Rome wasn't built in a day

Rome wasn't built in a day

High-flying Move Forward MP explains party's 2-year odyssey to bring traffickers to justice

Move Forward Party MP and deputy secretary-general Rangsiman Rome
Move Forward Party MP and deputy secretary-general Rangsiman Rome

Move Forward Party (MFP) MP and deputy secretary-general Rangsiman Rome thrust himself into the spotlight yet again when he raised the issue regarding the trafficking of Rohingya refugees during a general debate in parliament on Feb 18.

He pointed to the controversy surrounding Pol Maj Gen Paween Pongsirin, formerly the country's lead investigator in human trafficking, during the debate.

Pol Maj Gen Paween is known for his probe into a Rohingya trafficking network in the South in the wake of the discovery of the mass graves of Rohingya migrants near the Thai-Malaysian border in Songkhla's Padang Besar district in 2015.

The probe led to the prosecution of suspects including several government officials and military officers. Among them was Lt Gen Manas Kongpan, a high-ranking military adviser to the government.

Lt Gen Manas was handed a 27-year jail term, later increased to 82 years, for his role in trafficking Rohingya migrants. He died of a heart attack in June last year while serving his sentence.

During the debate, Mr Rangsiman claimed that Pol Maj Gen Paween was under pressure from the police and military after the investigation began.

Pol Maj Gen Paween quit the police force and fled to Australia six years ago out of fear for his life, after his probe implicated "influential" people.

In the debate, Mr Rangsiman said there was also an "ill motive" behind the Royal Thai Police's rejection of Pol Maj Gen Paween's request for a review of his transfer to the deep South.

Pol Maj Gen Paween refused a transfer to the far South, claiming the area was under the direct control of army officers who were suspects in his investigation.

Born in Phuket on May 31, 1992, Mr Rangsiman graduated from Thammasat University's Faculty of Law. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at the faculty.

He shot to fame as a political activist following the May 22, 2014 coup, campaigning for democracy at universities and on the national level, with other fellow activists.

He applied to be a member of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party (FFP) on Oct 27, 2018, and went on to become a party list MP after the 2019 general election. After the dissolution of the FFP, Mr Rangsiman and other 53 MPs moved to the MFP, the reincarnation of the FFP.

During previous debates in parliament, he often hogged the limelight as he took aim at issues related to graft in the police force, particularly the alleged buying of police positions.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Rome said the scourge of human trafficking has persisted in Thailand for years, but the government has failed to make significant efforts to tackle the problem.

Thailand's downgrade to the Tier 2 Watch List on the US Trafficking in Persons Report has underscored such failure, Mr Rangsiman said.

He has been keen to delve deeply into human trafficking networks and find out what caused Pol Maj Gen Paween to flee to Australia.

"But it is not easy to look for the jigsaw pieces and put them together. It is a time-consuming process," Mr Rangsiman said.

The issue of human trafficking was previously raised by another MFP MP, Pakornwut Udompipatskul, during a debate in parliament in 2020.

"We gathered information for two years since that debate and decided that there was enough information to be presented in parliament. We wanted to let people know that the human trafficking network is more complicated than many think.

"There is more to it than meets the eye and what happened to Pol Maj Gen Paween was appalling when the jigsaw was put back together," Mr Rangsiman said.

He said he believed there must be some "big fish" involved in the Rohingya trafficking network in the South and he was determined to expose those influential figures.

"From my experience, Thai officials actually have a good nose for detecting nefarious activities. It is not because they have no capabilities, but they are reluctant to do it," Mr Rangsiman said.

He admitted that MPs in the opposition camp are not sufficiently equipped to pursue and capture wrongdoers, so they have to rely on honest officials to support efforts to combat human trafficking.

"We are now enlisting the support of many decent civil servants. We will make the most use of the tools available to expand an investigation into human trafficking and things that happened to Pol Maj Gen Paween," he said.

"The [human trafficking] issue is a reflection of Thai bureaucracy. This does not mean all civil servants are bad, but it's all about the system in which some tend to grovel to those in power and vested interests," Mr Rangsiman said.

He also expects that a bill criminalising torture and political disappearances, which passed the third and final reading in the House of Representatives last Wednesday, will also help protect people from inhumane acts and treatment.

Under the bill, the statute of limitations of a case lasts up to 40 years, he added.

He said the trafficking of Rohingya migrants also involves traffickers torturing them and forcing them to write to their families back home in Myanmar asking them to pay a ransom to secure their freedom.

Commenting on the political situation, Mr Rangsiman said that either an early House dissolution or the premier's resignation are all possible.

A no-confidence debate will also be another factor that will expose the rifts and vulnerabilities within the coalition government and the prime minister may not be able to control coalition MPs, forcing him to dissolve the House and call an election, he said.

The general election can be held even though the bills to amend the organic law on political parties and the law on the election of MPs are still being debated by parliament. The constitution allows an election to be held under the existing laws if the proposed amendments are yet to be enacted in time, Mr Rangsiman said.

As for the MFP, he expressed confidence the party will grow further, saying the party will live up to the expectations of the taxpayers who made donations to it.

Regarding whether the MFP will be able to form a government in the near future, he said: "I don't aspire that far yet. But I think the party will grow bigger for sure.

"Of course, our ultimate goal is to form a government, but we just entered politics. It is like we are just a new business start-up, and it will not be easy to suddenly emerge as a dominant player in the market," he said.

He also said the MFP will only ally itself with parties that share similar principles -- pushing for democracy, charter amendments and military reform -- which are the pledges made by the MFP in the previous election.

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