Stumblin’ Bumblin’ and Fumblin’
By Sarayuth Chotechompupong
If you don’t live in the Kingdom, you might get the impression that since the red-shirt protests reached their violent conclusion four months ago things have settled down to stability and normalcy.
Well, “normal” and “stable” are often relative concepts in Thailand, but this week has seen a number of events pop up that show that the government is struggling… often with itself.
You may or may not be aware that Thailand does not have nationwide 3G service. In spite of years of planning, no 3G licenses have been issued to mobile phone operators in the Kingdom. That was set to change this week, when three companies were invited to participate in a high-profile and hi-tech auction of two 3G licenses. The auction was planned to begin on Monday.
But there are some people who are opposed to this development. Two weeks ago the labor union representing the workers of CAT Telecom — the Thai state-owned telecommunications company that owns Thailand’s international telecommunications infrastructure including its international gateways, satellite and submarine cable networks connections – went to court seeking to stop the auction, fearing dramatic job losses in the wake of the 3G rollout. Their petition was denied on the basis that the union and employees would not be directly damaged by the auction, therefore they had no standing to bring suit.
The union then pressed the directors of CAT to go to court, and the directors agreed.
Suddenly you had the unusual situation of a State-owned telecom company going to court to stop the government from moving forward with a plan to move Thailand forward in the telecom arena. Effectively you had the State suing itself in court.
In this case, CAT won. At least they won a temporary victory with an injunction to stop the auction until the High Court can rule on whether or not the auction is legal.
The reasoning behind the injunction was explained in a recent Bangkok Post article:
“CAT Telecom insisted the NTC’s licensing authority was based on the out-of-date 1997 constitution. The 2007 charter gave the authority to hand out licences to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), which has yet to be formed.”
Basically, CAT is arguing that the NTC, which was organized under the old constitution which was abrogated by the coup-makers of 2006, does not have the authority to issue the 3G licenses. Under the current constitution, put into place in 2007, that authority belongs to the NBTC, which has never been formed.
This leaves the entire question of the future of 3G in Thailand completely up in the air, which is where it has been for several years now.
Another outcome of the tangle of laws resulting from the coup four years ago is the current disarray at the Office of the Auditor General, where the former (or is it current?) Auditor General, Jaruvan Maintaka, insists she still has a legal right to head the office, while her deputy, Pisit Leelawichiropas, has laid claim as caretaker of the top job.
This mess started when K. Jaruvan turned 65 years old back in July. Everyone expected her to retire, but she didn’t.
Why not? Well, the reason is that K. Jaruvan says that she doesn’t believe there is any provision under the existing law to replace her, and she feels that she could be sued for dereliction if she failed to carry out her duties.
More from the Bangkok Post:
“The question arose because a bill covering the selection of the auditor-general and the State Audit Commission has not been approved by the Senate….
Without the law in place, the selection of a new auditor-general could not go ahead. The state auditor has asked the Council of State to interpret the bill’s status.
Khunying Jaruvan has refused to quit despite the fact she reached the mandatory retirement age on July 5.
Council of State secretary-general Porntip Jala yesterday said Announcement No.29, issued by the 2006 coup makers led by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, stated the auditor-general at that time would continue in the job until Sept 30, 2007, after which a new auditor-general had to be chosen within 90 days.”
Since no new Auditor-General has been named, K. Jaruvan has decided that she must stay on and take care of her duties.
This turned into a fiasco recently, according to a report in the Bangkok Post:
The problem is that her deputy, K. Pisit, sees it differently. He says that since his (former?) boss has reached the mandatory retirement age, he is now the acting Auditor-General, and he seems to be intent on carrying out those duties.
“The wrangle over the leadership at the Office of the Auditor-General has descended into farce as rival leaders grappled with a chair and a microphone while trying to take centre stage at an executive meeting.
The meeting fiasco yesterday reflected the difficulties faced by the agency as the leadership dispute continues.
Former auditor-general Jaruvan Maintaka, who insists she still has a legal right to head the office, and her deputy, Pisit Leelawichiropas, who has laid claim as caretaker of the top job, physically fought to grab a chair and a microphone during a meeting of about 40 executives and 20 staff.
The incident brought the monthly meeting to an end even before it had really started.
