Prime Minister Prayut has been cleared by the Constitutional Court of any wrongdoing in staying in army housing while being the prime minister.
His occupancy was allowed under a 2005 army regulation, which lets army chiefs stay on base after they retire if they continue to serve the country well, according to the unanimous ruling read out at the court in Bangkok on Wednesday afternoon.
The court said the regulation had come into effect before Gen Prayut was the army chief, and other former army commanders have also received the same benefits.
The court said Gen Prayut served the country well as army chief, and the army regulation allowed its former commanders to use such houses, and subsidised utility bills.
“When he became prime minister on Aug 24, 2014, the complainee [Gen Prayut] was also the army chief in active duty. He was therefore qualified to stay in the house in his capacity as the army chief. When he retired on Sept 30, 2014, he was still qualified to stay as a former army chief. A prime minister who had not been army chief could not have stayed at the house,” the court said in its ruling.
Being a prime minister is an important position and security for him and his family is important. The state must provide appropriate security and accommodation that is safe and offers privacy enables him to perform his duties for public benefits. It is therefore necessary to prepare accommodation for the country’s leader when Baan Phitsanulok is not ready, the court said.
The free utilities also do not constitute a conflict of interest since they are part of the welfare that comes with the housing.
For these reasons, the court ruled 9-0 the premiership of Gen Prayut does not terminate and he did not seriously violate the code of ethics.
Gen Prayut has stayed at the military house at the 1st Infantry Regiment on Phahon Yothin Road in Bangkok since shortly after he became army commander-in-chief in 2010.
An on-base guest house is free for qualified personnel and the army also subsidises utility and maintenance bills for the housing.
It has also been questioned whether Gen Prayut is entitled to household services provided by enlisted men, and if so, how many.
According to the army’s housing regulations, “a person who is no longer on active duty, regardless of the cause, must move from a military house within 180 days from the date he learns about such an order”.
In Gen Prayut’s case, the clock started ticking from Sept 30, 2014, when he retired.
Based on this regulation, Gen Prayut has not been qualified for such welfare benefits since April 1, 2015. However, the 2005 regulation allows former army chiefs to use a house if they continue to serve the country.
At least two other former army chiefs have been staying on the same base. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has been living at a foundation located there for 15 years, and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda has been staying in another guest house there for 11 years.
The case against the prime minister was raised shortly after the no-confidence debate early this year.
In one of its accusations during the debate, Pheu Thai, the largest opposition party, accused him of violating the 2017 constitution.
Sections 184(3) and 186 of the 2017 charter prohibit MPs, senators, cabinet ministers, including prime ministers, from accepting money or other benefits from a government agency, state agency or state enterprise in excess of what that agency gives to others in its normal operations.
Pheu Thai also accused Gen Prayut of breaching the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) law, which prohibits a state official from accepting assets or benefits worth more than 3,000 baht.
After the debate, the party filed a complaint against Gen Prayut through the House speaker in March and the Constitutional Court accepted it for deliberation in June.
Gen Prayut admitted to the court in writing that he had stayed at a military house instead of his own house or Baan Phitsanulok, the official prime minister’s residence.
He explained that he had not moved to Phitsanulok House, the prime minister's official residence, because it was under repair and maintenance. Besides, his security team advised him to stay at the military house, which they said offered better security.
Former army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompon submitted an explained in writing to the Constitutional Court shortly after the court accepted the case for consideration. In his letter, he said Gen Prayut stayed at a guest house on base, not at a general military house, and since he had served the country well, he was qualified to stay on under the army’s regulations.
According to Gen Apirat, military housing consisted of general housing for officers based on their positions and guest houses for the top brass such as generals, the “five army tigers” (deputy chief, two assistant chiefs and chief-of-staff), as well as ex-army chiefs and former five army tigers.
Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae, the incumbent army chief, told the court that under army regulations, subsidies for electricity, water supply and other accommodation expenses were at the discretion of the army.
If the court had not ruled in his favour, Gen Prayut would have had to vacate the office of prime minister, resulting in all cabinet ministers losing their jobs. They would have remained on as a caretaker government until a new government was formed.
If the court had ruled he seriously violated the code of ethics, he would also have been banned from politics for two years.
A House and Senate vote would have chosen the 30th prime minister from the remaining candidates on the lists submitted by parties before the 2019 general election - Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan (Pheu Thai), Chadchart Sittipunt (Pheu Thai), Chaikasem Nitisiri (Pheu Thai), Abhisit Vejjajiva (Democrat) and Anutin Charnvirakul (Bhumjaithai).
2005 Army regulations come into effect, allowing former army chiefs who continue to serve the country well to stay in military guest houses. Gen Prawit Wongsuwon was army chief at the time.
2010 Army regulations requiring retired officers to vacate military housing within 180 days comes into effect. Gen Anupong Paochinda was army chief at the time.
Oct 1, 2010 Gen Prayut becomes army commander. He moved to the guest house on base in 2012.
Sept 30, 2014 Gen Prayut retires as army commander. He continues to stay in the house.
2017 New constitution comes into effect. Sections 184(3) and 186 prohibits MP, senators and ministers (including prime ministers) from accepting benefits from a state agency apart from “what other people receive from it in its normal operations”.
February 2020 Opposition raises the issue at the no-confidence debate.
March 2020 Pheu Thai MPs file complaint against Gen Prayut for violating Section 184 of the charter, Section 128 of the NAAC law prohibiting a state official from accepting other benefits worth more than 3,000 baht and 2010 code of ethics for politicians.
June 11, 2020 Constitution Court accepts the case for deliberation.
Dec 2, 2020 Constitutional Court clears Gen Prayut of the accusations.