Panel to review feedback on charter change

Panel to review feedback on charter change
A replica of the charter in the form of an accordion-style parchment sits on a golden tray under a spotlight at the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Findings from public hearings on amending the charter in all four regions of the country are ready for review by parliamentarians.

Most who attended the hearings pointed to the need for the drafting assembly to draw up a new charter that could tackle problems, said Nikorn Chamnong, chairman of a sub-committee gathering opinions on the government’s proposal to amend the 2017 constitution.

Some 240 people from across the country had taken part in the hearings, said deputy government spokeswoman Rudklao Suwankiri.

They were asked whether they agreed in principle with three key aspects of the proposal, including whether to leave Sections 1 and 2 of the charter — which contain general principles and royal provisions — unchanged, and if they thought a referendum would be necessary, she said.

The findings will be discussed at a meeting of the government’s main charter amendment committee after opinions from all 500 MPs and 250 senators are received later this month, said Mr Nikorn.

Opinions from senators in particular will give a strong indication as to how the vote in parliament will fare as the current constitution requires one-third of senators, or 84, to vote in favour of the bill for it to be passed, said Mr Nikorn.

Failure to secure the required number of votes from the Senate would result in the bill being dropped, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, in his capacity as chairman of the main committee, meanwhile said he expects the group will reach a conclusion at a meeting on Dec 25.

Wuttisan Tanchai, chairman of another sub-committee studying legal matters, said the panel will on Monday meet Switzerland’s ambassador to Thailand to discuss ways of bringing down the cost of organising a referendum.

Thailand could learn from Switzerland’s experience in gathering public opinion on various matters through holding referendums, said Mr Wuttisan.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin marked Constitution Day on Sunday by urging all sides to join the government’s push for a new constitution.

It is the government’s responsibility to bring in a new constitution to represent the people, but it can’t succeed without participation from all sides, he said in a Facebook post.

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Over 80,000 sign up for debt relief scheme

Over 80,000 sign up for debt relief scheme
Members of the public attend a debt mediation fair in Nonthaburi province in November last year. (Photo: Pornprom Satrabhaya)

More than 82,000 people have signed up to the government’s initiative to help distressed debtors service their obligations to informal lenders since the scheme was launched nine days ago.

According to Suttipong Juljarern, permanent secretary of the Interior Ministry, as of 3pm on Saturday, 82,753 people with debts totalling 4.3 billion baht had registered for assistance.

Those who are interested in joining the programme have until Feb 29 to sign up. They can register in person at their local district office, through the ThaID mobile application or by calling the Interior Ministry’s Damrongtham Centre’s hotline at 1567.

Bangkokians topped the list of participants, with 5,349 people owing 363.8 million baht having signed up to join the scheme as of yesterday; followed by Nakhon Si Thammarat, with 3,473 owing a total of 183.6 million baht; and Songkhla, which had 3,473 participants who owed a total of 183.6 million baht.

Three provinces with fewer than 300 participants were Mae Hong Son (110 with an accumulated debt of 4.2 million baht, Ranong (169, with debts of 12.5 million baht), and Samut Songkhram (235, with debts worth 7.2 million baht).

Mr Suttipong called on all Thais who are struggling to service their household debts to sign up, so they can start putting their affairs back in order.

On the first day of the scheme’s launch, a total of 22,900 people registered, 21,001 of whom did so online, while 1,089 people walked in to their local district offices to sign up in person. In total, they owed 935.31 million baht, according to the ministry.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who said that informal debt was both the cause and consequence of many social and economic ills, is scheduled to unveil more measures to help debtors on Monday.

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Anti-corruption body plans public hearing on govt's 10k plan

Anti-corruption body plans public hearing on govt's 10k plan
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin elaborates on his digital wallet scheme at Government House on Nov 10. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is planning to hold a public hearing to gauge opinions about the government’s handling of its 10,000-baht digital money handout scheme as part of the NACC’s monitoring of this controversial project.

Opinions of general members of the public and experts in relevant fields recorded during the hearing will be compiled for analysis, said Niwatchai Kasemmongkol, secretary-general of the NACC.

“Since the government recently said it would submit a loan bill to the House [to fund the scheme], the NACC is prepared to [scrutinise] what the government would do next with the loan,” he said.

