Defence 'off-budget' spend too opaque: FFP

Defence 'off-budget' spend too opaque: FFP

Thanathorn: Urges transparency
Thanathorn: Urges transparency

Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit on Sunday called on the Defence Ministry to disclose details about its off-budget spending for transparency and accountability.

In delivering what was described as a public lecture at the FFP head office, Mr Thanathorn said that unlike other agencies the Defence Ministry was apparently exempt from providing details about off-budget spending which in 2018 amounted to 18.6 billion baht.

"When I raised this point, the armed forces came out to defend how it was spent. But the issue here is transparency and accountability. We didn't say spending it is wrong. But transparency is the key here," he said.

The lecture, "Dissecting the military budget", came a few days after the FFP leader resigned from the House extraordinary committee vetting spending plans for the 2020 fiscal year.

According to Mr Thanathorn, the ministry's regulations allow the ministry to manage its funds under its own set of regulations. He said as a "former MP" he could not "see" where the off-budget funds were allocated and how they were spent, so it was impossible for the general public to examine this sum.

The FFP leader questioned the transparency of revenue earned by the armed forces from granting concessions to private firms to operate radio and television stations over past decades. He said the armed forces seemed to generate revenue for sporting businesses like boxing stadiums and horse race tracks but there was little information about these ventures.

He also touched on the issue of information operations and criticised the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) over its security plan which is said to change the attitudes of children. Mr Thanathorn stressed the importance of military reforms and pledged to campaign for the passage of a draft law to terminate mandatory military conscription.

Thitiworada, who attended the lecture, said on Sunday she felt the Defence Ministry received more funds than it should and military spending should be scaled down. She also voiced support for the FFP's call for an end to the military draft.

Chanchanok, a student, said she attended the lecture because she wanted to know more about defence spending and was curious why the military budget was off-limits. "I think spending of taxpayers' money should be transparent. It's like we're trying to find a needle in a haystack. I don't understand why it has to be so secret," she said.

Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng, Isoc spokesman, on Sunday defended the Isoc's plan, saying Mr Thanathorn must have misunderstood the issue because it had nothing to do with politics. He said the programme was designed for the southernmost provinces and aimed at promoting better understanding about security issues in the restive South so children would not be misled by ill-intended groups.

Meanwhile, the Royal Gazette has published the ministry's announcement involving recruitment of those on the military reserve lists to work as temporary military officers. The announcement, signed by Defence Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Nov 1, instructs the armed forces to recruit those in the reserve force for temporary jobs in national security or peace-keeping.

Defence spokesman Khongcheep Tantravanich said the announcement is part of reform involving personnel management under the Military Reserve Act.

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