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Thai minister's status uncertain over land scandal

Publication Date : 24-09-2012

 

Even though Thai Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit has been given a disciplinary penalty for misconduct committed in 2002, his current post may be safe because his record was expunged in 2007.

"The ministry has ruled to endorse Yongyuth's credentials to keep the job and will leave it up to the future if a party to the dispute seeks a judicial review," permanent secretary Phranai Suwannarat said yesterday.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) notified the ministry last month that Yongyuth committed a serious disciplinary offence in connection with the Alpine land scandal when he was a deputy permanent secretary at the ministry.

Yongyuth's qualifications to hold a ministerial portfolio came under scrutiny because under the Constitution, a disciplinary offender cannot join the Cabinet.

Phranai said the ministry's civil service committee, which he chairs, met on September 14 to consider the NACC report.

Although the committee sided with the three NACC votes in favour of Yongyuth, the law was clear that punishment must be meted out in line with the majority decision of six votes, he said.

In compliance with provisions, the committee resolved to dismiss Yongyuth from the civil service with effect from before his retirement on Sept 30, 2002, he said.

But the punishment should have no legal implications on Yongyuth's civil service record or his political appointment, he said.

To mark His Majesty the King's 80th birthday, Parliament passed a government-sponsored law to pardon all officials with civil service disciplinary offences on or before 2007, he said.

He went on to cite two rulings, one by the Council of State and the other by the Civil Service Commission, to back up his argument that Yongyuth's record had been cleared and that the minister could carry on with his work as if he had never been punished.

Yongyuth's punishment would either be in the form of a dismissal or expulsion, which is more severe, he said.

Yongyuth, as the minister, was authorised to hand down the punishment on himself, but due to the conflict of interest, Deputy Interior Minister Chuchart Hansawat might act on his behalf, he said.

Committee member Paitoon Boonwat said the Lands Department was in charge of the Alpine land case.

The authorities would have to decide how to restore the monastic land without uprooting the thousands of residents of the housing estate developed on the property, he said.

Democrat MP Ong-art Klampaiboon questioned the legality of expunging Yongyuth's record.

Under provisions, disciplinary offenders can ask for clemency only after they had been penalised in part or in whole, but in this case, Yongyuth tried to claim clemency before being punished, he said.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should dispel all lingering doubts over Yongyuth's job status, he added.

Another Democrat, Wiratana Kalayasiri, said he understood that the clemency applied to those offenders punished before 2007, but not to Yongyuth, who was just penalised two weeks ago. "The government is trying to make a lopsided legal interpretation that Yongyuth could be absolved ahead of punishment," he said.

The government had no choice but drop Yongyuth from the Cabinet or else it would risk criminal and administrative actions, he said.

The government might become embroiled in legal wrangling if Yongyuth, as the first deputy prime minister, chairs tomorrow's Cabinet meeting in the absence of the prime minister, he said.

 

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