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Assets declaration a foundation of reforms

Without initial commitment to transparency, the process faces a shaky future

They arrived at the scene of one of the country's worst-ever conflicts. They vowed to restore peace, order and harmony and launch much-needed political reforms. And the ride has, up to now, been rather smooth for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). But the military junta is now facing growing public demand for members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to disclose their personal assets.

The honeymoon for the NCPO could soon be over. Initial public support for a military regime that stepped in and brought peace after months of bloody political conflict is likely to be tested as expectations for national reform run high. The newly appointed NLA members are not obliged by law to declare assets and debts, but many think they should do so voluntarily to ensure transparency and good governance.

Likewise, the lawmakers are not required by the interim charter to submit financial statements to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. However, members of the junta itself are ready to submit statements, according to NCPO deputy chief General Paiboon Koomchaya, in charge of legal affairs.

National Anti-Corruption Commission secretary-general Sansern Poljak has welcomed Paiboon's pledge, saying the junta members can submit asset declarations on a voluntary basis if they want to demonstrate sincerity in working for the national interest.

The anti-graft body has been less ambiguous when it comes to NLA members, though, enforcing the 1999 Act that demands lawmakers declare their wealth to the NACC.

Such a move toward transparency is not designed primarily to prevent corruption, but rather to encourage responsibility and accountability among those who are running the country and spearheading reform. They are not bound by law to disclose their assets to the public, but they will certainly earn our praise by doing so.

The stated mission of the NCPO is to solve problems and lead by example. By revealing its members' assets and liabilities, the junta would set a guide and standard for the future. And doing so voluntarily would add weight to its claim that power was seized in order to create a fresh, healthy environment in politics.

Officially, national reform has not yet started, but the junta could be a pioneer regarding the changes to come. The NCPO will not be able to create a good-governance system for others if its members don't believe in it themselves. The public has voiced opinions on the issue. Expectations of a positive outcome are even higher now that the NACC has called on NCPO members to publicly declare personal holdings.

The military is now involved in all three branches of government and generals are set to become Cabinet members. Its role in Thai politics is about to become even greater. The generals must carefully consider just how important is the issue of assets declaration - not to them, but for the country. Their decision on this matter could form the foundation of upcoming reform.


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