Since the formation of a panel aimed at studying and monitoring the government’s implementation of the digital wallet scheme, the NACC has obtained and studied documents pertaining to the available details of the scheme and interviewed many state officials responsible for implementing the project, he said. They included personnel from the Ministry of Finance, the Revenue Department, the Comptroller General’s Department, the Public Debt Management Office and other experts.

So far, it remains unclear whether the government could actually implement the scheme as there are questions over who will provide the 500-million-baht funding and how the money will be distributed to the population, he said.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin admitted the government could not at this point be certain how long it would take the Council of State, the government’s legal arm, to respond to questions submitted to the council asking about a plan to borrow 500 billion baht to fund the digital handout scheme. But Mr Srettha said he was still confident the implementation of the scheme could begin in May as planned.

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai earlier said a draft of the 500-billion-baht loan bill had already been submitted by Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat to the council for inspection as well.

If the council doesn’t object to any part of the bill and sends the draft back to the government, it will then proceed with submitting the bill to the House for deliberation and passing into law, he said.

However, if the council advises the government to amend the draft on any minor points, the government do as it was told, he said.

In the event the council advises against a core part in the bill, the government will later have to discuss what should be done afterwards, he said.

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Harmful levels of ultrafine dust in 31 provinces

Harmful levels of ultrafine dust in 31 provinces
People exercise on a jogging track in Nonthaburi province on Sunday morning. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

About 40% of the country was blanketed with thick and harmful levels of ultrafine dust on Sunday afternoon, according to Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Gistda).

The public organisation reported via its website that 31 out of 77 provinces in the country, mostly in the Central Plain, were shrouded with unsafe levels of particulate matter 2.5 micrometres and less in diameter (PM2.5).

The levels ranged from 38.3 to 75.6 microgrammes of PM2.5 per cubic metre of air over the past 24 hours. The safety threshold is at 37.5µg/m³.

At 3pm the worst level, 75.6µg/m³, was recorded in Samut Prakan, followed by 73.3µg/m³ in Ang Thong, 72.9µg/m³ in Bangkok and 72.0µg/m³ in Nonthaburi.

Lower but still unsafe levels of PM2.5 were also reported in Sing Buri, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon, Ayutthaya, Lop Buri, Suphan Buri, Ratchaburi, Kanchanaburi, Kalasin, Petchaburi, Saraburi, Nakhon Sawan, Uttaradit, Uthai Thani, Chai Nat, Udon Thani, Sukhothai, Nong Khai, Phitsanulok, Roi Et, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chachoengsao, Nakhon Nayok, Phichit, Ubon Ratchathani and Prachin Buri.

People in the 31 provinces were advised to avoid outdoor activities. The Meteorological Department attributed the air pollution to stagnant air.

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Chalermchai vows to turn Democrats into 'strong' opposition

Chalermchai vows to turn Democrats into 'strong' opposition
FILE PHOTO: Chalermchai Sri-on, right, stands next to former Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit in a party meeting in Bangkok in July. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

Chalermchai Sri-on, the newly elected leader of the Democrat Party, has vowed to make an all-out effort to transform the party into a strong opposition.

On Sunday, the 9th leader in the 77-year history of the Democrats, Thailand’s oldest political party, posted a video on Facebook with the following message:

“I have both good news and bad news. The good news is I congratulate everyone who has been elected to the party’s executive committee. The bad news is that all of you must work hard, starting from today.

“I would like to give an assurance that this executive committee will adhere to the “ideology” and “principles” of the Democrat Party.

“The Democrat Party will never be ‘a spare part’ for any party.

“It is important for the Democrat Party to start moving immediately. I will make an all-out effort to make the Democrat Party a ‘strong’ and ‘solid’ opposition.”

The Democrat Party had failed twice in a bid to elect a new executive committee, including a new leader, due to the lack of quorum and internal rifts.

However, the party managed to overcome the hurdles in a third bid on Sunday, when Mr Chalermchai was chosen unopposed as the new party leader along with the new executive committee.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former party leader, was nominated by former party leader Chuan Leekpai as a candidate. But Mr Abhisit withdrew his candidacy and announced his resignation as a party member.

