BANGKOK — An opposition politician slammed the outgoing army chief Apirat Kongsompong for failing to reform the force as he pledged earlier this year.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who led the now-defunct Future Forward Party, wrote online that Gen. Apirat did not live up to his promise to “reform the army within 100 days” after a disgruntled soldier stationed in Korat went on a rampage and killed 30 people in February.
“More than 236 days have passed since the Korat shooting incident that disturbed the whole nation,” Thanathorn wrote. “Under social pressure to reform the army, Mr. Apirat promised to the people to reform the army but until today, those reforms did not take place.”
The politician went on, “Mr. Apirat is part of the elite, and the armed forces are an instrument for these people to maintain their power. The fact that Mr. Apirat did not do what he said may show the intention of the elite – that they do not want to adjust themselves to changes.”
But defense ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said such a verdict is false, since the army has been implementing new policies aimed at more transparency and fairness.
“We always reform, reform our structure, budget, intelligence gathering. There are many dimensions,” Maj. Gen. Kongcheep said by phone. “Reforms have to be done incrementally, and we have short, medium and long term plans.”
The spokesman said among the reform plans is to cut down the number of generals in the armed forces, and it has been reduced by 30 percent so far.
“When generals retire, we do away with some positions,” Kongcheep said. “Please do not forget that the armed forces expanded during the Cold War when we were fighting against the communists.”
“We can’t simply hand them a white envelope and ask them to resign like those in the private sector. We fought together in wars,” said Kongcheep, though he added that he has no exact number at hand as to how many army generals are serving in the force.
Thanathorn also accused the army of refusing to open a transparent bidding for private companies to run its businesses, instead relying on firms with close ties to the force.
When asked to comment on the allegation, Kongcheep said he doesn’t know the specifics, but said the public should rest assured that its assets and properties are being utilized to benefit taxpayers the most.
Army spokesman Winthai Suvari meanwhile said on the phone Thursday that he will not comment on accusations made by individuals.
“We won’t respond to these kinds of opinions. It’s a personal opinion,” Col. Winthai said.
10 Points for Trying?
The army runs a large number of businesses across Thailand, including golf courses, resort hotels, gas stations, and even a boxing stadium.
The force’s financial operations surfaced as a topic of debate after an army sergeant went on a killing rampage in February after he was allegedly cheated of his money and property deal by his commanding officer.
In response to public scrutiny, Gen. Apirat said in the aftermath of the massacre that he will hear grievances from low ranking soldiers and pursue a wide range of reforms.
But a former army sergeant, Narongchai Intarakaew, who was dismissed from the army after he spoke out on an alleged corruption case in April, said on the phone Thursday that Apirat did not only fail to reform the army, but he did not even really try in the first place.
“He didn’t do anything,” Narongchai said. “My petition for reinstatement is still not going anywhere.”
Narongchai said his friends inside the army told him that the army has already quietly removed the “hotline” for petition of alleged abuses and mistreatment introduced by Apirat. He also said military conscription is a ripe ground for corruption.
“You can’t use your mobile phone in the bases,” Narongchai said. “But a shop there offers you phone access at five baht per minute which is higher than the real rate. Someone is making money.”
Kongcheep the defense spokesman urged the public to understand that the armed forces are doing what they can to serve the public, including a success in ensuring that there’s no border clashes between Thailand and its immediate neighbours.
“We look after securities to the point where there’s no more conflicts with our neighbours,” the major general said. “When police looked after law and order to the point where there are no crimes, would you ask what police are for?”
“I want you to look at us from another angle and have some confidence.”