By NATTHAPAT PROMKAEW
ONLY THE Supreme Patriarch will be exempted among high-level officials in the public sector from making an asset declaration, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has decided.
Other high-level monks, who also sit on university councils, will not be given the exemption, and neither will current lay members of university councils. Many of them have threatened to resign if they were subject to the NACC’s new requirement.
“What we can do for them now is to consider postponing the day the new rule becomes effective,” NACC president Pol General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said yesterday. “But we can’t exempt them from asset declaration.” Promulgated in the Royal Gazette on November 1, the new requirement is scheduled to take effect on December 2. However, following a discussion between the NACC and the government’s legal expert, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the date when the new rule takes effect could be delayed.
Wissanu stepped in after universities protested loudly. Watcharapol yesterday hinted that the new rule might be postponed by 30 days.
“This way, current council members will have more time to reflect and prepare themselves. Those who stay can prepare asset declarations. For those who will quit, they can do so. Affected university councils should have enough time to fill vacant seats,” he said.
The new rule expands the categories of persons required to declare their assets to the NACC.
Chairs and members of state university councils, top executives of public organisations and state funds, along with chiefs of the Armed Forces including the police forces are among those who will have to declare their assets.
So far, the loudest protests have come from the higher-education sector. Because the current Supreme Patriarch chairs the Mahamakut Buddhist University’s council, there are widespread suggestions that he too ought to be required to declare his assets to the NACC in line with other chairpersons and members of university councils.
However, Watcharapol yesterday made it clear that the NACC had exempted the Supreme Patriarch as he was chosen and appointed by the King.
“For others, we can’t exempt them because the current charter requires that they submit asset declarations to the NACC,” Watcharapol emphasised.
Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, who initially urged university-council members to hold back their resignations, yesterday said all university councils and their members must comply with the law.
Thammasat University rector Assoc Professor Gasinee Witoonchart said five or six of her university’s council members had expressed the wish to leave.
“Several to-be council members, whose tenure will soon begin, have already expressed reluctance to work for our council now,” she said.
The Coordinating Centre for Public Higher Education (CHES) has, meanwhile, stepped up its calls for university council members to not seek an exemption.
Faculty Senate of Thailand president Asst Professor Wiriya Sirichanon said university councils had the power to approve budgets, including the budget used for investments.
“So, we can’t say university councils are free of interests. Policy-based corruption may happen,” he said. “Can’t you see some persons take turn being the chairpersons of university councils?”
Chaweewan Meekleub, an official at Khon Kaen University, said more than 700 legal cases had been filed against the institution’s council since last year.
“There are allegations surrounding the investments by the chairperson of the council,” she said.
Chaweewan said if people were willing to pay taxes and politicians were willing to declare their assets, those sitting on university councils should also not shy away from the requirement to declare their assets.
“If you oppose this rule, it may be a reflection that your intention is not pure,” she said.