NRSA plays down strategy bill worries

NRSA plays down strategy bill worries

Advocates deny reviving 'crisis panel'

Members of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) voted 164-6 for the proposed 20-year
Members of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) voted 164-6 for the proposed 20-year "national strategy plan" and harsh oversight. (File photo)

The controversial national strategy bill has won a majority in the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), as proponents brushed aside worries it grants too much power to a new committee overseeing the 20-year strategy.

During the NRSA meeting Tuesday in which members voted 164 to 6 to approve the bill, Pol Maj Yongyut Sarasombat, who led a NRSA committee to prepare it, insisted the strategy committee will only serve as an "X-ray scanner" looking for politicians and authorities who do not comply with the strategy.

The committee "has no direct power" to punish anybody as it can only ask state agencies to act against people who commit wrongdoing, he said. If politicians go against the strategy and cause subsequent damage, the committee will forward their cases to the Senate, Pol Maj Yongyut said.

Dishonest authorities will be probed by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) while state officials will face disciplinary action, he added.

According to the bill, the national strategy committee is made up of 25 people, including the prime minister, the NRSA chairman, and the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) chairman. The bill concerns mainly "the mechanics, not the essence," of the strategy, he said. It will be the responsibility of the panel to draft the first strategy, which will last 20 years.

The strategy is needed as it will deal with unfinished reform plans, suggested by the NRSA and others as proposals that will benefit the nation, Pol Maj Yongyut said.

However, some NRSA members questioned whether the strategy is really needed and whether the 25-member panel will be another version of the so-called "crisis panel", formally known as the National Committee on Reform and Reconciliation Strategy.

The crisis panel, which was earlier proposed by a previous constitution drafting committee led by law expert, Borwornsak Uwanno, was to comprise military and police top brass and would be empowered to seize executive and legislative power in time of  political crisis.

The proposal drew huge opposition as it was viewed as going against democracy and the draft charter of the Borwornsak committee was last year voted down by the National Reform Council, which was later replaced by the NRSA.

NRSA member Kasit Piromya said he was worried the strategy committee may not be different from the crisis panel because it seems to have more power than that of an elected government.

However, another bill proponent and NRSA member Kamnoon Sidhisamarn argued the committee will act as a state agency and it has no legislative, executive and judicial powers. More importantly, he said, it is not a crisis panel as it does not consist of military and police top brass and it cannot overrule the government or parliament during a crisis.

The panel headed by Pol Maj Yongyut wants the bill to be enacted this year and the Meechai Ruchupan-led Constitutional Drafting Committee to state the strategy in the draft charter.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wants the draft charter to stipulate that the government must follow the strategy and the national economic and social development plan, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Tuesday.

In another development, Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda warned members of the Association of Village and Tambon Chiefs of Thailand against a planned gathering today at the parliament.

The association is upset because the draft does not mention central and regional administrations in the chapter on local administration. Gen Anupong said the gathering is not appropriate in the current climate. He said they should make their concerns heard through other channels.

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