Jaruvan again in eye of the storm
Criminal court ruling puts auditor-general's nomination back in the spotlight
A Criminal Court ruling on Tuesday, which found a former State Audit Commission (SAC) chairman guilty of malfeasance for the "unconstitutional nomination" of Khunying Jaruvan Maintaka as auditor-general, has raised a new round of controversy over the Constitution Court's clout and Jaruvan's conscience.
Former SAC chairman Panya Tantiyavarong was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday for naming two failed candidates - including Jaruvan - along with first-ranked nominee Prathan Dabphetch to the Senate to elect in 2001.
The Senate, under the charter's provisions, can accept or reject the board's nominations but cannot conduct a secret ballot to elect them, the court said.
As the Criminal Court's ruling is in line with the 2004 ruling by the Constitution Court that found the nomination "unconstitutional", on the grounds that the Senate had wrongfully elected Jaruvan to office, her legitimacy as auditor-general has been questioned again.
Jaruvan has made a defiant stand, with the support of 135 senators who elected her. She refused to leave the post despite the Constitution Court's verdict, reasoning that the court did not rule to dismiss her.
She claimed the court's ruling could change neither the Senate resolution nor His Majesty the King's endorsement of her appointment.
Jaruvan is not the first independent agency's leader to be ruled invalid.
On July 4, 2002, the Constitution Court ruled that the then Election Commission chairman Sirin Thoopklam's election to the body was unconstitutional. He angrily vowed to stay put, saying the court had no power to remove him.
He claimed Article 141 of the Constitution that states grounds for the termination of an EC member's status, which include death or resignation, did not give the court the power to axe him.
At the time, however, the Constitution Court president Issara Nititanprapas reiterated that the court's ruling "had immediate legal effect", although it would not have a retroactive effect on Sirin's past work as EC chairman. Issara asserted that the charter also stated that the court had the power to make the final decision on constitutional disputes.
"When the court rules that the selection [process] was unconstitutional and it has to be done again, the court requires the incumbent to leave the post," Issara said.
Sirin finally decided to quit a few days later.
Jaruvan's case seems to be following along the same tracks as Sirin's. The Constitution Court ruled both their appointments unconstitutional, which means they had never legally assumed the posts.
What is different, however, is that Jaruvan's case has set a new standard. The Constitution Court cannot have a final say when a constitutional dispute arises.
Anti-government groups have linked the case to an alleged attempt to get rid of Jaruvan as she checked government schemes suspected of graft and bid riggings. They also tied the case to an attempt to challenge royal power.
Although the SAC picked a nominee to replace Jaruvan, the process was delayed by the parties involved for almost four months and finally halted.
Pressured by political movements, the SAC ultimately resolved to welcome Jaruvan back to office.
Prathan said on Wednesday that although there were criticisms the nomination was not sound, nobody could remove Jaruvan as long as she wanted to remain in office.
However, he warned that Jaruvan should stop referring to the royal endorsement to support her legitimacy, but rather consider the court's verdict as what she was required to do "to follow the law".
As her five-year term will expire by the end of the year, however, Jaruvan has shown no signs to suggest that she will not stay until her last working day.