Law bodies let us down

Bangkok police chief Sanit Mahathavorn has been the focus of news reports in recent months, not for his crime-busting abilities, but a decidedly non-police matter. Last November, as required of all members of the junta's National legislative Assembly, of which he is one, Pol Lt Gen Sanit submitted a summary list of assets to the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) as required by law. The police chief made it clear to the authorities that he was in receipt every month of a flat fee of 50,000 baht for his role as an adviser to the country's biggest beverage empire. Three separate "bait-and-switch" incidents then occurred, and the public were the victims each time.

The primary investigation into this revelation by Pol Lt Gen Sanit fell to the NACC. It had generated the report in the first place, then made it public. Yet, astoundingly, the NACC simply released the details of the policeman's assets, as it did with other NLA members, without accompanying commentary. Anyone who expected the country's premier anti-corruption authority to at the very least investigate such a highly contentious source of income was badly let down.

The second "bait-and-switch" was instituted by Pol Lt Gen Sanit himself. The Bangkok police chief withstood a few days of mainstream and social media outrage, including calls in this column for his resignation, without much comment. Then suddenly he appeared in public and asked for a month to come up with a response. And then he disappeared from sight. The public and the media took the bait and for the most part refrained from fuelling the doubts.

When Pol Lt Gen Sanit resurfaced, he had a switch. He claimed he had made an error, that he had never been employed by Thai Beverage Plc. The company, in a terse press release, said it knew nothing. The police chief offered no explanation for what he had previously admitted: moonlighting on the Royal Thai Police and the Bangkok public and drawing an annual income of 600,000 baht above what the taxpayers were paying him.

Last week, the third "bait-and-switch" played out. The Office of the Ombudsman, which had accepted a petition to investigate the case made by a civic group known as the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, gave the bad news: there is not enough evidence for it to consider, and the matter is closed.

Pol Lt Gen Sanit said "there must have been a mistake" when he made his assets declaration. But this has failed to mollify the doubters. In hindsight, he probably agrees that he should have been more careful in checking the declaration documentation, even as the cynics disparage the actions and statements by both the nation's prime anti-graft investigator and its only known guardian of government ethics and morality.

As a high-level police officer he has an obligation to explain what has happened, not least because it was he who brought the subject to public attention with his assets declaration. There is no proof that he received 50,000 baht a month over and above his salary, other than that he said so. By blaming the subordinates who prepared his assets documentation for the "mistake" is too easy and unconvincing.

What he is required to do as a senior law enforcement official is make an effort to unequivocally clear the air before it ruins his reputation. Until then, public doubts will remain.

The NACC has not exactly covered itself in glory in recent times. It seems to be acting reluctantly in the high-profile cases of Rolls-Royce and Thai Airways International and PTT Plc. One struggles to recall a case resolved by the Ombudsman. The public depends on these agencies, and when they fail there is no accountability.

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