Thai junta No. 2 cleared after 'lavish' Hawaii trip

Media, civil society increasingly questioning use of public funds by junta which seized power May 2014

Thai junta No. 2 cleared after 'lavish' Hawaii trip

World Bulletin / News Desk

 Thailand's auditor general has cleared the deputy-prime minister and his entourage of any irregularities over a $600,000 state funded charter flight to Hawaii, as criticism of the “lavish” trip and similar suspected scandals in junta circles mounts.

Trip expenses published on a government website Oct. 2 showed the trip for the second most powerful member of the country's junta included a bill of $17,200 for “inflight dinner” -- a price immediately lampooned by civil society and media, with the word “Hawaii-gate” trending heavily on social networks.

On Saturday, the Bangkok Post reported Auditor General Pisit Leelavachiropas as saying that the price of the trip for Deputy-Prime Minister-cum-Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan and his 37-person entourage was “acceptable” and that items served on the flight such as caviar were a "standard fish for VIP passengers”.

He said the dish was only served to nine of the 38, and that it was “impossible to take caviar off the menu in exchange for a fare reduction”.

The Thai Airways Boeing 747-400 flight was chartered to attend a Sept. 29-30 defense meeting between officials from countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States.

On Oct. 3, junta chief cum-Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha vehemently defended his deputy saying that he went to Hawaii “not for a holiday but for the country”.

Wongsuwan, meanwhile, has said that he and his entourage ate only “rice and Thai noodles” during the 11-hour flight despite pictures posted online of the alleged inflight menu showing Italian ham and caviar.

He says there was no regular flight by Thai Airways on the route, which made the chartered flight the only solution.

After a passenger list posted online claiming to be from the flight showed many onboard were unconnected to the trip's official goals, Wongsuwan sought to underline that all of the delegation had gone to Hawaii to attend meetings either on defense or on the fight against human trafficking and illicit drugs.

The government, however, has refused to release its own list of passengers, saying it would infringe privacy.

The controversy follows a series of scandals mostly involving the premier's younger brother, Gen. Preecha Chan-ocha, the permanent secretary for defense, and his family.

In September, a picture was posted online showing a billboard next to a weir built with government money emblazoned with an image of Preecha’s wife, Pongpan, and the words “Pongpan, mother of development”.

Pongpan was presented as the patron of the work although she had no official position and the work was done by villagers and soldiers.

She was also treated with honors fit for a queen -- a red carpet, officials bowing and curtsying, and a uniformed aide holding an umbrella to protect her from the sun -- during the inauguration of the weir.

Such honors are usually reserved for royalty or those closely connected.

Days later, cries of nepotism also greeted an investigation by website Isra News which reported that a company owned by Preecha and Pongpan's son, Pathompol, was granted $2.7 million in contracts to construct buildings by the 3rd Army, the northern unit led by Preecha until 2012.

Preecha has denied any wrongdoing, but the Association for the Protection of the Constitution -- a Thai civil society organization fighting abuses of power by officials -- has lodged a petition with the National Anti-Corruption Commission over the case.

Media are increasingly questioning the use of public funds by the junta which seized power in May 2014.

Since overthrowing the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, it has promised to eradicate corruption through a nationwide reform program. 

On Saturday, the Bangkok Post ran an editorial titled: Come clean on Hawaii trip.

“The Hawaii trip was sponsored by taxpayer money and it was part of Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan’s duties as a government official,” it said.

“The public has the right to know how the money was spent and whether it was justifiable."


Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Ekim 2016, 12:09