An important mission of the new chief of the National Office of Buddhism is to turn the scandal-hit Dhammakaya Temple into an ordinary temple like others, according to observers.
Pongporn Parmsneh, formerly director of the Department of Special Investigation’s Bureau of Taxation Crime, is expected to first make sure that all monks and novices inside the vast monastery in Pathum Thani, as well as those gathering at a market adjacent to the temple, are properly ordained.
Authorities from the Buddhism Office will request the monks to produce their monastic identification cards known as “bai sutthi”.
Senior monks responsible for managing the Dhammakaya Temple will need to report themselves to authorities on an order by the ruling monastic council. Those who fail to comply with the order risk being disrobed.
Next, the National Office of Buddhism under the new director-general is likely to examine Wat Dhammakaya’s assets, observers said.
Pongporn is also expected to seek advice from the Sangha Supreme Council, the Thai Buddhist clergy’s ruling body, regarding how to deal with problems inside the temple.
Moreover, the new director-general is to seek appointment of a senior monk to become caretaker abbot of the Dhammakaya Temple.
As the agency’s chief, he also serves as secretary to the Sangha Supreme Council ex-officio. His appointment to serve in this new seat obviously got the green light from senior monks.
Some sources said Pongporn’s elder brother was General Prayut’s former classmate in the military academy.
Pongporn’s predecessor, Pranom Sonsill, was viewed as failing to cooperate with the DSI in its searches of the temple to hunt for its former abbot Phra Dhammachayo, who is wanted for money laundering and accepting stolen assets.
On Saturday, Pranom was replaced by Pongporn in an order issued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha under special powers given to him by Article 44 of the post-coup interim charter.
The changes at the National Office of Buddhism came amid a tense stand-off between authorities and the controversial temple that has dragged on for almost two weeks.
Pongporn was a lecturer at the Royal Police Cadet Academy before joining the DSI in 2003, just a year after it was established.
He became director of the DSI’s investigation and tracking division in 2008, a specialist in special operations in 2012, and director of its Bureau of Special Operation in 2015.
A devout Buddhist with closely cropped haircut, Pongporn is a disciple of Phra Thep Maha Suthi, abbot of Khien Khet Temple in Pathum Thani who is also the monastic chief of the province and Dhammachayo’s direct supervisor.
The official was assigned to coordinate in talks between authorities and monastic chiefs for Dhammachayo to surrender to police, following repeated summonses. However, the talks failed despite the DSI’s assurance that the monk would be released on bail immediately after his surrender.