Bangkok governor gets suspension order as he travels to Seoul for diplomatic visit; Democrat elected twice but terms in office hit by scandals and project irregularities
Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra was suspended from duty yesterday as a result of an ongoing investigation into alleged irregularities per an order issued by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Deputy Bangkok Governor Pusadee Tamthai will act as caretaker governor during Sukhumbhand’s suspension, a source from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) said yesterday.
Prayut, in his capacity as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order, invoked the absolute power under the post-coup interim charter’s Article 44 to order the suspension effective immediately.
Published in the Royal Gazette yesterday, the order stated that the elected governor had been suspended but not removed from his post until further notice.
The order No 50/2559 also told government agencies to continue with the investigation into allegations against Sukhumbhand and added that he would be reinstated if found innocent. The order also specified that the suspension would allow the accused to prove his innocence and prevent possible damage to the public interest.
Sukhumbhand has been hit with a series of scandals after being elected in 2013 with more than 1 million votes.
The suspension is related to Office of the Auditor-General allegations that there were irregularities involving an expensive New Year lighting project initiated by the BMA. Sukhumbhand’s colleagues from the Democrat Party have also claimed there were irregularities involving other BMA projects.
The governor has denied the allegations against him.
The governor was at Hong Kong International Airport waiting for a flight to South Korea when news broke about Prayut’s order, according to a BMA source. He was going to Seoul to attend an event to celebrate ties between Bangkok and the South Korean capital.
He is due to return to Bangkok on Sunday.
Dropped by the Democrats
The governor, who won two terms, was recently “disowned” by the Democrat Party after he repeatedly refused to talk to party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva about the New Year lighting project and other allegations. Many critics, including his party colleagues, then called on the current post-coup government to sack him.
In early July, the Interior Ministry wrote to the BMA asking it to take legal action against the governor for allegedly misusing city funds for the Bt39.5-million New Year light display project.
The BMA’s Office of the Permanent Secretary then called on the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to pursue the case, a BMA source said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Democrat politician Vilas Chanpitaksa, who has made allegations against Sukhumbhand, said yesterday that he was satisfied by the prime minister’s order to suspend the governor.
He said General Prayut had to issue the order before the NACC could make a decision against Sukhumbhand.
“If the NACC finds the Bangkok governor guilty, then the prime minister may be viewed in a bad light. He could lose his face and people may accuse him of double standards. I think the prime minister has a good knowledge about the goings-on within the NACC,” Wilas said.
“This is why he issued the order at this time, which is acceptable to me.”
Prayut, as the NCPO head, had earlier issued similar orders to suspend many local administration officials accused of wrongdoings.
Yesterday, Prayut also suspended Premsak Phiayura, the mayor of Khon Kaen’s Ban Phai municipality, who faces a separate investigation into alleged wrongdoing.
Premsak, a married man, has been involved in a dispute with journalists stemming from a report that he offered a dowry for a secondary school student. He allegedly forced a reporter involved in the report to strip to his underwear in his office.