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NBO chief defiant after transfer amid religious row

Sep 07. 2017
 Pongporn Parmsneh
Pongporn Parmsneh
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By THE NATION

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Pongporn’s reforms said to have upset senior monks, who pressured cabinet for change.

NATIONAL BUDDHISM Office (NBO) director Pongporn Parmsneh is fighting his transfer order in a very unusual move under the government of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha. 

Late last month, the Cabinet endorsed the transfer of Pongporn from his office at the NBO to the Office of the Prime Minister. The transfer will legally take effect as soon as it receives royal endorsement. 

Pongporn, however, has refused to bow to the order given that it has not yet been royally endorsed. 

He issued a statement on Wednesday saying he did not willingly agree to the transfer, adding that it would only cause damage to the NBO. 

The statement came a day after the Cabinet passed a resolution to name Religious Affairs Department director-general Manas Thalasjai as the new NBO chief. 

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam yesterday said Manas was the right choice for the NBO leadership. 

Corruption issues

“He will also serve as the acting chief of his old department until the conclusion of the royal cremation ceremonies for HM the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. These two agencies have to work closely in preparing the ceremonies,” Wissanu said.

He added that the NBO would also have to handle the controversial issue regarding the Alpine Golf Course, which was developed on monastic land, sparking controversy and several decades-long legal battles. 

Late last month, former Pheu Thai Party leader Yongyuth Wichaidit was sentenced to two years in jail over his role in the affair. 

“The NBO needs a very strong leader. All wrongdoers in the Alpine Golf Course case must be brought to justice,” Wissanu said. 

However, Pongporn had done his duty well as NBO since his appointment, Wissanu added. 

“Given this, if he would like to appeal against the transfer order. I will definitely help solve the problem within 24 hours,” he said. 

Pongporn rose to the helm of the NBO in February based on an order issued by Prayut in the latter’s capacity as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order. It was then widely believed that Pongporn would lead a mission to eradicate corruption at temples and rein in the controversial Dhammakaya Temple. 

A source said Pongporn’s efforts had upset senior monks, who felt he was damaging the Buddhist institution. Recent NBO investigations had implicated several temples, including well-known ones, in wrongdoing. 

Senior monks subsequently held a meeting with two Cabinet members demanding that Pongporn be transferred, the source said.

However, Wissanu did not explicitly say that Pongporn had conflicts with the Sangha Supreme Council. 

But yesterday he said: “The NBO has to handle Buddhist affairs alongside the council. So the NBO director must win the trust of the council”. 

Jirachai Moontongroy, permanent secretary of the Office of the Prime Minister, said yesterday he had already assigned Pongporn to oversee the southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, Songkhla and Satun. 

Meanwhile, Pongporn said it was unreasonable to transfer him given that the NBO had only one deputy director, who would retire at the end of the month. 

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