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05BANGKOK3381 REPLACEMENT OF RTG AUDITOR-GENERAL SPARKS CONTROVERSY

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“32996”,”5/20/2005 10:37″,”05BANGKOK3381″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,””,

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 003381

 

SIPDIS

 

SENSITIVE

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV. HQ USPACOM FOR FPA HUSO.

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: REPLACEMENT OF RTG AUDITOR-GENERAL

SPARKS CONTROVERSY

 

1. (SBU) Summary: A controversy over the status of

Auditor-General Khunying Charuwan Methanaka is receiving wide

attention in Thailand. On May 12, citing a Constitutional

Court decision voiding her original appointment, the Senate

named former Finance Ministry Deputy Permanent Secretary

Wisut Montriwat to replace Charuwan after she has been in the

job since November 2001. Her supporters are crying foul,

accusing the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government of removing an

effective anti-corruption investigator who has become a thorn

in its side. Her supporters claim that, after a series of

investigations that targeted Thaksin-appointed senior

officials, she now has Transport Minister Suriya

Jungrungruenkit in her sights for suspected involvement with

fraud connected to the new airport project. Charuwan\’s

removal appears to be legal, even if it is

politically-motivated. This controversy has reopened debate

about the larger questions of government influence on key

appointments and on the constitutionally-mandated

independence of the Senate and other offices. End Summary.

 

ACTIVIST AUDITOR-GENERAL

 

2. (SBU) Charuwan was an active, senior career auditor in

the Auditor-General\’s Office when she was nominated by the

Senate Auditor General Commission and subsequently selected

by the Senate to the top post in November 2001. Her name was

second on a list of three candidates but she received the nod

from the Senate at that time, all of whose members are still

holding seats.

 

3. (SBU) As head of the constitutionally-mandated

independent Auditor-General\’s office, Charuwan has proved to

be a strong anti-graft investigator, looking into many cases

alleging government fraud and malfeasance under the Thaksin

administration. The Palace awarded her the royal honorific

of \”khunying,\” and \”promoted\” her to a higher order, because

of her corruption-busting performance. Charuwan investigated

projects under the Transport Ministry (the new airport and

various highway projects) and the Agriculture Ministry

(questionable rice and rubber sales). In 2003, she

reportedly was prepared to investigate allegations of fraud

by senior Ministry of Health officials administering

Thaksin\’s vaunted 30 baht health care program.

 

4. (SBU) In June 2003, a group of senators led by Buriram

Senator Police Colonel Suraphong Phai-nuan raised questions

over the selection procedure for Charuwan, pointing out that

since she had been ranked second among the three nominees for

the post, her appointment was technically illegal because it

did not follow guidelines that only the top nominee should be

selected. These Senators petitioned the Constitutional Court

to rule on Charuwan\’s appointment, and the Court subsequently

ruled that Charuwan\’s appointment was unconstitutional and

she was thus disqualified for the post. Though a number of

senators sent a letter to the Court supporting Charuwan, the

Court re-affirmed its ruling in February, 2005. On May 12,

amidst accusations by her supporters in the public that the

Thaksin administration was pushing out a strong

anti-corruption official in favor of a more malleable figure,

the Senate selected former Finance Ministry Deputy Permanent

Secretary Wisut Montriwat to replace Charuwan. Critics of

 

SIPDIS

the appointment of Wisut maintain that because Charuwan has

not been formally removed by royal fiat, a replacement cannot

be named and submitted to the King. For her part, Charuwan

is still occupying her office space, but has packed her bags.

 

NGOS POINT ACCUSE THAI RAK THAI GOVERNMENT OF POLITICAL

MOTIVATION IN REMOVAL

 

5. (U) The prospective replacement of Charuwan has stirred

up a political storm. The NGO Campaign for Popular Democracy

(CPD) on May 12 accused the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Government of

engineering her exit in order to rid itself of a troublesome

official who was revealing embarrassing instances of

corruption. CDP Secretary-General Suriyasai Katasila charged

that a majority of senators — who are supposed to be

non-partisan — had been instructed by the administration to

vote for Wisut. According to Suriyasai, during her term as

Auditor-General, Charuwan had discovered and was taking

action on several instances of corrupt practices involving

TRT ministers, including the prominent airport contract fraud

allegations now plaguing Transport Minister Suriya

Jungrungruenkit. To stop Charuwan from breathing down

Suriya,s neck and despite the legal uncertainty over

Charuwan\’s status, Suriyasai alleged, the Senate,s selection

of Wisut as new Auditor-General had been hastily arranged.

 

6. (U) Chairman of the NGO Confederation for Democracy,

Weng Tojirakan, has also charged that the dispute over the

Auditor-General post stems from fear among some Thai

politicians that Charuwan was getting too close to them in

her investigations. According to Weng, after her extended

tenure as Auditor-General, Charuwan was close to making major

corruption cases against other members of Thaksin\’s

government. Sensing trouble, Weng maintained, these

politicians moved to get her out. Weng bemoaned what he

considered undue administration influence over the nominally

independent Senate, which selected a replacement for Charuwan

without plausible reasons, and the Constitutional Court,

which passed an unclear ruling on her case. Weng also cited

Prime Minister Thaksin,s reluctance to appoint Charuwan to

the fact-finding committee on the CTX explosive device

detection machine fraud matter, in Weng\’s view, out of fear

that Charuwan would dig up embarrassing facts.

LEGAL ARGUMENTS BY A SUPPORTER

 

7. (U) One of Charuwan\’s supporters, former Constitution

Drafting Assembly (CDA) member Khanin Boonsuwan, on May 18

characterized the Senate,s appointment of Wisut as a \”legal

mistake.\” Khanin argued that Charuwan still retains her

status as Auditor-General, since the Constitution provides

that the removal from office of the Auditor-General shall be

in accordance with the organic law on state audit, and this

law does not stipulate that a ruling made by the

Constitutional Court (CC) as a valid reason for the

Auditor-General,s removal. Khanin added that the CC,s

ruling, which declared the unconstitutionality of the

Senate,s earlier selection of Charuwan as the

Auditor-General, did not specifically mention that she be

removed from the office. Therefore, Khanin concluded, the

royal appointment of Charuwan as the Auditor-General was

still in effect, and that should render the selection of

Wisut invalid. He further argued that this also makes it

inappropriate for the President of the Senate to present

Wisut to the King as new Auditor-General.

 

8. (SBU) Comment: It does appear that Charuwan\’s selection

in 2001 did not follow the Constitutionally-stipulated

procedures, a fact that was known and overlooked by the

Senate at the time of her appointment. A royal fiat is not

now required to remove her. She had a good reputation before

becoming Auditor-General but her real problem is that she has

proved to be a much tougher investigator than anticipated.

Her removal now clearly is politically-motivated but also is

achievable legally, despite the arguments of Khanin.

Speculation over what Charuwan knows about government

corruption and what she planned to do is particularly topical

because of current widespread allegations of fraud in the

awarding of contracts for the new airport. Her imminent

removal has renewed the debate about the degree of influence

exercised by the government over the nominally independent

Senate and Constitutional Court. Throughout the Thaksin

years the opposition has claimed that these and other

constitutionally-mandated watchdog bodies have been packed

and unduly influenced by the ruling party and essentially

been turned into rubber stamps. The manner in which Charuwan

is being replaced as Auditor-General has fed these suspicions

among Thaksin\’s critics and more widely in the Thai public.

End Comment.

ARVIZU

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Written by thaicables

July 7, 2011 at 5:25 am

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