Conflict of interest bill reaches NLA

Conflict of interest bill reaches NLA

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has accepted the conflict of interest bill for consideration.

It voted 150-0 on Thursday to approve the legislation for the first reading. 

Known unofficially as the “four-generation bill”, the legislation applies to all public and political officials, those of state enterprises and public organisations; as well as people from the private sector who sit on committees in the public sector.

It also applies to their spouses or partners, so long as they are proven to have lived together, and four generations -- descendants; parents; spouses of children; and siblings and adopted children.

All of these people may not do anything that may constitute conflicts of interest with the public or accepts gifts, souvenirs, money, properties or any benefits of monetary value, except on traditional occasions to be defined in organic laws.

Public officials who left office no less than two years are also banned from being advisers, board members, agents, employees or holders of other positions in the companies previously under their supervision.

They may not do anything that may give others access to confidential information they are privy to when they are in the positions or give that information for their own benefits or for corruption.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told the lawmakers on Thursday the bill prohibited politicians and public officials from having a stake, both directly and indirectly, in public interest through their positions. 

Punishments under the bill are a jail term up to five years or a fine not more than 100,000 baht, or both. If a state official commits the offence, the penalty doubles.

The law is in line with the United Nations Convention against Corruption 2003 which Thailand ratified.

NLA members viewed the bill was too broad and the scope of relatives and corruption could lead to bullying or blackmailing.

Some fear the bill could discourage decent officials from working to the fullest of their ability for fear of breaking the law.

The ban on former public officials to hold positions in the companies previously under their supervision may infringe on their right and reduce the chance of getting competent people to help develop the private sector after retirement, especially when pensions are small. It may also discourage young generations from serving, they said.

The NLA set up a 29-member panel to vet the bill within 15 days and proceed on it within 60 days.

Thailand has had provisions on conflicts of interest since the 1997 constitution but it applied only to four types of politicians -- MPs, senators, ministers and prime ministers.

An effort was made during the Surayud Chulanont government to draft a similar law applicable to seven generations, including in-laws, spouses’ parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, nieces/nephews and grandchildren. Due to its extensive scope, it faced challenges and was rejected in the third parliamentary reading for a lack of quorum.

Mr Wissanu said earlier he was aware of the concerns about the law.

“At a cabinet meeting, we were asked who would want to serve with this law? I’d say if we’re determined to work for the people, we must be accountable.

“If we take it by the letter, intervening in transfers is punishable, so are using a garuda-emblem envelope to put money in to make merit and charging your cell phones at the office.”

Mr Wissanu agreed the latter two examples were too much and an organic law was needed to give a clear scope and details.

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