NCPO could gain trust by declaring assets

opinion June 07, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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The military regime must head off fears that absolute power will corrupt absolutely

The National Council for Peace and Order has indicated its intention to remain in power until Thailand “achieves genuine reform”. How long this might take is a matter of debate, with opinions divided along ideological lines. Meanwhile an urgent point to address is the military regime’s intention to spend a lot of taxpayers’ money. The farmers are at last being paid for their rice. The contentious water-management plan and the Bt2-trillion infrastructure overhaul will be “reviewed” – meaning some of the projects will likely be implemented. The junta has also involved itself in crucial energy affairs. All of these require substantial budgets.
Calls have been made for the NCPO to show transparency by having its key members declare their assets – both now and again after reform is in place and democracy returns. 
It’s a fair request. 
The declaration of assets would do the coup makers a world of good and allay some of their critics’ doubts. 
First, though it wouldn’t satisfy all sceptics – particularly those in the West – such a show of sincerity would do no harm. A declaration of assets could be considered essential given that the Yingluck Shinawatra administration was regularly accused of corruption. It is thus imperative that the military do everything possible to head off similar suspicions.
Sceptics refuse to believe that the junta will stay clear of graft, let alone be able to weed out corruption entirely in the government and bureaucracy. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is the oft-cited adage. Opportunists in the military, having removed the elected politicians from power, will be keen to take advantage of that power, it is feared, not without grounds. Examples abound at home and abroad of generals yielding to temptation.
The NCPO is off to a relatively good start in gaining public trust, but, in politics, trust wanes quickly. And the faith offered up in desperation to the generals is fragile indeed. Confidence in the top brass is shaky, as expressed in an English-language video “message” to the West circulating on the social media: “We have to support the coup, but we will keep our eyes on the generals.”
For the junta leaders to declare their assets would be a mere gesture, in a way. There is more at stake when it comes to pacifying critics. Great temptation lies in wait for the generals. Amid dire economic complications and the social conditions they are shifting day by day, it would be easy to veer off the ethical path. Were they to face charges of graft exactly like those directed at elected politicians, the justification for seizing power evaporates. If a cover-up were discovered within the NCPO, it would be game over. The anti-coup naysayers would be vindicated.
The junta must be thus free of any taint of corruption. A solid start would be a show of responsibility. Were the leaders to declare their monetary and property assets and follow up with genuine efforts to establish transparency throughout the bureaucracy, all Thais would have cause to be grateful to them. The junta should do so for the good of the country and for its own benefit.