BANGKOK — Anti-government campaigners said Thursday donations to support their protest should be made transparent to the public, but they differed on how far they should disclose those details.
The debate arose after student activists at Thammasat University staged an elaborate protest featuring light-and-sound equipment on Monday under the hashtag “Thammasat Won’t Tolerate,” a break from the small scales of student-led protests in recent months.
The group who organized the protest opened a joint bank account to receive donations for the protests on Monday, but no details of the amount were made public. When contacted on Thursday, the organizers said at noon Thursday that they would call back, but have failed to do so as of press time.
Chulalongkorn University political activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal said it’s important to be open and accountable when it comes to public donations or crowdfunding.
“I think they should reveal and be transparent about it, especially when society questioned it,” Netiwit said. “Once it’s an issue, they can’t avoid being transparent. They have probably made an account ledger already.”
Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseree, a student leader of group that calls itself Free People, said organizers should find a balance between financial clarity and privacy.
“I think no matter what activities, donated money should be revealed,” he said. “But donors’ privacy should be protected.”
Tattep added, “I don’t think big donors would dominate others, however, since student groups are not a state organ that have the power to unduly influence anyone. Domination by big donors is difficult, and such concern is rather condescending towards the activists.”
But activist Chonticha “Kate” Jangrew defended the practice of keeping donation information confidential. Chonticha, an ex-student activist who campaigned against the 2014 coup, said her experience shows that a disclosure would open the movement to intervention from the authorities.
“There may be businessmen or well-off people who are not ready to come out onto the streets to protest or reveal their identities,” she said. “Sure, there need to be transparency in terms of budget used, but is Thailand safe enough so we can reveal how much Mr. A or Mr. B donated?”
Chonticha continued, “If [the donor identity] is revealed, how much will it impact others? For example, some may have provided free television monitors, and it will not appear in the expenditure ledger as they received it without charge, but if the name of the company is revealed, the company may be targeted by the government.”
“Let me stress that we live in a dictatorship. The challenge is what to disclose in order to ensure donors that money donated are being used for the cause.”
The Money Question
Food and security at the Monday’s protest were provided by the Thammasat University Union. The union spokesman, Sivakorn Thatsanasorn, said protest organizers should reveal details about the donation and expenditure, but he doesn’t have any figures.
“You have to ask them,” Sivakorn said.
Polo-shirts with the logo of a company called Nan Phetburi Media were seen among staff handling the professional light and sounds at the protest site.
When the company was contacted on Thursday to enquire about the costs, a person who picked the phone said he doesn’t have the information.
“It involved many contractors. You should ask the organizations for details,” the person said, declining to give his name. “I don’t know about the service contracts. I’ve been paid 500 to 1,000 baht to operate the camera, but I don’t know who hired me.”
The extravagant scale of the protest didn’t escape PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s attention either. He said at the news conference today that officials should find out who gave financial support to the students.
“Let’s see if there’s anyone behind those protest activities, because a lot of spending is involved,” PM Prayut told reporters.
Netiwit said the format, styled after a concert and talk show, likely used a lot of money and attracted questions as a consequence, but he believes the organizers have the rights to stage the rally the way they see fit.
“For me, I think they have the right to do it the way they like,” he said. “But it was grand and so this could attract criticisms.”
The next ‘major rally’ is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 16.
Story by Pravit Rojanaphruk and Tappanai Boonbandit