A gaffe that helps explain the big picture

opinion January 24, 2013 00:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

4,897 Viewed

This isn't a "quirky" news titbit from the inside pages of a newspaper. It's a real-life "dark secret" for this villager from Prachin Buri who has finally decided to go public with his unusual ID "phenomenon".

Buarai Paosaeng of House No 9, Village No 11 of Tambon Nonsri, Amphur Kabinburi, in the eastern province of Prachin Buri, has carried this ID card for over ten years, under a cloud of uncertainty and perhaps a deep-rooted sense of anxiety.

What if people found out that he was born on “February 31, 1961”? And how does he explain to anyone who asks him when his ID will expire? It’s clearly printed on the card that the document will remain valid until “February 30, 2563” with the signature of the local authorised official, no less.
Of course, the ID is an authentic one, issued by the Local Administration Department of the Interior Ministry. Buarai has no doubt that he could present it anywhere and it would be accepted. In fact, he has had no problems so far using it for all practical purposes.
But what if someone finds fault with his birth date? What if he decides one day to exercise a Thai citizen’s right to apply for a passport? What if the passport was issued accordingly, showing him with his “official date of birth”, and an immigration official in a foreign country raised a storm about “falsification” of an official document of international significance?
That could spark an international incident, and would the Interior and Foreign ministries of Thailand come to his rescue? Probably not. 
The last time such an incident took place, only a few weeks ago, serious consequences fell upon the ID card-owner – an assistant headman of Aranyaprathet district of Srakaew province, also in the eastern part of the country. No such consequences greeted the officials concerned with issuing the weird ID with a strange birth date. Misfortune came upon Sangwian Kooncharoen, who reported that his ID card showed him born on February 30. 
The burden of proof didn’t fall on the officials concerned. Instead, he was told to show documents to prove that he had not been born on February 30. And when the controversy was widely reported in the local press, Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan was miffed – not at his own officials who had issued the card, but at the cardholder himself for making such a fool of the people involved. 
“He deserves to die,” the minister told reporters. It was widely understood that the person the minister considered to be at fault was the person who made the issue public. The minister was trying to show the public that he was simply performing his duty to protect his subordinates to the best of his ability. 
The assistant headman, who officially is supposed to be under the minister’s jurisdiction as well, was left to defend himself. He subsequently decided to do what a good, honest and responsible official is supposed to do: he quit. It’s not clear whether that will make it easier for him to get his ID card revised to confirm that he was not born on a non-existent date.
Now, Buarai of Prachin Buri has a more serious problem. The birth date on his ID is even more challenging. Sangwian’s February 30 date was bad enough. But February 31 could prove to be even more “out of this world”. He had to get the word out before people thought he was living in his own surreal universe.
Buarai has a full history of his own to tell the world to prove that he didn’t make up the information on his ID card. He told reporters: “I am the son of Mr Ma and Mrs Kham. My birth certificate [a document needed to get an ID] says I was born on a Wednesday, January 31, 2503 [1960]. When I turned 17 I went to Kabinburi district to apply for my ID card. The card expired three times and has been renewed every time. When I turned 27 I was married and had our marriage registered at the same district office. That’s when I discovered that my birthday was February 31, 2504 [1961]. I then went to the local officials to have the information on my ID and domicile document corrected. I was told to continue to use my ID and related document … until I heard that a similar case had taken place in Srakaew. That’s why I am making my case public as well, so that I can get my real life back.”
Buarai says he has never really been able to mark his birthday with the traditional merit-making ritual like most Thai Buddhists “because I don’t have a real birthday”.
Perhaps rights groups could lend a helping hand. Consumer-protection groups should also launch an investigation into this case before the next victim surfaces. 
To blame it on bureaucratic inefficiency would be blasé and counter-productive – and quite frankly, extremely boring. And to demand an explanation from the Interior Ministry and seek out the responsible parties would be tantamount to banging your head against a wall. You could get seriously injured and nothing would change.