Mr Pisit said he called the meeting to wrap up issues in preparation for the arrival of the new fiscal year next month.
While he was sitting in the chairman’s seat, Khunying Jaruvan reportedly abruptly turned up, approached him and slammed files of documents on to the table. Witnesses said she tried to push him from the chair and grabbed a microphone from his hand.
“She hit my shoulders several times, saying she wanted to take the chairman’s role,” Mr Pisit said.
“The meeting could not start so I decided to leave,” he said, adding Khunying Jaruvan continued the meeting with “her staff”. Officials who agreed to report to him left the room, he said.
Someone then cut off the power to the room leaving her team working in the dark, he said.”
When the current government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came to power, one of its stated objectives was to improve relations with Saudi Arabia, which had been strained for some time.
This week saw that objective slip a little further away with the recent promotion of Pol Lt-Gen Somkid Boonthanom from commissioner of Provincial Police of Region 5 to assistant national police chief.
Why would that harm relations with Saudi Arabia, you ask?
Because Pol Lt-Gen Somkid is under indictment in Thailand for alleged involvement in the unsolved disappearance of Saudi businessman Mohammed al-Ruwaili in Bangkok 20 years ago.
The Saudi authorities were not impressed with this guy being promoted, and they have complained. Loudly and longly.
The Bangkok Post, on the 19th of September, carried a story with a headline that read, “PM meets ‘ill-informed’ Saudi envoy”
Here are some key excerpts from that news report:
“Mr Abhisit met with Saudi charge d’affaires Nabil Hussein Ashri at Ban Phitsanulok.
He explained to Mr Ashri that under Thai law, the senior policeman’s promotion was appropriate due to a blanket amnesty given to all state employees facing disciplinary charges on the occasion of His Majesty the King’s birthday in 2007.
Pol Lt Gen Somkid was given amnesty relating to the disciplinary measures facing him, thus enabling him to be promoted to a higher rank.
The amnesty does not pertain to criminal matters….
Mr Abhisit said he wanted to speak to the Saudi envoy personally, as it would be a more efficient than explaining the matter via documents.
According to Mr Abhisit, the Saudi envoy seemed to have insufficient information about the matter.
The Saudi embassy has repeatedly expressed concerns about the promotion of Pol Lt Gen Somkid, but the government has steadfastly defended it.
Saudi Arabia, citing Thailand’s National Police Act, claimed Pol Lt Gen Somkid should be suspended from active duty because he faces a criminal trial.”
Probably no one will be surprised to learn that the Bangkok Post headline the following day read, “Saudi envoy blasts govt, insists he is ‘informed‘”
“I’m well-informed, not ill-informed,” he thundered in a statement responding to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s comments on Saturday after meeting with him at Ban Phitsanulok….
Reaffirming Saudi Arabia’s policy of non-interference in Thailand’s internal affairs, the diplomat said it was his duty to negotiate the issue with the Thai government to avoid more tension or undesirable complications in bilateral ties.
“Nonetheless, I strongly object to comments made by Thai officials to the public claiming my misunderstanding or ‘ill information’ of local issues and laws regarding the promotion of Pol Lt Gen Somkid,” he said.
Mr Ashri said the embassy has not yet received any clarification or official notice regarding Pol Lt Gen Somkid’s promotion.
“Therefore, hoping that I, or the Saudi authorities will understand this issue will not be an easy matter, because it seems that different officials refer to different sets of laws and regulations to clarify this issue to us.
“Perhaps the confusing and unclear statements made by officials on this subject have led to the assumption that the issue was cleared to us but that we misinterpreted the laws which is absolutely not true; and we have no official clarification until now.”
He said it was incomprehensible that a person charged by the state with a serious crime such as murder was promoted.”
By the 21st of September the Bangkok Post was reporting that Pol Lt-Gen Somkid was being asked to step down:
“Mr Che-arming, chairman of the House committee on security of the state, said he made this call bdcause he realised that Pol Lt-Gen Somkid was the only one who could restore ties between Thailand and Saudi Arabia.”
So there you have it folks; a Police Lt-General is the only person in Thailand who can restore diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia!
As it turned out, two days later, that’s exactly what Pol Lt-Gen Somkid did.
There’s never a really boring day in the Thai political scene.