PM removes Somsak from MoJ post after feisty Thaksin stand

PM removes Somsak from MoJ post after feisty Thaksin stand

Somsak: Threatened Thaksin critics
Somsak: Threatened Thaksin critics

Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsutin's authority to supervise the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been shifted to Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga.

The shock move is thought to be the result of Mr Somsak's aggressive handling of questions raised over privileges allegedly offered to convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, according to a source.

The source revealed on Wednesday that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Monday signed order No 381/2566 to swap the authority previously granted to his deputies, namely Phumtham Wechayachai, Mr Somsak and Mr Pirapan, concerning their areas of supervision.

Under this order, Mr Phumtham, who is also the commerce minister, has been assigned to perform the duties of the prime minister on behalf of Mr Srettha when he is away, while Mr Somsak likewise has been assigned to assume the PM's authority to supervise the Ministry of Public Health -- which was previously granted to Mr Phumtham, said the source.

As for Mr Pirapan, under this order he assumes the PM's authority to supervise the Ministry of Justice when he is away, except for the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).

The order comes at a time when the Pheu Thai Party-led government and the Ministry of Justice are facing growing questions as to why Thaksin has been allowed to stay outside prison for more than four months. The government insists the affair is not undermining its popularity, though the public seems concerned about apparent double standards in the case.

The Department of Corrections (DoC) last week permitted Thaksin to continue receiving treatment at the Police General Hospital (PGH) after the end of the 120-day deadline set for him to return to prison. The decision has sparked calls for a probe into the department's transparency in handling Thaksin's case.

And while Mr Srettha and Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong have avoided answering questions raised over privileges allegedly offered to Thaksin and simply kept saying everything was in line with the regulations of the DoC and the PGH, Mr Somsak responded to the criticism in a more aggressive way.

He warned that the House committee on police affairs -- which is threatening to visit the PGH's premium ward on the 14th floor to see if Thaksin is indeed there and is seriously ill as claimed -- could end up facing a legal suit.

Mr Somsak also on Tuesday criticised the DoC and its officials for failing to respond clearly to those questions raised over its handling of the Thaksin case. He even accused the DoC of being full of too many officials who have secured their positions in the department simply because they have good connections, not because they are qualified to do their jobs, which explained why they weren't really capable of doing their jobs.

He insisted controversies surrounding the government's handling of Thaksin's case would never affect the government's stability as the DoC has a clear set of regulations to follow and all the department has to do is stick to them. Mr Somsak says he does not feel bad about having a new assignment. He told the media on Wednesday that he was glad and happy to work on any jobs he is assigned.

Responding to Mr Somsak's response to the DoC's handling of questions regarding the Thaksin case, former Democrat MP Watchara Phetthong on Wednesday sarcastically thanked Mr Somsak for telling the public the truth about the DoC being mostly filled with incapable officials who were given their jobs simply because they have good connections.

"He deserves credit for being a politician who never missed a chance of being awarded a cabinet position in up to 14 cabinets in a row now, and who is believed to be Thaksin's most trusted person," said Mr Watchara. "It must have been extremely frustrating for Mr Somsak -- who usually appears calm -- to have burst out that way in public," said Mr Watchara.

Mr Watchara also urged DoC officials and medical workers at the PGH who are handling of Thaksin's case to strictly follow the regulations of their organisation as the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) will one day want to inspect their role in this controversy.

The record of their work since Thaksin returned to Thailand on Aug 22 from years of self-imposed exile overseas will be scrutinised by the NACC, according to Mr Watchara.

This record includes documents supporting the decision by Nastee Thongplad, chief of Bangkok Remand Prison, to transfer Thaksin from the prison to the hospital, a few hours after he was admitted to the prison, said Mr Watchara. Those reports containing updates on Thaksin's health condition and treatments given to him while at the hospital will also be examined to prove whether Thaksin really is as ill as he claims, he said.

Prommin Lertsuridej, secretary-general of the PM, said if the government strictly follows laws and ensures the same standards apply to everyone, it should be fine. He was responding to a question of whether controversies surrounding the Thaksin case would jeopardise the government's stability.

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