PM denies meddling with NBTC
Prayut plays down audio clip speculation
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has dismissed speculation that he influenced lawmakers to overturn a list of 14 candidates put forward as prospective board members of the telecom regulator.
Doubts were raised after a leaked audio clip allegedly featured some lawmakers discussing the prime minister's dissatisfaction with the final list for the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).
The list was shot down in a National Legislative Assembly (NLA) vote on Thursday. The assembly, which was supposed to pick seven members of the board, claimed eight candidates on the list were unqualified.
The voices heard in the clip were reportedly speaking during a meeting of either an NLA committee scrutinising the list or NLA whips on Wednesday.
"He wanted to use the authority he had to reject them," one person can be heard saying.
Others said several of the candidates were linked to one power group within the NBTC, while others had ties to various political camps.
Gen Prayut refused to comment on the clip on Friday.
"I don't know. Whose voices are they?" he said.
"I have no explanation for this."
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said later that Gen Prayut believed the NLA's decision to reject the list was done at the discretion of lawmakers.
All of the more than 200 legislators are competent and cannot be forced or ordered to vote, the spokesman noted.
Referring to the clip, Lt Gen Sansern said the premier emphasised that he never gave any order in line with what was said in the clip.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon insisted no one in the government or the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ordered the NLA to make such a decision.
The new selection will be carried out in line with regulations, he added.
Meanwhile, NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said he would set up a panel to look into the audio file.
Mr Pornpetch rejected reports that it was recorded during a meeting of NLA whips, saying the session did not touch on the prime minister's views and the participants did not discuss what was recorded in the clip.
The clip was also unlikely to have come from a meeting of the selection committee, which completed its duties some time ago, according to the NLA president.
The probe will be expedited, the NLA chief said.
"I have no idea where it came from. We have to wait for the results of the investigation," said Mr Pornpetch.
"The discussion [in the clip] also touched on the panelists and the Supreme Court's president, who have all been affected and troubled by the clip. The investigation into this case must be done thoroughly."
If the file proves to be a fake, those behind it will be severely punished, he said.
The NLA will now return the overturned list to the selection committee, Mr Pornpetch said.
Somchai Sawaengkarn, an NLA member and secretary to the assembly's whip, affirmed the clip was not recorded at the whips' meeting.
The two-hour whips' meeting and the five-hour closed-door NLA session focused on problems with qualifications as some of the 14 candidates used to be employees, executives or shareholders in organisations dealing with broadcasting and telecom operations, he noted.
"I insist I did not receive any orders and I believe no one else did, either," Mr Somchai said.
NLA vice president Surachai Liangboonlertchai said yesterday after the list was turned down that the new selection process can begin immediately.
He said he was unsure whether the 14 people on the list would be eligible to apply again.
Responding to comments that the NLA is only duty-bound to select people from the list in line with Section 17 of the NBTC law, Mr Surachai said this loophole could be used to force lawmakers to only pick names from the list.
Accordingly, the law must be interpreted carefully while the the NLA tries to ensure justice is served, he noted.
He said it was a pity the closed-door meeting of the NLA's subcommittee checking on the qualifications of the candidates could not be made public.
In the meeting, he said, some members expressed concern about candidates' qualifications, which they said could lead to legal issues if they were picked.
Mr Surachai said the controversial audio file was not recorded from the whips' meeting as he was there and no one talked about what was said in the clip.
It remains unclear whether the clip is authentic, he added.
Responding to opinions that the law does not authorise the NLA to consider the validity of the candidates' qualification, Mr Surachai stressed that if lawmakers turn a blind eye to the matter and only pick the candidates, problems could arise in the future.
The court could rule against the NLA's practice that the lawmakers must be held accountable for being careless about the issue, he noted.
Legislator Wallop Tangkananurak said the NLA members had different views on the selection, which led to the vote, and the majority was in favour of rejecting the candidates. Mr Wallop said he accepted the NLA's decision.
NLA whip spokesman Jate Siratharanon also said the the clip unlikely originated from either the assembly debate or the whips' meeting.
An audio clip in Thai posted by www.manager.co.th records what is purported to be a converstin among lawmakers about the candidates for the NBTC.