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Expert warns of dangers of Article 44

Posted by pakin On January - 25 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Move to vest absolute power with PM could have long-term effects

The post-coup Article 44 was included in the 2014 interim charter with the aim of giving the prime minister the option of wielding absolute power in a bid to find solutions for issues of importance.

But given its absoluteness, critics have viewed the use of it with scepticism, and its fruitfulness remains in question in the eyes of those watchdogs and individuals affected by its application.

Article 44 grants absolute power to Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha in his capacity as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order. It is an absolute authority in ordering and retraining people or performing any act, whether legislative, executive or judicial.

Enacted after the lifting of martial law last April, Article 44 has been evoked by Prayut to deal with a variety of issues, from reorganising lottery prices to removing officers alleged of corruption.

“Article 44 is [designed] to grant the government the authority to deal with problems which that could hardly be solved or solved at a slow pace [if tackled using regular laws],” said Prayut last June. “That’s why [a special] law is needed. Some problems need urgent solutions and some need integrated law enforcement for solutions.”

As monitored by The Nation and the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform, Prayut invoked this power 54 times between December 2014 and January 20. Three orders were issued in the name of national security and nine were issued to enforce laws and implement measures to reorganise society.

There was also an order to set up a new agency, two orders to improve the economy, seven orders to adjust administrative processes and 28 orders to appoint, shift or suspend officers.

Despite the government’s effort to do this in a legal manner, there are doubts over whether the practice truly aims to accelerate solutions and is merely designed to allow the premier to end critical issues. For instance, instead of seeking a royal endorsement as usually practised, Prayut signed order No 26/2015 last September to revoke the police rank of the former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

Many people are concerned this absolute power could be wielded without discussions with relevant parties, like when Prayut signed order No 17/2015 last May to declare five special economic zones that resulted in the acquisition of land in the designated areas.

The order was declared out of the blue, said Chompunut Kraekonwong, whose mother’s crop fields in Tak’s Mae Sot district have been expropriated following the order. Chompunut’s mother and some 90 other farmers can still make a living in the fields, but they have no idea when that will end.

“We have learnt that the authorities will turn our farmlands into industrial districts,” Chompunut said “But we were never asked if we want that to happen.”

Local people would gain little to nothing from the industrial zones, she explained. She said that as a borderland, the economically advanced Mae Sot would be flooded with Myanmar workers on one-day entry visas once the SEZ was activated. Increasing construction would affect fertile lands, which locals inherited from generation to generation, she said, adding that locals were concerned.

Chompunut said the committee for the Mae Sot Special Economy Zone had promised to provide between Bt7,000-Bt12,000 per rai as compensation, but had decided to rely on compensation figures calculated by the Irrigation Department. The exact amount of compensation remained undecided, she added.

“No matter how much it is, it will never be a substitute for the land that has fed our lives,” she said.

Chompunut and other affected locals have written to several governmental agencies, including three letters toPrayut via the Damrongdhama Centre, and were told the matter would be reconsidered by relevant agencies. “And we’ve seen no progress so far,” she said, adding: “We can’t see how the Article [44] will ever benefit the country. [The authorities] can stimulate the economy in other ways without affecting people. We should also be the ones contributing for such development.”

The phrase “out of the blue” was also used to describe the issuance of order No 21/2015 that resulted in Lt-General Pongsakorn Rodchompoo being dismissed as deputy secretary-general to the National Security Council (NSC) on July 23. He was transferred to an inactive post as an adviser to the PM.

“Till today, I don’t know why I was transferred,” Pongsakorn said. “At the NSC, I was working on terrorism issues, such as pushing for a more integrated immigration data base in the region. But with my current position, I can do nothing further on that.”

Now a subcommittee member in the drawing up of a 20-year national strategy and an adviser to the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) committee on local administration, Pongsakorn admitted that his current positions involved about only 20 per cent of his full capability.

“I feel it is a pity. There are not many NSC officers capable of working on terrorism issues, and now there is not even a senior [officer] pushing them,” he said. “There should have been discussions with officers over where they would have liked to be reassigned.”

Legal academic Ekachai Chainuvati warned that using Article 44 in such a manner ran the risk of turning it into an abusive power as it could not be reviewed judicially.

