LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Suspension of sentences for civil servants reflects the old order of Thai society
In recent years, numerous court decisions commuting the sentences of civil servants convicted of criminal offences have been reported in the press.
The justification for such leniency has varied. Article 56 of the Criminal Code empowers judges to use their discretion to reduce or suspend a sentence of two years or less if the accused has not previously been convicted of a crime.
Under Article 56, the judge, when sentencing a convicted felon, may consider such factors as educational background, intelligence and occupation. Several years ago, the court, using such discretion, commuted the sentence of a professor convicted of aggravated assault resulting in the death of his wife. The court justified its decision by citing the defendant's high educational qualifications and further noted that if he was jailed the country would lose a valuable academic who contributed to national development.
In the past two years, several culprits have been arrested for taking pictures of women's underwear with their digital cameras. In two cases, those convicted were given a suspended sentence because they were both well educated and civil servants and had contributed and would continue to contribute to the nation's development. Most recently, the Criminal Court suspended the sentence of a former high-level civil servant convicted of sexual harassment of a Thai International flight attendant. The court based its decision to suspend the sentence by noting the defendant's royal decorations and his long career in the civil service.
Such leniency for civil servants and highly educated individuals is rooted in a hierarchical and patriarchal value system. It is pertinent to ask whether such values are socially, culturally and politically relevant in Thai society today. Thailand is presently in the throes of social, cultural and political transition and transformation. As Thai society becomes more egalitarian, accountable and transparent under the rule of law, the discriminatory practice of suspending punishment based on the above rational should be reassessed.
It might well be argued that a highly educated teacher or a career civil servant should actually be given an increased penalty. As public servants obligated to serve the Thai citizenry, a civil servant should be held to the highest standards of behaviour. If he dishonours his profession by committing an illegal act, he should receive a higher, rather than lesser, punishment. Sometimes, civil servants are neither civil nor servants. Why should they receive special consideration? Is one of any less a value to society because one is a labourer, farmer, or construction worker? Those who are advantaged should be expected to honour their privileged position and not betray the trust placed in them. If they commit criminal acts, they should be held accountable and punished severely.
It should be emphasised that the above examples of judges using their discretion in favour of officialdom and those deemed to have higher intelligence are the norm, not exceptions. Aware of this penchant, defence counsels never fail to submit documentation as to length of their client's civil service and royal decorations received.
As pressure mounts throughout society for reform of outdated, discriminatory laws and regulations, the judiciary should take the initiative to revise sentencing guidelines to conform to the principle of equal justice under the law.
The public, the judges and state authorities should not forget Article 30 of the Constitution, which states: "All are equal before the law … and discrimination due to differences in birthplace, nationality, language, gender age and education is prohibited".
Lux et Veritas
Singapore's political system works for Singaporeans
Re: "Show of Spirit in Singapore", Editorial, May 12.
We did not attack James Gomez because he was a young man standing up to the government, but because he sought to deceive the Election Department over his minority certificate, in order to bring the department and the election system into disrepute. But contrary to the editorial he was not disqualified - he contested in Aljunied, and was soundly defeated.
There is nothing to stop Singaporeans from speaking out. Tens of thousands of Singaporeans attended the opposition rallies during the elections, to hear opposition candidates attack the government and its policies. The media gave them full coverage.
Singapore does not hold itself out as a model for any other country. We seek a system which works for Singapore, and which Singaporeans support. Our system will continue to evolve, as better-educated Singaporeans engage themselves more in the national debate. But it will not conform to an idealised liberal democracy touted by foreign media as the universal solution to mankind's problems.
Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore
Small tax cut for NGV reflects small-minded energy policy
Re: "Boost to energy conservation", Editorial, May 17. In Test cricket, the Bangladesh team is usually described as "the minnows". The same adjective could be applied to its economic, social and infrastructure development. Yet, with about 13 trillion cubic feet of natural-gas reserves, about the same as Thailand's, the minnows have built a natural-gas-based economy to a much greater extent than Thailand. As a result, Bangladesh's economy is buffered from the ravages of international oil-price volatility to a greater extent than our economy. An energy policy that places our country behind minnows can only be described as a failure.
Thailand needs an aggressive and imaginative programme to substitute imported oil with clean-burning domestic natural gas. Lowering the tax on natural-gas vehicles from 30 per cent to 22 per cent is neither aggressive nor imaginative. That our leaders would propose such a weak measure does more to expose the reasons for our failure than to lower oil imports.
Photograph of policeman
on motorcycle says it all
Re: "Eager to learn", News photo, May 17. This picture is telling: a policeman wearing a helmet carrying his wife and two sons on his motorbike. An example of total disregard for the law by someone supposed to enforce it. Besides, it shows a very selfish attitude: in case of an accident the cop might be the only survivor, thanks to that helmet. Is that how much he cares for his family?
According to road casualty statistics published after Songkran this year, most accident victims were motorcyclists and one of the reasons for the high death rate was failure to comply with the helmet law. The cost of these accidents to the country was also reported - it runs into billions of baht! Isn't it time the law enforcement authorities did what they are supposed to and enforce the law (preferably without taking bribes)?
As for double-tier pricing ("Special tourist fares are levied on special tourists", Letters, May 17), I find the practice unjustified and obnoxious. Maybe European tourism authorities could start applying the same system and invoke the same reason. After all, the Thais who travel are the ones with money. Let them pay double or triple the entrance fees Europeans pay.
Movies are works of fiction and should be seen as such
In response to the recent sentiments concerning the release and censorship of films, perhaps someone should wake up to the reality that feature films are works of fiction, which means they do not have to be accurate in any way. Their primary function is to entertain. Films that stay true to the facts and history are called "documentaries".
So please, we are intelligent and mature enough to discern a factual film from a fictitious one.
Attempt to censor film an attack on personal freedom
How could anyone from a so-called free society even think that adults should not be allowed to watch a movie and decide for themselves whether they like it or not? This should not happen in a modern society and is against the basic human right - freedom.
I am a Christian and I have read "The Da Vinci Code" with great pleasure, like millions of other Christians all over the world, and the book has had absolutely no influence on how I look at Christianity. Can it really be true that a few Christians can decide things like banning or censoring a movie on behalf of tens of millions other people in a modern country like Thailand? What next? Will they be able to ban the last 20 pages of a book?
These people obviously consider themselves to be living their lives on a much higher level than others. To that I can only say, "Stay where you are and don't bother stepping down and going to our cinemas if you don't like what is on, just like we don't go to your church if we don't like what is on."
A 'Da Vinci Code' Fan
Christians should focus on bigger issues than a film
As a Christian, I'm disturbed by the reaction to the film "The Da Vinci Code". Christians might be within their rights to voice displeasure, to protest peacefully or even to ask private vendors not to show the film. But attacking a silly Hollywood movie is a waste of time.
As Christians, we should be spending more time protesting the war in Iraq or the crimes in Darfur, or just reaching out with real friendship and forgiveness to non-Christians. To be fair, there are some Christians in Thailand who have done great work - establishing hospitals, reaching out to people in prisons, etc. But too many seem to be treating Christianity as though it was a club or fraternity - genuine friendship is extended only to fellow members. Outsiders are looked down upon, not forgiven, if they are seen as not being respectful enough of Christian doctrines or ways (this latest controversy over "The Da Vinci Code" is just one more example of this), or treated with cool politeness.
Jesus made it clear that anyone can do this. It's easy to reach out only to your friends, as he said. But reaching out to those who are different from you, who would not agree with you or whose world view departs from your own, that's the real challenge for a genuine Christian.