By CHANIKARN PHUMHIRAN
THE ELECTION Commission 4-1 vote to terminate EC secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong's employment is unprecedented in the agency's history.
The reason given for the termination was that Puchong failed his performance evaluation because EC work was often delayed. The end of his employment took effect immediately.
Puchong rose from the post of deputy EC secretary-general to secretary-general on March 13, 2012, after Suthipol Thaweechaikarn quit to join the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.
Then-EC chairman Apichart Sukhagganond signed a five-year employment contract with Puchong, provided he passed his annual evaluation every year.
EC specialist Thanit Sriprathet said Puchong was required to present his performance report three times a year. Denying that EC members had discriminated against Puchong, he said the same performance yardstick used in 2014 was also used in this year’s evaluation. He said Puchong’s total score was below 60 per cent.
A source said that four of the five EC members had voted against him because he was not able to meet the deadlines for several assignments, such as the establishment of a centre for technological development, revamping the workforce structure and renovating EC buildings plus establishing an intelligence centre.
The source said some of these projects were delayed, with contracts signed just two days before the end of the fiscal year.
Puchong also faced a disciplinary probe for allegedly leaking confidential information to the media and also faced corruption allegations in the construction of EC offices, the procurement of suits and seeking inflated sums for the February 2, 2014, election.
However, Puchong tearfully defended himself on Wednesday, saying his work was delayed because the EC ordered a review of every project and extended the operation of some projects or suspended and cancelled some projects.
“Over the past few years, EC members interfered in the authority of the secretary-general, citing EC resolutions,” he said, claiming that they also ordered the transfer of some EC officials and appointed advisers who cost the office up to Bt24 million a year.
An EC source said the conflict might have stemmed from the fact that EC members handed assignments directly to the deputy secretary-general, bypassing Puchong.
“But every time any projects were met with problems, Puchong was always blamed,” the source explained, adding that the problem was also structural.
The source suggested that the agency’s structure be changed in the same way as the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which has a board for management with the secretary-general overseeing the agency’s management. Besides, the source said, a separate committee is appointed to look into each graft complaint, which prevents inference in the NACC from outside.
The move to remove Puchong came after a newspaper columnist claimed that the agency was planning to get rid of him. In response to the article, the EC moved his evaluation up by a month.
Though outsiders are allowed to apply for the secretary-general’s post, the EC chairman also has the right to nominate candidates.
However, the EC will soon have to deal with the major task of holding a referendum on the charter draft, and if the agency gives the job to an outsider, the new person may have problems.
Some believe that the EC members may choose one of the EC advisers or Puchong’s deputy to take over so the work can continue smoothly.