Lawmakers must wake up to need for accountability

opinion June 10, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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The angry reaction of an NLA member to media exposing his napping colleagues is a cause for concern

It is not uncommon for some people to fall asleep while at work, although it is not something that would be encouraged.

Every once in a while, a quick nap should be okay. A headache, stress, being overworked, or consequences of staying up late the previous night are situations where a quick nap could help a person get back on his feet and become a productive employee again. 

But when a number of junta-appointed legislators are found nodding off in Parliament at the same time, one is inclined to think that something is not right. Are we to assume that all of them were overworked the day before, leading to their collective napping like pre-school children?

The Parliament session was important because the lawmakers were deliberating the Bt3-trillion national budget for the next fiscal year. One can sympathise with the boredom the legislators may have experienced listening to the debates, but that cannot be an excuse to doze off when issues of national importance are being discussed. And so when pictures of these legislators circulated on the mainstream and social media, fellow legislators felt offended. One lashed out at the press, accusing the media of trying to tarnish the reputation of the country’s legislators.

“[They] distorted the work of our five rivers of power,” said National Legislative Assembly (NLA) member Somchai Sawangkarn, referring to the junta and four of its branches of government. “They showed photos of NLA members sleeping via social media.”

Somchai went on to say that the media never bothered to reform itself while everyone else had. Reforming government, social and public institutions was high on the agenda of the junta when they came to power four years ago.

Today, no one really knows what that means and there is hardly any talk of it. Admittedly Thailand’s media can do better. But it makes no sense for a lawmaker to lash out over a series of photographs that presented our self-proclaimed public figures in a different light.

Somchai went on to say that over 90 per cent of the media was “good” but the rest created distortion and conflict. How he came up with the 90 per cent number, or what is his definition of “good” is unknown.

Just as confusing was the response of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who led some Cabinet members to the session for his 90-minute explanation on the high budget, made references to corruption – needless to say, one of the most serious problems facing the country.

“Because of this high budget, many wondered if there could be corruption. But with that mindset, we would not be able to do anything at all,” Prayut said. “Corruption is not about the system. It all depends on the people.”

Is he being dismissive about transparency and accountability? Doesn’t he know that these are key elements in a democracy? And by the way, wasn’t restoring democracy the reason why he launched the 2014 coup?

The pictures of legislators napping in Parliament allow the public a different view of our lawmakers. It serves the same public service as political cartoons that depict public figures in a sarcastic way. Thailand’s media have a long tradition of satiric commentary.

For this very reason, Somchai’s anger should be a cause for concern. In a way, he is calling on the government and society to punish unpopular speech, although he used the word, “reform”, not punishment.

Like it or not, unflattering and unpopular speech, or in this case photographs, of public figures are vital to Thailand’s democratic future.

It’s really a shame that a legislator does not understand that.