ALL INDEPENDENT AGENCIES ‘SHOULD HAVE A FRESH START’
POLITICAL scientists and the outgoing commissioners of independent agencies who are to be dismissed under the new organic laws have agreed that the treatment was selective – but for different reasons.
Some political observers have said that all independent agencies should be reset with new commissioners. But those commissioners falling victim to the new organic laws argue that they acquired their positions legitimately under the previous legislation and they have the right to remain in office.
The political casualties come as a sacrifice to the new Constitution and its organic laws, which aim to revamp the overall national administration with more qualified people who will have to pass new and higher bars to win their positions.
The Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC), which is responsible for the legislation, said that the laws must be respected, and only those commissioners who pass the new qualifications could stay in power.
At the beginning of the process, the CDC said that only the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) should be removed in its entirety, citing the agency’s downgrade in the international arena.
When the bills entered the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), things changed. The NLA decided that all the five Election Commission (EC) members should be dismissed to ensure the selection of a new batch of seven commissioners who could work more smoothly together.
The Ombudsmen, on the other hand, were spared and allowed to continue their terms despite a change in the number of members. One additional member will be recruited without the two current members being removed.
Yutthaporn Issarachai, dean of the faculty of political science at Sukhothai Thammathirat University, said that he would have agreed with all commissioners in independent agencies being dismissed, because all the rules had changed.
The new laws set out new conditions, qualifications, authorities and everything, he said, and new officials must be recruited to fit the new circumstances. Unequal treatment at different agencies was unfair,.
Asked whether it would have also been unfair to dismiss them all when they had quit their previous jobs to take up the posts, Yutthaporn said that that was something they had to accept.
“This is not an employment situation where they are hired to do ‘jobs’. These are commissions and they are similar to other political jobs that are subject to changes,” he said.
The scholar also thought a reset was better for the public interest, as the new people would work better with the new rules. And while the outgoing commissioners said this could lead to a disruption in work, Yuttha-porn said there should not be a problem. This is because the work was done by officials and the commissioners only voted to finalise issues.
However, Yutthaporn said he had concerns over the qualification requirements. Given the relatively high level of qualifications for the new posts, the candidate pool might be very small. Finding the right candidates might be difficult, as the choices were very limited, Yutthaporn said.
Political analyst Sukhum Nuan-sakul agreed that all commissioners should be removed from office, as they had all been part of the previous political turmoil. “Reset them all to square one and start everything all over again. I’m all for a new start,” he said.
Sukhum said it was discriminatory for the legislation to allow some commissioners to keep their jobs but without giving explanations. This undermined the system of checks and balances and made the reset unacceptable. Also, he did not want people to think that the reset would cause trouble for the agencies or that the sudden change would affect the work.
Rather, he would like everyone to embrace the change and be open-minded. The new commissioners could bring a better beginning and make a better contribution than their predecessors, Sukhum added.
The NLA has already finalised plans for all current members of the EC and the NHRC to leave office once the new commissioners took up the posts, according to organic laws related to the agencies.
The NHRC president What Tingsmith said that the dismissals could be seen as unfair to the commissioners. They had to resign from their previous work to accept the positions, and now they have to leave office having not even served half of the six-year term as stipulated in the previous charter, he said.
“Personally, I could still go back to [work at] the court of justice, but other commissioners might not be able to do so,” said What, who is a former judge. He added that the affected commissioners should be treated fairly and receive compensation.
Two weeks ago, What submitted a complaint letter to Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha asking to reverse the reset, insisting that it was not in line with the Constitution.
EC commissioners could not be reached for comment. However, last week, EC member Somchai Srisuthi-yakorn lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman to review the reset of the EC, citing a violation of basic rights and equality guaranteed by the Constitution.