EDUCATION MINISTER Teerakiat Jareonsettasin came under fire yesterday for making an embarrassing about-face after questioning the ethical integrity of a fellow Cabinet member.
On Tuesday, Teerakiat apologised to Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan for speaking about the wristwatch scandal dogging Prawit, whose unusual wealth has been questioned after being spotted with more than 25 luxury timepieces. The education minister made the remarks while on a work trip in London last Friday.
Anti-corruption activist Veera Somkwamkid yesterday condemned “all those phonies in the Cabinet”. He also criticised the education minister for not being true to his word against corruption, noting that Teerakiat had been quick to apologise to Prawit.
“As I thought, this Cabinet is full of phonies,” said Veera, who is secretary-general of the People’s Network against Corruption.
He also said that although Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha had announced his policy against corruption, he appeared insincere because he had failed to take action against people close to him who were suspected of irregularities.
Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat yesterday said Teerakiat’s decision to apologise and stay on in the Cabinet made him look no different from the person he had criticised.
“Judging from what he said at his press conference, he seemed to be concerned with keeping his Cabinet post,” Nipit said.
The politician also said that Cabinet members in the so-called reform period were supposed to have higher ethical standards than those in an elected civilian government. He added, however, that ministers in a Democrat-led government had stepped down after scandals involving their ministries even though they were not directly implicated.
Ong-art Klampaiboon, another Democrat Party deputy leader, yesterday said he expected criticism from the public in response to the education minister’s decision following the controversy.
He said Teerakiat had expressed his views sincerely without thinking of the possible consequences for the government. However, upon realising the impact, Teerakiat revised his decision based on the government’s interests, Ong-art added.
Meanwhile, a Pheu Thai politician yesterday threatened to seek a Constitutional Court ruling as to whether the education minister was unqualified to assume a Cabinet post for allegedly owning shares in a company with state concessions.
Ruangkrai Leekijwattana, a legal expert of the previously ruling party, said he would ask the Election Commission in writing to request a verdict from the Constitutional Court as to whether Teerakiat lacked the qualifications to assume a ministerial position.
The politician said he would continue with the plan whether the education minister resigned or not. Ruangkrai went to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) yesterday and asked the agency to investigate whether Teerakiat was qualified to remain in office.
He claimed that Teerakiat owned 5,000 shares in Siam Cement Group Plc (SCG), 800 of which were bought shortly before he became the education minister last year. Ruangkrai noted that SCG is awarded state concessions.
The Constitution prohibits government ministers from becoming shareholders in any company that is awarded state concessions.
Teerakiat said the Council of State, which is the government’s legal advisory agency, had been consulted about the matter and it resolved that there was nothing wrong with Cabinet members holding shares.