Watanya Bunnag, alias Madame Dear, was also nominated as a contender. The meeting was asked to waive the regulation requiring a candidate to be a party for at least five years. But Ms Wantaya failed to get enough votes to support the waiver.

Sathit Pitutecha, a former deputy leader of the party, also announced his resignation as a party member after Mr Chalermchai was elected as the new leader.

It was believed many other leading members of the party would follow suit.

Mr Chuan, a party list MP, said Mr Sathit’s resignation was unexpected. He said Mr Sathit initially said he would not attend the meeting on Sunday, reasoning that the votes had been fixed in Mr Chalermchai’s favour, but did attend after Mr Chuan asked him to.

But Mr Sathit attended the meeting only to announce his resignation, said Mr Chuan.

Mr Chuan said he was concerned about the party’s commitment – in place for 77 years – to adhere to clean politics and honesty.

“The Democrat Party has been recognised as a political institution not because it has long been in existence but because of its principles.

“Since all past leaders of the party adhered to honesty and won acceptance from the people, and the new leader has vowed to follow suit, I would like the new executive committee to watch out as there have been rumours that the Democrat Party would side with the government,” Mr Chuan said.

Mr Chuan said he was not happy when some Democrat MPs voted in support of Srettha Thavisin for prime minister in violation of a party resolution.

Asked whether he would stay with the Democrat Party despite the turbulence, Mr Chuan said: “I am not going anywhere. No matter what, I will stay put. I am indebted to the party. I have got what I have now by being with the party. The party has given me opportunities. It is where I was elected party leader after being considered a person who was good enough for the position. I am obligated to repay this debt in the last chapter of my political career.”

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Thai Airways apologises for burning passenger with hot coffee

Thai Airways International has apologised for an incident where hot coffee was spilled on a passenger, causing serious burns.

The public relations department of the airline said on Sunday it felt truly sorry for the incident and promised compensation for the injured passenger. It also said that the airline management was investigating the issue and would inform the injured passenger of the results.

The airline’s apology followed a complaint from the injured passenger that a flight attendant dropped a cup of hot coffee while reaching across to server another passenger in the same row of seats. The cup was served by hand instead of being placed on a tray as usual, according to the complainant.

The injured passenger on a recent Chiang Mai-bound flight from Bangkok said he suffered severe burns over many areas of his body and had to receive treatment at hospital.

The passenger said that the flight attendant failed to give him first aid in a professional manner or ensure due care from the airline.

The attendant only sent him to a wheelchair pusher at Chiang Mai airport before leaving him. He said the adjacent passenger who ordered the cup of hot coffee apologised to him repeatedly, accompanied him in an ambulance to hospital and waited until he was discharged from an emergency room.

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Prisoner who escaped after penis surgery recaptured

Prisoner who escaped after penis surgery recaptured
Inmate Thanaphat Mayod is seen walking towards a hospital lift in an attempted escape from Bang Lamung Hospital in Pattaya at around 2am on Saturday. (Capture from TV)

CHON BURI: A prisoner who escaped from the surgical ward of Bang Lamung Hospital after undergoing surgery for a penis infection on Saturday has been recaptured, the Department of Corrections announced on Sunday.

Thanaphat Mayod, 37, was found on Sunday at about 7am by corrections officials while hiding on the rooftop of a one-storey building of the psychiatry ward, only about 20 metres away from the surgical ward.

Thanaphat, who is serving time at Pattaya Remand Prison after being convicted in a theft case, was admitted to Bang Lamung Hospital on Dec 6 after suffering a severe infection from injections to enlarge his penis.

After a surgical procedure, he was put in a room for patients on the 7th floor of the surgical ward for recovery.

Thanaphat cut off the chains around his ankles with a pair of pliers and escaped from the room at about 2am on Saturday. His disappearance prompted a search.

Prison officials searched the area around the hospital on Saturday, but were not successful. They then scoured all buildings inside the hospital compound, believing he was unable to go far with a urine tube still inserted in his penis. They finally found Thanaphat crouching on the rooftop of the nearby building.

The man still had one year and 10 months left to serve for the theft conviction.

