The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has come under a barrage of criticism after the agency disclosed it was considering adjusting its rule that bars holders of political positions from receiving gifts worth more than 3,000 baht.
The move, which could see the cap of the gift price raised, has caught flak from various quarters, including the Anti- Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), politicians and activists, who said it could encourage corruption.
Former Pheu Thai Party deputy spokeswoman Sunisa Divakorndamrong (Lertpakawat) said if the amendment is made, it would be beneficial to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who would save face over the gift puppies scandal.
“A good person, when doing something wrong, must accept it was wrong. No attempts should be made to amend the rules to make their action right,” Ms Sunisa said.
She said the NACC needs to tread carefully over the move, or else it would be seen to help protect those in power.
The possible change of the rule was revealed last week after Gen Prayut came under fire over his remarks he wanted to give two puppies worth 6,000 baht each to Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda and Deputy Prime Minister Chatchai Sarikulya.
The premier was speaking after he bought three puppies from a group of breeders of Bang Kaew dogs in Phitsanulok during a mobile cabinet trip on Dec 25.
Anti-graft activist Srisuwan Janya filed a petition with the NACC against the premier for allegedly giving a gift worth more than 3,000 baht to the holders of political positions.
NACC deputy secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said on Friday the agency has an initiative to adjust the rule, but no conclusion of the matter has been reached. Several aspects need to be taken into account, he said, noting the agency has the power to change the rule itself.
He gave the remarks a day after Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the ceiling of a gift’s price was stipulated in the NACC announcement back in in 1999, and the price adjustment is needed to conform to the current cost of living.
The ACT has warned the NACC to be cautious about the move.
ACT secretary-general Mana Nimitmongkol said the move would go against moves seen in other countries. For example, United States state officials are barred from receiving gifts worth more than US$100 (3,200 baht), he said.
Such rules were intended to prevent officials from gaining personal benefits on their positions and to ensure transparency, Mr Mana said. To raise the cap of the gift prices is wrong and counters what other countries have done, he said.
Former NACC member Vicha Mahakun said limiting the value of gifts government officials and political office holders can receive was an ethical requirement to prevent acts that can lead to bribery or be channels for corruption.
“It’s not about being a good person or not, but it’s preventing officials from greed,” he said adding that when an official receives a gift from someone, familiarity might occur and lead to conduct beyond the limit of good practice.
“Some countries strictly prohibit [officials] receiving any gifts, but it might be too strict considering that in Thai culture we give gifts to others while we visit them or on special occasions,” he said.
“The principle is ‘No gift’; this [3,000-baht limit] is already lenient and something to remind the receiver that they are not supposed to receive any gift as they receive salaries that come from people’s taxes already,” he said.
Mr Vicha added that there was no need to mention adjusting the value according to the cost of living.
He said in some countries, it was required to register for the record if a government official or political office holder receives any gift from others to promote transparency, accountability and openness.
“There’s a saying, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’. If we are not in the position to help anyone, will they give us the gift?,” he asked.
Deputy Democrat leader Nipit Intarasombat said nothing should be given to those in political positions, adding that blessing cards should be enough.