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Prem urges government to keep conscience
Rule of law, ethics must go hand in hand

Statesman Gen Prem Tinsulanonda has pleaded with the government to keep a clear conscience, saying it is not genuinely committed to good governance if it merely observes the law but still flouts ethical and moral principles.

In his speech on ''Ethics for Public Administration'' to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Institute for Development Administration's faculty of public administration yesterday, Gen Prem said following the rule of law is ''the lowest level'' of ethical standards.

Gen Prem, also the Privy Council president and former prime minister, said the law was often written after problems occurred and might not be sacred enough, while the powers-that-be also might refuse to issue a law that could deprive them and their cronies of their benefits.

He said the arms of the law were not long enough to reach politicians who did not register their marriages so their spouses did not have to declare their assets, those who gave verbal rather than written orders to government officials to do ill deeds, and those who sought to appoint their henchmen to political positions that did not exist in the law, such as assistants to ministers, so they did not have to reveal their financial statements.

''In other countries, accountability, transparency, participation and predictability are part and parcel of good governance. In Thailand, we must also add moral and ethical principles,'' he said.

Gen Prem said that under unethical leaders, administration of the state would fail, adding the seven qualities government leaders must have were honesty, legitimacy, fairness, efficiency, transparency, good values and embody the security of the state.

''One must be honest and make sure others are too. Greed-driven administrators are the root of corruption.

''Some practices are not wrong under the law but raise troubling ethical questions, such as the thing about conflict of interest.

''The law bars one doing something, but is not applied to one's family, siblings and relatives,'' he said.

Administrators also must not exploit loopholes in the law for their own gain, must not use double or multiple standards in their management, must provide the public with free access to useful state information and must settle problems in ways that do not affect rights and freedom.

Gen Prem also voiced concern about a status-obsessed Thai society, saying people seemed to have no sense of right or wrong.

''It is worrisome and dangerous to worship rich people, more so if you blindly believe that they are good and give them respect without asking them how they earn their money,'' he said.

In a seminar that followed, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, of the faculty of public administration, presented political reform ideas which included direct elections for prime minister.

Mr Sombat said the strongest elected civilian government did not guarantee transparency and a government with stability could still be plagued with corruption, causing public trust and faith to erode.

He said the charter should be amended to ensure a separation of powers where the executive and legislative branches are independent from each other.
The prime minister should be directly elected to ''free'' him from the legislative branch.

''If the prime minister is elected directly, he will no longer have to depend on the House to vote him to the premiership.'' People also would have an array of candidates to choose from, as parties could name anyone other than their leaders and select the finalists through the primary vote system.

Direct elections for prime minister would make vote-buying more difficult. Candidates also would not have to ''invest'' in contestants vying for House seats because they would not need them to get elected so they could vote them to Government House.

Ref: Bangkok Post

Prem Tinsulanonda Center for International Education, Chiang Mai, Kingdom of Thailand