BACC Director Says He Was Fired for Speaking Out Against City Hall

A file photo of Pawit Mahasarinand.
A file photo of Pawit Mahasarinand.

BANGKOK — The director of the city’s largest downtown art center said Tuesday that he was fired for standing up against city hall defunding the center. But the center’s board has blamed his poor performance.

Pawit Mahasarinand, outgoing director of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC), announced in a Tuesday statement that he was dismissed last month after refusing to resign. He believes the dismissal came because the center’s board of directors was dissatisfied with him speaking to media about city hall cutting funds to the centre.

Earlier last month, an internal memo dated Aug. 31 was issued to Pawit, telling him that the board decided not to renew his employment contract due to unsatisfactory performance.

Although the BACC is autonomously managed by a foundation that holds a contract with city hall until 2021, Pawit said the foundation’s board of directors is ultimately appointed by and answers to the governor. The 12 executives currently sitting on the board were only recently appointed in May.

Although Pawit said he would respect the decision, he asked for a performance evaluation report from the board, which was never provided.

Pawit also claimed that two board members suggested on Sept. 4 that he resign and receive “special compensation” instead of being fired because “it would look better for you.” The former director said that when he asked for the reason behind the dismissal, one of the board members replied, “Because you rebuked city hall executives and failed to manage the funds in a timely manner.”

Chatvichai Promadhattavedi, the center’s first director who now sits as the board’s secretary, declined to comment.

“As of now, I have no comment to make, but we will hold a press conference later to clarify allegations,” Chatvichai said over the phone.

Pawit’s contentious relations with city hall began last year in May, when governor Aswin Kwanmuang proposed to turn the BACC, located on prime land at the Pathumwan intersection, into a co-working space.

“The governor is the one who appoints [the board]. What if he appoints people who all agree that they want a coworking space? Then they can kick me out whenever they want,” Pawit said in an interview on May 15, 2018.

City hall later retreated from the plan after dozens of artists and art enthusiasts rallied and submitted a formal complaint to Government House’s citizen complaint center. However, it also slashed funds to the BACC after years of providing tens of millions of baht.

Pawit held a press conference on Sept. 26, 2018, saying that the facility owed 47,783 baht for two months worth of water and another 600,000 baht for electricity. He alleged politics was behind City Hall’s decision.

“Back when we had an elected government, the city approved funding. But now it doesn’t,” Pawit said on Sept. 26, 2018.

City hall has distanced itself from the dismissal, insisting that it has no power to install or remove the director of the BACC.

“I was just notified of the decision this morning. It’s entirely [the board’s] decision to appoint or remove anyone,” Amnuay Rattanaburi, head of the city’s contemporary art subdivision, said.

When asked about city hall’s decision to defund the center, he said the center has to be able to fund itself under the terms of the MOU.

“I don’t believe it’s a matter of politics, but I think that it’s his performance that matters here. We have no obligation to fund the center. The city council allocated funding in the past because they saw it was necessary to kickstart the center. As the center now seems able to sustain its operations, the city decided to discontinue its funding. That’s it,” Amnuay said.

Pawit, an ex-theater professor, took up the position of director last year in March, in a contract that was meant to last four years. He will work until his last day on Sept. 30.

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