Vicha plots steady course for NACC
interview: Watchdog spokesman tackling 'web of dishonesty'
Ever since the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) started its bid to impeach former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the anti-graft agency's spokesman and commissioner, Vicha Mahakun, has faced accusations of political bias.
Mr Vicha has repeatedly backed the NACC's evidence against Ms Yingluck, and the self-assured graft-buster claims he is setting new standards of integrity for future leaders.
"Quite a few people — friends included — tell me I'm crazy," he told the Bangkok Post. But Mr Vicha says he just smiles and nods silently at their comments, keeping his opinions to himself.
The recent graft busts are just the tip of Thailand's corruption iceberg, he says. They are part of a wider scheme of affairs, a web of dishonesty to be disentangled, one string after another.
His work is all about buttoning the top button up correctly, he noted. If society's first step in the right direction is already twisted, it will be hard to follow on correctly because there will be nothing more than discouragement ahead.
Mr Vicha talked at length about the different ways in which Hong Kong has successfully tackled its corruption problem.
He respects the fact that Cantonese children are taught from a young age to separate the common good from personal interest and, in cases of conflict, set their own interests aside.
The law professor, whose past achievements include the pushing of a law protecting children from violence and drug abuse, says it's important to build a "public conscience" in young minds. Adults must also ensure these youths have a standing point in society.
Mr Vicha's admiration for Hong Kong extends beyond school curricula to the Independent Commission Against Corruption's efficiency at tackling graft.
The Hong Kong anti-graft agency has unmitigated authority, which allows it to suppress corruption directly.
"They are absolute — to such an extent that they are feared," he says.
Mr Vicha is doubtful, however, that such an agency could find a place in Thai society. Personal interests are so deeply rooted in Thailand's political culture, it is unlikely the NACC could ever be granted such power, he said.
He says the anti-corruption mechanism in Thailand is more vulnerable and claims the NACC would face a serious onslaught if it is not backed by the government. If such an attack occurs, Mr Vicha asks, "Would people stand up to protect the commission?"
As Thailand is undergoing various reforms — including of independent agencies — it is crucial the watchdog agency maintains its steady course.
He highlights the fact that the organisation was constitutionally-mandated.
But the NACC relies solely on the trust of the public — without their support, the anti-graft agency's days would be over, Mr Vicha argues.
Luckily, he said, the NACC, which was established under the 1997 constitution, is truly independent — unlike the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG), which faces significant pressure on its work, he says.
The OAG is supposed to be an independent agency, but suffers government interference, as its budget and workforce must have government approval, according to OAG sources.
"The OAG is not as free as the courts or watchdog organisations," Mr Vicha remarked.
The Yingluck rice-pledging scheme investigation has tested the strength of both organisations.
Mr Vicha warned that if the prosecution's case against Ms Yingluck is flawed, the OAG will have to take responsibility.
As a former lawyer, he believes prosecutors are disciplined and adhere to a rigorous code of ethics.
He says he looks at the situation in a positive light. If a disagreement between prosecutors and the NACC arises, both parties will be able to talk through it.
"After all, we're in the same field of work," he says.
The OAG plans to formally indict Ms Yingluck in the Supreme Court Division for Political Office-Holders on Thursday, amid fears of political dissent.
"I've been told it is a dangerous time now," Mr Vicha says.
The graft-buster remains under close protection at all times.
He recalls the political turbulence a few years, when neither he nor his family could sleep and NACC headquarters were under military lockdown. At times, his wife and two children blamed him for making their lives complicated.
While he is thankful for his safekeeping, he remains cautious. Wherever he goes, Mr Vicha says he must remain on his guard.