Junta at risk of a backlash over lucrative benefits
How long the public will stand for new govt dipping into the trough remains to be seen
The latest controversial pay rise given to 120 officers working for the military junta is not the first, and likely will not be the last, self-rewarding act of the Council for National Security (CNS).
On Tuesday, the junta-appointed Cabinet approved an additional 15-per-cent pay hike, in addition to the 15 per cent granted earlier, as a "special reward" for their "honesty, tolerance and dedication on weekdays and weekends".
People may recall that the junta, who staged last year's September 19 coup to oust the corrupt Thaksin Shinawatra regime, later appropriated some Bt1.2 billion of taxpayers' money for expenditures related to the planning and execution of the unconstitutional coup.
Soon after, the junta appointed a number of friends and allies to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). The NLA members also received fairly fat paycheques by Thai standards, and the assembly approved a bill increasing the defence budget by 34.97 per cent, or an increase of some Bt20 billion, boosting the annual defence budget to Bt115 billion.
As a reward, a number of CNS members and generals close to the junta were also appointed on various boards of state enterprises and semi-government corporations.
There was also the allegedly lavish and controversial Bt7-million study trip to Europe led by General Saprang Kalayanamitr, one of the key men within the junta, who also sits on the board of Airports of Thailand (AOT). General Saprang declared himself a national "hero", in order to evade probing questions from the media on whether the amount spent was justifiable. Members of the entourage included a person who shared the same family name as General Saprang's.
The self-rewarding spree continues and has even crept into the 35-person Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), the members of which are directly or indirectly appointed by the junta itself.
Last week, the charter drafters moved to ensure future governments would be duty-bound not only to provide adequate arms and military equipment to the armed forces, but also to be "modern" and up to date in terms of "technology". These words were added with no debate. How much this will cost taxpayers in the future is not yet known, but the current annual defence budget is already some 7.34 per cent of the national budget.
Yet many on the very same CDC, citing "lack of money", continue to stall a move that would guarantee the state would provide a minimum of 12 years of education under the new charter. (The old 1997 Constitution offered such a minimum guarantee, so that is nothing new.)
The charter drafters have not made any attempt so far, and are unlikely to do so in the future, to question things like "secret military fund" or how it can be made more accountable, not to mention transparent, under the new constitution.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, meanwhile, insists it cannot afford to buy a new fleet of environmentally friendly buses, saying Bangkok's taxpayers will have to stick with the old ones that emit more CO2 than the city needs.
Here are a few questions that the junta ought to answer frankly:
What do you think of Thai citizens and taxpayers who are being made to pay more and more into your coffers?
What say does the public have in all of these self-rewarding acts of yours?
Can we, the public, get some mileage out of it?
How long, or rather how much longer, do you think Thai citizens should (or will) put up with it?
The junta may feel the public owes them for its help in getting rid of the Thaksin Shinawatra regime and restoring "democracy".
The kind of precedent that such apparent self-rewarding and self-serving behaviour will set, or rather reinforce - considering that past coup leaders almost always ended up becoming corrupted by the very power they usurped - should not be too hard to guess.
And the public should not be too surprised if all of these actions set a precedent of lucrative incentives for future coup-stagers.