The power was also deemed dangerous to any person who wielded it, Ekachai said. “As Prayut has a soldier background, his character tends to favour quick, clear, and immediate decisions. But it’s impossible forPrayut, and everyone else, to know everything,” he said.

He continued: “I believe he receives proposals from agencies, but it’s he who has to take sole responsibility when issuing orders.”

Despite Prayut‘s best intentions, an academic said, Article 44 might not be the best solution to deal with national-agenda matters. For instance, the public may believe it helped curb corruption, but there were existing options to solve problems without the need for such power, the academic said.

Ekachai said Article 44 could not be used alone to tackle national reform, as the process required a broader consensus from all sections of society.

The impact of the article could even stretch beyond Prayut‘s reach, he said, as its impact would remain until there was a new law or order to revoke it, and Prayut may no longer be premier.

The use of the article showed that society was tolerant of state authority, he said. It also indicated that society accepted “an end justifies the means, no matter what it is”. “To simplify that, it means that it is acceptable to do whatever [is decided] to achieve desirable goals. As a legal academic, I can’t accept that.”

PM hands deadline to ailing firms

Posted by pakin On January - 19 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Seven ailing state enterprises have been given a March deadline to propose their revised rehabilitation plans after they failed to meet all the requirements and targets set by the government last year.

The State Enterprises Policy Committee (SEPC), chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, met Monday to evaluate the seven state enterprises’ one-year performance and implementation of the 2015 rehabilitation plans.

The state enterprises include the embattled Thai Airways International (THAI), the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Bank of Thailand (SME Bank), the Islamic Bank of Thailand, TOT Plc and CAT Telecom.

“The committee has seen some progress and improvement since the implementation of the plans but some key issues have not been resolved and some requirements have not been met,” said Ekniti Nitithanprapas, director of the State Enterprises Policy Office.

They are required to revise the plans to make them more concrete and propose them to the committee by March, he said.

Gen Prayut instructed the committee to stop giving “yellow card” and “red card” warnings to executives of state enterprises who failed to improve their organisations’ standings as these measures may put too much pressure on them.

Those who receive red cards are transferred from their posts.

The committee then resolved to give scores of “outstanding”, “good”, “fair” and “should improve” to executives instead.

Mr Ekniti gave details of each state enterprise’s evaluation.

Last year, THAI failed to meet its target of cost reduction.

The company could only cut expenses by 7.26 billion baht, compared to the 10-billion-baht target.

The national flag carrier is required to propose a plan to reduce sales agents and increase online ticket sales.

The company is also required to delay the purchase of unnecessary aircraft.

The debt-ridden SRT is required to make more clear in its plan the aim to increase the role of the private sector in its investment projects to reduce the state’s financial burden.

The agency has been ordered to present its sources of funding whenever it seeks cabinet approval for investment projects.

The committee reiterated the need for the SRT to find private investors for the development of its Red Line and the extension of the Airport Rail Link to Don Mueang Airport.

Mr Ekniti said the SRT has made substantial progress in dual-track development and has already opened bids for two projects.

As for the BMTA, he said the agency is required to revise a plan to purchase new buses and to accelerate the bidding for 489 NGV-fuelled buses by March.

The loss-ridden Islamic Bank of Thailand is required to speed up its plan to seek business partners and reduce non-performing loans.

The SME Bank is also required to reduce its existing 20-billion-baht non-performing loans.

Meanwhile, TOT and CAT are required to make their roles clearer in the telecom industry and their business direction amid mounting competition.

Mr Ekniti applauded the TOT for its successful reduction of expenses by 10 billion baht last year, much higher than the target of 6.87 billion baht.

Meanwhile, the SEPC approved in principle a draft bill for state enterprise supervision paving the way for the establishment of the “superholding” organisation to oversee potential state enterprises.

Prasarn Trairatvorakul, chairman of SRPC’s subcommittee overseeing the establishment of the National State Enterprise Corporation, known as the superholding corporation, said the corporation would be 100% under the Finance Ministry.

It will act as a shareholder of 12 state enterprises which have been corporatised such as the Airports of Thailand, PTT Plc and MCOT Plc, said Mr Prasarn, the former Bank of Thailand governor.

Under the bill, the 15-member corporation board consists of five people from the government, five civil servants and five experts.

“State enterprises are national assets so it is impossible for the government to be totally uninvolved in them but we will find some mechanisms for checks and balances,” he said.

