state official but chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), so he can compete for the country's top job after the Mar 24 election.

Mr Srisuwan said he did not feel "discouraged" after learning of the decision.

He insisted that he has no motivation behind in taking on the prime minister or anyone. "I lodge my complaint because I cannot sit idly when I think something is wrong. It is my nature to speak out and blow the whistle," he told the Bangkok Post.

Mr Srisuwan said he was born with an itch to blow the whistle on wrongdoers when he sees something unfair and violating laws. "I have had an interest in people's problems since my school days," Mr Srisuwan, now 51, recalled.

He has witnessed their troubles in his home province of Phitsanulok since he studied at Wang Thong Phitthayakhom, a secondary school in Wang Thong district.

But it was his years at Maejo University in Chiang Mai that gave him opportunities to help people. He, then chosen as the chairman of the students' union and participated in many public service-related activities.

Once, Mr Srisuwan remembered, he led villagers living near the university to stage a protest and expel the provincial governor and some officials for their alleged failure to ensure safety for university students and villagers.

This strong social activism set only one career goal for him after graduation -- working at a non-government organisation.

"I'd had never thought of working at state agencies," Mr Srisuwan said.

"I don't like that path. Perhaps it's because I always witnessed conflicts between villagers and state authorities."

The more he helped people, the more he realised he needed to equip himself with more weapons.

Mr Srisuwan's education background is agriculture, which is not enough to take on rogue officials.

He decided to study environmental law and political science, the two new specialities that allow him to understand a wider scope of wrongdoings committed by officials.

Better knowledge helps him achieve his aims.

Among his accomplishments is the complaint against the adverse environmental impact of Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Rayong on nearby communities. He helped people bring their worries to the Administrative Court, which eventually urged businesses and officials to pay heed to their voices in public hearings.

"Map Ta Phut is the case that exposed me to various kinds of threats," Mr Srisuwan admitted.

"I received warnings, threatening calls and was followed almost all the time," he said, adding these were results of his actions that were deemed to be hindering business interests.

With growing expertise in environmental conflicts, he was trusted by former Bangkok governor Bhichit Rattakul to serve as deputy secretary-general of the Foundation for Anti-Air Pollution and Environmental Protection, established in 1997.

Eight years later, when many countries, including Thailand, began to bear the global warming impact, he and his friends in the Lawyers Council decided to set up the Anti-Global Warming Association.

People often ask how can he make a living, when he seems to spend so much time lodging complaints.

Mr Srisuwan works as a lawyer, and makes his living from fees. He also conducts research for state and academic institutes such as King Prajadhipok's Institute.

He said he does not pay much attention when people ask him "how do you make a living", or even call him "a complaint buff".

"I've never wasted my time on such attitudes," Mr Srisuwan said.

He has a passion for helping people, but also likes exercising his right under the constitution to raise questions when he notices irregular behaviour of any kind.

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