BANGKOK Oct 7 Thailand's junta came under
scrutiny this week after critics filed a petition asking the
office of the auditor-general to investigate allegations of
extravagant spending on a trip to Hawaii for a defence meeting.
It is the latest in a series of allegations against the
military government that seized power in May 2014, promising to
root out entrenched corruption in state institutions and close
Thailand's festering political divide.
The government has defended allegations that a 20.9 million
baht ($600,000) chartered flight taken by Defence Minister
Prawit Wongsuwan and his entourage to a meeting in Hawaii last
week was exorbitant.
On Wednesday, Srisuwan Janya, head of the Association for
the Protection of the Constitution, a government watchdog,
petitioned the Office of the Auditor-General to investigate
expenses incurred on the Thai Airways flight.
These expenses included 600,000 baht ($17,200) spent on
in-flight food and beverages, according to details posted on the
Secretariat of the Prime Minister's website.
The allegations threaten to erode the military government's
credibility, say critics, including civil society groups.
Last month, Isra News, an investigative news website,
reported that Pathompol Chan-ocha, a nephew of junta chief
Prayuth Chan-ocha, was awarded seven construction projects with
the Third Army Region, which had been under his father's
command, prompting claims of nepotism.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission is currently
investigating those claims.
Preecha Chan-ocha, Pathompol's father and junta chief
Prayuth's brother, has defended his son and said he acted
according to the army's rules and regulations for contractors.
"Both of these are issues that Thai society is criticising a
lot and it will reduce the junta's credibility," Srisuwan told
Reuters. "This is contrary to what people expect from this
military government. The prime minister should boldly act to
restore public confidence and not shirk responsibility."
Colonel Piyapong Klinpan, deputy spokesman for the junta,
formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order
(NCPO), said it welcomed public scrutiny.
"If there is any issue of public interest, then the agency
involved can examine it. We are not trying to hide or conceal
anything," Piyapong told Reuters.
"The NCPO does not interfere in these independent bodies and
we ask that people trust the NCPO."
The investigation follows allegations of graft last year,
levelled by some Thai media and opposition groups, involving
construction of a $28 million park built to honour the monarchy
that threatened to undermine an anti-graft drive by the junta.
An internal investigation by the army in November 2015 found
no evidence of corruption.
Thailand's military has always been powerful, but the 2014
coup established it as the nation's pre-eminent institution.
Thais voted overwhelmingly in August to accept a
junta-backed constitution that the government says is designed
to heal more than a decade of divisive politics. Critics of the
government, including major political parties, say the charter
will enshrine the military's role for years to come.
($1 = 34.8500 baht)
(Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by John Chalmers and