BANGKOK — Two days after army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong said retired army officers must move out from their official residences after their tenures ended in an combat to combat corruption in the ranks, it emerged that some exceptions were made.
That is, government leaders like PM Prayut Chan-ocha and deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, both of them retired army generals, are exempted because of their “contribution to society.”
The exception attracted much criticism from the opposition and anti-military critics, who accused Apirat of flip-flopping on his own pledge to end favoritism in the armed forces. The army also came under particular scrutiny after a soldier killed 29 people in a rampage over the weekend after being cheated of his money by his superior.
Future Forward Party MP Pongskorn Rodchompoo said the exception virtually nullified the very point of Apirat’s stated intention.
“Why would Apirat have said that in the first place? It’s useless,” Pongskorn, himself a retired army lieutenant general, said in an interview. “Once there’s an exception then the order is voided.”
Other individuals exempted from the policy include Interior Minister and junta member Gen Anupong Paochinda; a number of retired generals who now serve as Senators; and retired army generals in the Privy Council.
Pongskorn said living in officers’ quarters granted by the army is a common practice for many ex-generals and those who held important posts in the force, whereas lower ranking officers usually leave their official residence soon after retirement.
The general named the 11th Infantry Division headquarters in Bang Khen district as a popular location for top generals to live, long after they left the force.
The late ex-premier and former army commander Prem Tinsulanonda also famously lived in an army residence until his death in May 2019.
An officer who works in the Army Welfare Department, which manages housing for officers, said on Thursday that the exemption mentioned by Apirat is indeed an internal practice in the force. The officer, who spoke on a condition of anonymity, said the generals must show “contributions to society” in order to qualify for the special treatment.
Former army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin said he supports booting out retired officers from taxpayers-funded residences.
“That’s how it should be. The regulations is that it’s for serving officers,” said Gen. Sonthi, who led a coup to depose an elected government in 2006.
However, Sonthi said he just left the army residence less than a year ago, despite having been retired since 2007. Asked why it took so long for him to leave, Gen. Sonthi said he had permission from the army to stay.
It is unclear how many officers would be left homeless by Gen. Apirat’s order. The officer at the Army Welfare Department said they have no immediate figure at hand, and army spokesman Col. Winthai Suvari said he had no details either.