Prosecutors must show fairness as well as undeniable evidence if we're to avoid further anguish in the streets
The scandal over the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s rice-pledging programme has reached another crucial stage with the National Anti-corruption Commission urging her prosecution on charges of corruption and dereliction of duty. The case has been forwarded to the Office of the Attorney-General.
This is no longer about rice or corruption alone. The aim is specifically to establish a new national standard for the way such programmes are administered.
Ideally, Thailand will end up one step closer to being free of the corruption that saps its finances and weakens its morals. The bad news is that the pursuit of former premier Yingluck could widen the country’s hazardous political rift and trigger fresh confrontations in the streets.
In recent months the public has learned a great deal about how the rice scheme initiated by the Pheu Thai-led government went terribly wrong. Prosecutors claim there was corruption at every step of the process and say the programme cost the country more than Bt870 billion.
The government’s failure to promptly pay the farmers involved has also been blamed for several of them committing suicide out of destitution.
It now falls on those same prosecutors to present irrefutable proof that such claims are true and to demonstrate that Yingluck played a central role in the ill-advised scheme.
As chairperson of the National Rice Policy Committee, the then-premier clearly shares responsibility. Nevertheless, turning a blinded eye to corruption and being negligent in one’s duties are not the same things. If Yingluck was somehow directly involved in the corruption at any stage of the process, how exactly did she personally benefit? We wait for the Anti-corruption Commission to explain.
If indeed the rice scheme was rife with corruption, the commission has no excuse for failing to present clear-cut evidence of the money trail.
Under military rule, Thailand is in limbo, the political battleground a fenced-off no-man’s land. Putting Yingluck on trial could have temperatures boiling again among her supporters, and even if they remain restrained by the junta, that anger is not going to go away.
There is also the matter of setting a precedent for prosecuting corruption at the policy level. New ground will likely be trod in terms of politicians’ accountability.
Meanwhile Yingluck has wondered aloud why the usually slow-moving commission is moving so quickly on her case, suggesting that her political opponents are influencing it, such as Warong Deikivikrom, the former Democrat MP who revealed problems in the rice scheme in the first place. It is thus important that any trial judges also hear neutral voices, such as those of ML Pridiyadorn Devakula, Ammar Siamwalla and Virabongse Ramangkura.
Voices of reason and undeniable evidence are absolutely essential if this case is to avoid being politicised. And the commission must move with slow, calm deliberation as it explain precisely how Yingluck failed in her duties and abetted such a serious crime.
The judges will not be the only ones issuing a ruling in this matter. The public is watching carefully. Only strong proof – sufficient beyond reasonable doubt – could maintain the relative peace we currently enjoy.
This is not about the rice policy anymore. The price-pledging policy will be a forgotten anecdote of bureaucracy compared to the history being written. How that history is recorded depends enormously on the transparency and fairness in the Yingluck case. Shoddy evidence and a lop-sided trial would only inflame the fury currently held in abeyance.
A well-conducted and patently fair trial would help pave the way to national reform.