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10 Jun, 2002

Victimised TAT Governor Exonerated, Walks Away With Head High

Former Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Pradech Phayakvichien last week walked away from his job legally exonerated of the charges against him, with the added confirmation that he was indeed the victim of a political conspiracy hatched by TAT insiders in collusion with Cabinet ministers.

In a statement of rebuttal over the “ethical” as against legal violations of conduct that led to his removal, Mr Pradech in turn questioned the ethics of those who had stood in judgement against him.

About 150 staff members turned up at the TAT conference hall to give him moral support at his farewell Press conference last Wednesday. Their grim and sombre expressions were in stark contrast to Mr Pradech’s own mood which, in the wake of him having spent 10 days in meditation last month, was remarkably nonchalant and relaxed.

All the staff members lined up later to present him with roses. Several more said they would have turned up for the roughly 90-minute farewell event if they were not tied down with urgent work at their desks.

The TAT’s ranks are clearly split over the transfer of Mr Pradech to a C11 posting as adviser to the Cabinet, an equivalent rank to the governor, following the conclusion of an investigation committee that questioned the “ethics” of him holding shares in ASE Consulting, a company that had been awarded TAT contracts.

After a six-month investigation that began soon after Mr Pradech’s suspension as governor in the first week of last January, the committee found that he had violated no law or regulation in holding those shares, nor was he guilty of any corruption, nor was he considered unqualified to be the governor.

The decision of the TAT board of directors recommending his transfer said, “However, as he was a founder of the company and his family members are shareholders, he was therefore considered as a person who is benefiting from the company.

“Though the Governor claimed that his involvement was an honest act and it was also legally allowed, as he was appointed to supervise the country’s tourism (which is a significant policy), he should have strictly followed the Cabinet Resolution (dated 26 February 1998 or B.E. 2541) on the ‘ethics’ of Board Members of State Enterprises.”

In his Press conference, the governor indicated that he had no choice but to accept the decision, but that he would not do so unquestioningly. In a statement in response to the Cabinet decision, he asks, “I question the TAT board’s standards of judgment in situations where matters of ethics are concerned.”

Without actually saying so, he also indirectly questioned the ethics of TAT chairman and tourism minister Somsak Thepsuthin for making ‘untrue’ statements that Mr Pradech and his legal advisor had been given an opportunity to defend himself before the investigating committee, when no such opportunity had been given. He noted that Mr. Somsak had also said that the Governor would be returned to his position if he was found not guilty of any wrongdoing.

“The request to appoint me as tourism advisor (of full C11 rank) is therefore not clear especially if referring to the term ‘ethics’,” the former governor says. In fact, he points out that he had done everything possible to ensure that the responsible authorities were fully informed of his shareholding.

He noted that he had held shares in ASE Consultants before he was appointed to managerial level and that he had never been involved in the bidding, appointing and approving the projects won by ASE Consultants. He describes his shareholding as an honest act according to Article 25 (2) of the TAT Act B.E. 2522 and maintains that he has had no authority in management of the company according to the civil law.

At the same time, he revealed his shareholding to the National Counter Corruption Commission when he was appointed Deputy Governor and Governor respectively without any intention to conceal this fact.

The former governor said that ASE Consultants had signed a total of five contracts with TAT, three of which were concluded before he became the governor. Two were signed during his governorship but only the last one was personally approved by him.

This last project was scrutinised by many related officials at many levels and proposed to him for approval. He could not avoid this approval process by assigning the deputy governors to do so since it was under a loan agreement and had to be approved only by the governor.

Says Mr Pradech, “The appointments and removal of senior state enterprise officials must be according to the law not according to political allegiances or decisions related to behavioural standards.”

“The Investigating Committee concluded that I could not be trusted as per the standards of ‘ethics’. The word ‘ethics’ has not been defined. Hence, I intend to proceed to seek justice and equal standards for all state enterprise officials,” the former governor said.

Industry executives said it was just a confirmation of the conspiracy that had been hatched against Mr Pradech to oust him after the change of government last year. “If the investigation committee had also investigated how this issue became an issue in the first place, they would have clearly been able to trace it back to its origins,” said one TAT executive, who declined to be identified.

All eyes now are on whether acting Governor and Deputy Governor of Marketing Mrs Juthamas Siriwan will get the job. Well-known for her strong political connections, she lost the job to Mr Pradech three years ago.

Government officials say that much will depend on how the TAT is affected by an upcoming restructuring and are not ruling out the possibility of an ‘outsider’ being brought in, similar to the appointment at Thai Airways International.

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