Stop bickering and start working, anti-corruption panel told
Members of the House Anti-Corruption and Misconduct Committee should stop their constant bickering and start doing their job, critics say.
Months have passed since the panel was formed to tackle rampant graft in the country, but little has been done due to the unending tit-for-tat squabbling between its chairman Pol Gen Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, who hails from the opposition camp, and panel members Pareena Kraikupt and Sira Jenjakha.
The two sides have been bickering over all sorts of things, from little issues like seating arrangements and the use of mobile phones in the meeting room to an order issued by Pol Gen Sereepisuth demanding that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha explain his incomplete inauguration oath in person.
Pol Gen Sereepisuth, also the leader of Seri Ruam Thai party, has said from the beginning that he wants to keep the issue of Gen Prayut's failure to recite the entire oath during the swearing-in ceremony alive.
He claims the panel has the power to summon the premier to help with its inquiries. Government MPs Pareena and Sira, however, insist the issue cannot be raised as it is beyond the panel's jurisdiction.
Instead, Mr Sira has been accusing Pol Gen Sereepisuth of abusing his authority, pointing out the premier had been endorsed by His Majesty and the Constitutional Court has refused to consider the issue.
"Actually, Pol Gen Sereepisuth doesn't deserve to stay on as committee chairman or member," the Palang Pracharath MP said.
Mr Sira, along with other Palang Pracharath MPs, also submitted a motion to the House demanding Pol Gen Sereepisuth, a former national police chief, be removed from the committee.
Meanwhile, Ms Pareena, also a Palang Pracharath MP, submitted a separate petition with the House secretary-general demanding the panel chairman be investigated on seven issues.
At a recent meeting, a heated argument erupted when Ms Pareena asked why her petition was not included in the meeting's agenda, since it had been forwarded to the committee by the Office of the Secretary-General of the House.
Sereepisuth: Targeting PM
Pol Gen Sereepisuth claimed the petition did not have her signature, though she insisted she had signed the papers.
The two spent 15 minutes exchanging strong words until Pol Gen Sereepisuth shot back, saying "don't be a meddler". This comment drew an immediate rebuke from the woman, who declared: "Don't use low-class language with me!"
Pol Gen Sereepisuth retorted: "Because you are low class!" Ms Pareena then demanded that the committee chairman withdraw his words, but he refused.
In the course of the argument, Mr Sira also demanded Pol Gen Sereepisuth withdraw his comments, asking how a respected man like him can use such crude words with a woman.
The former police chief abruptly adjourned the meeting and instructed parliament officials to keep a recording of the incident so he can file defamation charges against the two MPs.
Pareena: Questioning authority
With this constant bickering, some critics are concerned the committee will not be able to do its real job of addressing the problem of corruption.
Mana Nimitmongkol, director of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, said the panel members should show respect to the public by being more sincere in tackling the country's most serious problem.
"Thailand has not had any parliamentary mechanisms to combat graft since the now-dissolved National Council for Peace and Order was formed. The country ranks 101 out of 180 in the latest Corruption Perception Index, which is not good," he said.
"So we set up an anti-corruption committee and people placed hopes on it to deal with the problem, but so far, it has failed to meet expectations."
Mr Mana and his organisation last week condemned the panel for its problems and even questioned the qualifications of some of its members. In a statement, it said that some members' eligibility was questionable owing to their track record and conduct, though it did not name any names.
"Political parties should ensure that the people representing them are capable, mature and socially acceptable with a clean sheet," the group said.
It also said every member of the committee should be dedicated to the job of tackling graft and should attach importance to upholding good governance and respecting the rules.
"This committee looks more and more like a circus every time it meets. If the quarrels between the head and some committee members continue like this, it is very unlikely they will achieve anything," Mr Mana said.
Sira: On the government's side
Police-officer-turned-academic Krisanaphong Poothakool said he was also disappointed by how little progress the committee has made since it was set up.
"Fighting against corruption should be their priority, not fighting among themselves," he said.
Pol Lt Col Krisanaphong, who works on criminology at Rangsit University, called on both sides to leave behind their disagreements, keep politics out of the room and work together harmoniously because corruption is an important problem that needs to be solved urgently.
"If disputes cannot be settled, their parties should step in and replace the problematic individuals," he said.
Veera Somkwamkid, secretary-general of the People's Network against Corruption, said he believes Ms Pareena and Mr Sira should be held responsible for the ongoing problems and be removed from the panel.
"It's clear they were sent by the Palang Pracharath Party to cause problems, so the issue of Gen Prayut's incomplete oath is not addressed. Their aim is to protect the premier and his government," Mr Veera said.
He added that if the Palang Pracharath Party really wanted to show its sincerity in solving the corruption problem, it must remove the two MPs from the panel, because the public is frustrated by their behaviour.
He also slammed Ms Pareena and Mr Sira for trying to remove Pol Gen Sereepisuth from his chairman's post, saying they should respect the voice of the majority.
''Pareena and Sira were calling on opposition parties to respect the voice of the majority when they voted for Gen Prayut to be PM, but now they don't want to do that themselves. They should show their spirit by stepping down," Mr Veera said.
There are 35 standing committees, each of which consists of 15 members sent by parties from both the government and the opposition.