New justice minister rejects claims he will push amnesty plan for Thaksin
Chaikasem Nitisiri, the new justice minister, rejects claims that his appointment to Cabinet is a reward for helping ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra with his legal problems, when Chaikasem was attorney-general. He says his selection was due mainly to his experience and expertise.
Chaikasem said he was as surprised as others when he was approached by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to take up the Justice portfolio.
“I am not close to the prime minister personally. I was as surprised as you were when learning about my appointment,” he said.
The minister told The Nation he discussed the appointment with his wife after talking to the prime minister.
“This will be the last chance in my life and I want to do something for the country,” he said. “I am not the best public prosecutor, but I believe that I am better than many others. This will be my last job – there won’t be another after this.”
Chaikasem insisted that “with 1,000 per cent certainty” he was appointed as minister because of his qualities. “If I were appointed as Transport minister, then there would be more reason to suspect it was a political reward,” he said.
The new minister dismissed claims that while serving as the attorney general, he helped Thaksin get out of legal trouble.
“I indicted him in some cases and decided not to pursue some against him. If I had wanted to help him, I could have dropped all the cases against him,” he said.
Chaikasem added that claims he was “Thaksin’s man” almost stopped him from becoming attorney general in 2007 after the military coup in 2006.
He said before Yingluck approached him, she discussed the matter with others in the ruling Pheu Thai Party, and they had agreed he was the most suitable to bring the country’s laws up to international standard – ready for the Asean Economic Community in two years time.
His first priority would be to overhaul the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC). He said the agency had failed to do its job in the eyes of the public, despite the government’s anti-corruption policy. His proposed changes would give more power to the PACC secretary-general in order to help improve the agency’s efficiency.
Another priority was changes to the Corrections Department. He has a plan to move some prisons, including Klong Prem, out of Bangkok to a new location – possibly in neighbouring Pathum Thani province.
He will also encourage prisons to implement a pilot project that allows private companies to run corrections facilities. This happens already in other countries, but the Thai public would be sounded out first to see if they support the idea, the Justice minister said.
Chaikasem also defended the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) against allegations that many cases it handles are politically motivated.
He said the DSI dealt with all sorts of cases – some of which were against politicians – and that had led to a perception that many were political. “All cases must first depend on evidence and facts. It’s the courts that make the final judgement,” he said.
In regard to Thaksin’s legal problems, the minister said the former premier had never asked him for help to seek an amnesty. Chaikasem said he would make a decision in accordance with existing regulations on whether to forward an amnesty request to the relevant authorities. However, he was unsure if a petition for a royal pardon had been filed for Thaksin.