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Opinion: Even heroes are accountable

By Veera Prateepchaikul
Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Post Publishing

Gen Saprang's overseas trip, which was financed by taxpayer money, was not confidential, and the public, including Thai Rak Thai, have the right to know about it in full detail.

Is there a Thai Rak Thai mole inside Airports of Thailand (AoT) who leaked to the party details about Saprang Kalayanamitr's recent European trip which landed him in hot water? Apparently the AoT board chairman and deputy secretary-general of the Council for National Security (CNS) who led the inspection trip to Britain and Germany thought so.

That was why he summoned the AoT union leader to his office on Thursday. Gen Saprang wanted to find out how detailed information about the trip landed in the hands of the Thai Rak Thai members who released it to the press.

It is not known if the union leader was the only person under suspicion. In fact, there were other people who had access to information about the trip. Among them were the AoT staff responsible for arranging the trip and the tour company which coordinated air tickets, visas and accommodation while in Britain and Germany.

Details of the closed-door meeting between Gen Saprang and the union leader were not available. But once he emerged from the closed-door meeting to confront reporters, he said the union had no problem with Gen Saprang's one-week trip which, he added, was worth the cost - about seven million baht - for 13 delegates.

As a career soldier most of his life, Gen Saprang appears to be familiar with the notion that every piece of official information is confidential. So he might have thought the details of his recent inspection trip were classified information that would not be made public, let alone by the party that he detested.

But AoT is not a military unit. It's a state enterprise engaged in commercial activities which are subject to public scrutiny and must practise transparency as well as accountability.

Thus Gen Saprang's overseas trip, which was financed by taxpayer money, was not confidential, and the public, including Thai Rak Thai, has the right to know about it in full detail.

How Thai Rak Thai obtained information about the trip should not be an issue here.

On the contrary, the party should be commended for disclosing the information to the press.

If Gen Saprang is confident he did nothing wrong by bringing one of his relatives on the trip and that the trip was worth seven million baht, then there is nothing for him to be worried about. Also, he should be candid enough to clarify any doubts the press or Thai Rak Thai harbours against him.

Regrettably though, the outspoken general, who earned widespread recognition among opponents of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for his fearless criticism of the deposed leader, chose to evade some questions raised by reporters. For instance, the question about why he brought a relative on the trip.

Though outspoken and aggressive, Gen Saprang is a smart, no-nonsense officer with a promising future. He is one of two candidates - the other is Gen Winai Patthiyakul, secretary-general of the CNS - with the potential to succeed Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin as army commander-in-chief.

Gen Saprang was right when he said the whole cost of his overseas trip was chicken feed when compared to the spoils plundered by corrupt politicians from the various projects related to Suvarnabhumi airport.

But he was dead wrong to think that since the amount was small - just seven million baht - he did not have to publicly clarify details of the trip because of his "hero" status for being instrumental in the overthrow of the Thaksin regime. The public's right to know is a fundamental right which is beyond dispute.

Gen Saprang's image as a hero might have won him respect and recognition for now. But if he really wants the public to have trust and confidence in him, he needs to demonstrate that he also has other qualities like honesty, transparency and accountability.

With the controversy surrounding his recent overseas trip still on, the moment is right for him to show he is transparent and accountable.

© Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2006
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