However, the bill required accountability of the government if it caused any damage due to any intervention.

Also on Monday, Prime Minister Prayut insisted that the draft bill is aimed at reforming state enterprises to boost their efficiency, not to privatise them.

The bill seeks to improve performance of the boards of more than 56 state enterprises. Of these, seven are in urgent need of revamping, such as the SRT. These state enterprises have never before been reformed and their problems have remained unsolved, he said.

Gen Prayut also said some problems cannot be solved through punishment or dismissals, adding that some of the existing members of state enterprise boards should be given a chance.

Meanwhile, a source at THAI said it is considering resuming Bangkok-Seoul-Los Angeles flights, halted on Oct 26 last year, following the global oil price slump.

PM says govt ready to cooperate with the OIC

Posted by pakin On January - 13 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha told Iyad Ameen Madani, secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, yesterday that his government was willing to cooperate with the OIC on all matters with the exception of violence in the deep South.

Thailand has expertise in various fields such as healthcare, agriculture, food security and the halal industry, Government Spokesman Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak quoted Prayut as telling the OIC chief after the meeting.

Meanwhile, Madani praised the government for its efforts to solve the conflicts in the predominantly Muslim Southern region via political means and dialogue.

Prayut told Madani that his government had a dual-track strategy to promote development in the area as well as promote peace talks with the insurgents.

The peace process has three phases: building trust, creating a code of conduct to cut down on confrontations, and building a consensus around the road map to peace, Weerachon said.

Prayut told reporters before meeting the OIC chief that he was not aware that the Mara Patani group had met with Madani in Malaysia to discuss peace solutions for the deep South. The Mara Patani group surfaced to explore possibilities of peace negotiations with the government recently.

Thai authorities are struggling to contain violence in the deep South that flared up in 2004, claiming more than 5,000 lives since. The OIC has occasionally criticised previous Thai governments for their treatment of the Muslim minority in the South.

“I’ve already had principles in my head. Don’t talk to me if you don’t have any principles. We can’t manage the issue on our own,” Prayut said. “How many lives have been lost [because of the insurgency]? No amount of money is worth their lives.”

The two sides also discussed the issue of Rohingya people who have been trafficked to Thailand frequently over the past years. The government promised to tackle the problem at its root cause and will take human rights into account, Weerachon said.

PM wants to tackle root of problems

Posted by pakin On December - 25 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday he had staged a coup in the hope of bringing about true and effective national reform after the country had been riding a political roller-coaster for 83 years.

The PM made the remarks at the Government House while leading the five major agencies in reviewing the government’s one-year performance.

He said the main objective of the announcement was to make all agencies understand the root causes of the problems facing the country and what would be their short, medium and long-term solutions. He expected all conflicts to be resolved.

The PM said he would touch on topics for the future and not those of the past, which could be handled by the justice system.

Prayut said he would like to give the public some ideas about what his government would do for the remaining one year and six months from January next year till July 2017.

He said the situation facing the country was “not normal” because of external factors. “We are being watched by international organisations. There are groups that try to distort the truth. Everyone is demanding democracy, freedom and liberty. I ask if this is possible? We have been on this path for 83 years and faced many coups. So I want true reform for the future of our children,” he said.

To achieve reform objectives, the PM said the management of all ministries must be integrated. “We need to link and integrate every ministry’s activities. I have already come up with the plan,” he said.

The six sectors that must be reformed were: security, the economy, social sector, foreign affairs, administration, law and the justice system.

The reforms he envisioned aimed to strengthen the country’s economic structure, improve human life quality through a reformed social sector, move in a proactive manner in terms of foreign affairs, and focus on a top-down management of the country’s administration. To reform the justice system, the PM wanted to improve agencies that enforced the law.

Prayut said the government had completed its first stage of reform. It had lasted one year and had been met with heavy criticism and had failed to bring about real reform. “Many countries take many years to reform and have not completed their mission. We have [held office] so far for one year – but we are asked: what have we done?” Prayut said.

He said although the country’s economic indicators showed a negative picture, it was only fair to look at other countries around us and the world economy.

He said the government had mapped out a 20-year strategic reform plan and five-year economic development plans till 2036. “New governments taking over should continue these plans to create continuity. We are taking care of 70 million people and not just people in political parties,” he said.