Air Chief Marshal Weerawit Kongsak
Air Chief Marshal Weerawit Kongsak

New conflict of interest bill gets tough on officials

politics January 10, 2018 01:00

By KAS CHANWANPEN
THE NATION

Law to be binding even on families of bureaucrats; harsh penalties for |misuse of state resources.



THE NEW conflict of interest bill for state officers will prohibit the receipt of gifts as well as abuse or misuse of state resources and power, with penalties of up to five years in jail.

An opinion-gathering session yesterday also heard that the bill, which is being scrutinised by legislators, will be imposed not only on state officials but also on their parents, siblings, biological or adopted children, sons- and daughters-in law and grandchildren.

Participants at the session expressed concern that the strict law could draw superfluous complaints and unnecessarily put officials into difficult predicaments. One participant, who claimed to be an official from the Ministry of Public Health, said that officials could easily get into trouble should they receive gifts or kindness from friends or relatives. 

Implying the law was impractical, he said individuals had more than one role. 

While they served in the public sector, they could also be ordinary people who had personal and social lives where it might be common to receive kindness from friends, he said. 

Air Chief Marshal Weerawit Kongsak, a key legislator in the bill-vetting committee, however, said that government officials would have to report to their superiors if the receipt of gifts risked a conflict of interest.

The same procedure should be adopted in cases involving close family members of officials, Weerawit added. 

He said the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the enforcer of the bill, would issue guidelines for implementation of the rules and this should not be too difficult in real practice. 

The bill also prohibits abuse or misuse of state resources and power for personal benefits, a point that legislators yesterday admitted was “tricky”.

Just last week the Ministry of Public Health issued a ban under its permanent secretary’s office on the use of state offices’ electricity to recharge staff members’ personal mobile phones, creating collateral damage to the bill.

Staff noted that many of them use their phones for work as well as private matters. 

Hence, the legislators said it would depend on each office how it dealt with regulations. But the overall rule was that state resources should be used for the public interest, not personal gain.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha said it was unnecessary to amend the present anti-graft regulation to raise the ceiling on the value of gifts that state officials can accept.

The premier said he had instructed concerned agencies, including the NACC, not to amend its regulation on this matter as he considered there was no need to do so.

If gifts have a value beyond the current Bt3,000 cap, there is a guideline that they should be reported and given to the offices of the person who receive them.

The issue emerged shortly after Prayut’s recent trip to the lower North, during which he bought three expensive Bangkaew dogs and said he would give them to his ministers. He later retracted the statement after a complaint was filed against him in regard to the Bt3,000 cap.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam then revealed that the NACC was considering amending the regulations in order to raise the ceiling. This drew strong criticism before the NACC stepped back, saying that the matter required consultation with concerned parties.

Wissanu later said that if the NACC would not amend the regulation, the matter could be addressed in other laws, including the conflict of interest prevention bill.