By The Nation
Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong has ordered many retired military officers to move out of houses purchased with the aid of an Army welfare scheme, and they have until the end of February.
He made some notable exceptions, saying Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, both retired generals, were exempt because of their significant contributions to the country’s wellbeing.
The same applies to other Cabinet members and to Privy Councillors.
The move continues Apirat’s surprising and broad programme of reforms, announced in the wake of last Saturday’s mass shooting in Nakhon Ratchasima, committed by an Army sergeant-major who believed his superior officer had cheated him in a deal involving military welfare housing.
Low-ranking soldiers were swiftly found explaining in the news media that Army commanders have a long history of unfairly exploiting subordinates over housing loans and other benefits.
The officer with whom the Korat shooter was dealing became his first victim.
Apirat wants retired officers out of their subsidised homes so that serving officers still without houses can move in.
He ordered the Army Welfare Department to determine which of the retirees had less than sterling records while serving their country and issue them eviction notices with a February 29 deadline.
Prawit’s exclusion from the order is controversial amid conflicting reports as to whether an organisation he co-chairs, the Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation, is headquartered on land controlled by the military.
It’s also been pointed out that two former Army chiefs, Sonthi Boonyaratglin and Udomdej Sitabutr, had both vacated military welfare houses in favour of private homes.
Prawit, asked about the matter, deferred to Apirat but said he too introduced reforms in the military when he was chief.
Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda, yet another general, declined to answer reporters’ questions.
Srisuwan Janya, a social activist and secretary general of the Society for Defence of the Thai Constitution, on Friday (February 14) formally appealed to the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the Army’s regulatory structure with an eye to reform.
He suspects that the root cause of the mass shooting in Korat may lie within the way the military conducts its internal affairs.
“Independent agencies like the Ombudsman’s Office have a constitutional duty to inspect such matters and suggest improvements to laws, regulations, orders and procedures to save people from suffering or unfair treatment, even to government agencies including the Army,” Srisuwan said.
He also asked the Ombudsman to consider Prayut’s behaviour when he visited Nakhon Ratchasima after the tragedy.
Srisuwan believes the premier displayed poor manners by smiling, waving and forming his fingers into a heart shape when he should have been sombre, in deep sympathy for the victims.