11 July 2024

It started with a trickle – at first in the Ministry of Education.  Eventually, the trickle looks likely to transform into a gush that threatens to burst the floodgate and sends board members of universities and institutes of other ministries taking panicky flight to evade the legal requirement to have their wealth declared – not just to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, but also to the public.

The NACC’s controversial announcement was originally set to come into effect on December 1.  But due to opposition and threats of resignation from several university council members,  NACC has agreed under pressure to extend the deadline for wealth declaration until January 31 supposedly to give more time to the affected council and board members to prepare their documentation.

Still, the sour mood against the NACC announcement among those who are required to declare their assets remains unchanged and even with more threats of resigning.

Mr Sompong Chitpradab, a lecturer at the Faculty of Education of Chulalongkorn University, warned the NACC and the government that, in the next 1-2 months, they would witness an unprecedented phenomenon of hundreds of resignation letters from council members of several state universities.

This, he said, will affect the operations of the universities until their replacements are secured which, he added, may take up to six months to one year.

Sompong also pointed out that this wealth declaration requirement would be a setback rather than a benefit as it would drive away outsiders from joining university councils – a loss of their resourcefulness and expertise.

One prominent member who has already resigned as council member of the Basic Education Office is Mr Piyabutr Cholavicharn.

But informed sources in the Ministry of Science and Technology said that about 11 board members of the National Innovation Agency, the National Astronomical Research Institute, the Hydro & Agro Informatics Institute and Synchrotron Light Research Institute have already tendered their resignations from their boards to become effective as of December 1.

The NACC has fiercely defended the announcement, claiming that it was intended for the sake of transparency.

The most worrisome about this announcement is not requirement to declare the assets of the officials concerned, but the aspect that the public has right of access to the information about their wealth which may expose some of them to risks from criminal elements or their rivals.

The concern of possible risks from criminal elements was voiced by Associate Professor Namon Jirangsuwan, director of the Office of Education Quality Standard and Assessment, who quit her post as the board director along with the other directors.

Also under this controversial announcement, directors of several funds such as the Pension Fund, the Insurance Fund, the Student Loan Fund and the National Savings Fund are required to declare their wealth as well as assets of their spouses and children.

For the time being, it appears that NACC’s decision to extend the deadline for assets declaration is unlikely to stop the exodus whose long-term effects are yet to be determined.

For several dissatisfied directors, the big question is:  Why should they give away the information of their wealth which is generally regarded as confidential and private to the public besides the NACC?