Phongthep a key player for govt amid rows over bill, policies
At a time when effective legal strategy is vital for the government’s survival, Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana is without doubt Pheu Thai Party’s most valuable legal resource. A former judge and justice minister and ex-chief whip for the government, Phongthep is one of former-premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s most trusted aides.
He was in the first group of 111 executives given a post once the five-year ban on political activity was lifted. While he lost the education portfolio in the latest reshuffle, he kept his post as a deputy PM, enabling him to better focus on the government’s legal battles.
Phongthep is positive that he can resolve legal hurdles the Yingluck government faces, although he has admitted his job as a legal specialist has got much more difficult. “In those days, legal experts would pretty much know the results of their court battles. Nowadays, the accuracy of our predictions [on a favourable verdict] is less, because court verdicts don’t conform to our predictions, which are based on our legal knowledge,’’ he said.
“For instance, we were confident of our victory but we were puzzled by the court verdict in the Thai Rak Thai party dissolution case, in which judges applied a retroactive clause to their ruling,’’ he said.
Phongthep cited the government’s recent setback when the Central Administrative Court suspended the Bt350-billion water-management project, pending compulsory environmental impact and health assessments, and a public hearing, before contracts can be signed.
He said that concerned state agencies were not given the chance to defend the project, except during an emergency hearing. “They could have argued in court that it was impossible to conduct a public hearing, as they didn’t know when or where the project was going to be launched,’’ he said.
Public prosecutors are still deciding whether to appeal the court’s ruling on the water-scheme. Meanwhile, the government will conduct a general public hearing on the project next month. Contracts are being drafted and will be done in three months.
Phongthep believes the government will continue to face “legal deadlock” if it continues to circumvent legal procedures, but declined to say if there were any deadlocked cases which threatened the government’s future.
“What the country needs most is ‘fair referees’. All the people concerned should understand that their role is to help our country along the path to becoming a true legal state,’’ he said. Government whips, he said, would be giving priority to three important laws when the House reconvenes on August 1 – the 2014 fiscal budget bill, the Bt2-trillion loan bill and an amnesty bill.
Phongthep was reluctant to say which of the three would be tabled first, but all three could have an adverse impact on the government’s position.
The deputy PM declined to comment and looked tense when asked if an Executive Decree would be used as a shortcut to assist Thaksin – as revealed in a controversial audio clip. It feature a conversation between two men, one of which was Thaksin, according to Panthongtae, his son. The other was allegedly Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha. Pressed to comment, Phongthep said: “I have not heard about this executive decree.’’
Asked to also comment on whether the government planned to fast-track the charter amendment now the amnesty bill had met a stumbling block, Phongthep said: “The government must, no matter what, follow the rule of law.”