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Scores of drug users found in Anutin-led Bangkok pub raid

Scores of drug users found in Anutin-led Bangkok pub raid
Territorial defence volunteers and Chok Chai police raided Sonic Club Bangkok, a pub in Lat Phrao district, early on Sunday. A total of 122 pub goers were tested positive for drugs. The place faced a five-year closure. (Photo: Department of Provincial Administration)

A total of 122 pub goers were tested positive for drugs in a raid on a pub in Bangkok’s Lat Phrao district led by Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul in the small hours on Sunday, Interior Ministry spokesperson Traisuree Taisoranakul said.

Apart from Mr Anutin, Department of Provincial Administration director-general Ansit Sampanthurat also took part in the raid by about 30 territorial defence volunteers and Chok Chai police.

The 2.20am raid on Sonic Club Bangkok on Praditmanutham road followed an investigation which found the pub had been a hub of drug users and served as a place for the distribution of drugs to retailers in an area along the Ram Intra expressway.

At the time, 214 customers were inside the pub. They tried in vain to flee because the raiders blocked all of the exits. Of them, one was under 20 years of age and seven did not carry a national identification card.

In subsequent urine tests, 122 of them – 76 men and 46 women – were found positive for drugs. The drug users would be put into a rehabilitation process on a voluntary basis. Legal action would be taken against those who refused to enter the process, Ms Traisuree said.

Sonic Club Bangkok was found to have been open as an entertainment venue where food and alcoholic drinks were served with a musical band playing for customers to dance.

The place had operated without a permit. Drug use was rampant inside. During the raid, the authorities found many sachets of various kinds of drugs including ecstasy, ketamine and methamphetamine pills scattered on the floor. Happy water, a new kind of drug, was also available in the pub.

Ms Traisuree said the pub owner and those who were involved in its operation were arrested and charged with opening the place without a permit, selling alcoholic drinks to youngsters under 20 years of age, selling alcohol beyond the time limit and allowing use of drugs.

The authorities would recommend the Interior Ministry to issue and order to close the place for five years under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s order No 22/2015, she said.

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HM Queen awards trophy to King's Cup winners

HM Queen awards trophy to King's Cup winners
best wishes: Her Majesty the Queen is greeted by onlookers at Kata Beach while walking to the race.

Phuket: Her Majesty the Queen yesterday represented His Majesty the King in presenting the trophy to the winners of the 35th Phuket King’s Cup Regatta at Beyond Kata hotel in Muang district.

HM the Queen also participated in the race as a crew member on Vayu THA72 in the IRC Zero class which involved four boats from three countries — Australia, the US and Thailand. Vayu THA72 finished first in the two races yesterday, the last day of the Dec 4-9 tournament. The internationally renowned competition began on Dec 4 at Kata Beach.

Thomas Arthur Whitcraft, chairman of 35th Phuket King’s Cup Regatta Organising Committee and a member of Vayu, said HM the Queen showcased flawless sailing skills and talents comparable to those of professional athletes.

He said her abilities in navigating impressed him because she had practised about two years before attaining the prestigious title of Yacht Master.

HM the Queen’s participation in the annual international sailing competition was to honour and preserve the legacy of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great who was known for his passion and support for sailing.

Her participation was also to inspire and foster a new generation of enthusiasts in the sport.

The Phuket King’s Cup Regatta was held for the first time in 1987 to celebrate the 60th birthday of the late king. It has been held every year since, during the first week of December.

This year, teams from 14 countries (Australia, Germany, the US, Belgium, Estonia, France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, China, the UK, the Netherlands and Thailand) took part in the competition, which concluded yesterday.

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PM appeals for better wage rate

Wage rise of by 2–16 baht ‘not enough’ for workers

Kanchanaburi: Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has promised to seek a revision on the tripartite wage committee’s decision to raise the daily minimum wage rate by between 2 and 16 baht across the country, saying he couldn’t agree with such a low hike.

The government has been implementing various measures aimed at shouldering the operating costs of businesses, including subsidising electricity in the manufacturing sector and capping diesel fuel prices for transport, he said.

Now the government has to ask these businesses to cooperate in raising the minimum wage with a more suitable rate for the tens of millions of workers in the country, he said.

In return for what the government had given them, it was now time for employers to give something back.

He would seek talks in coming weeks with the tripartite wage committee, a panel comprising officials from the Ministry of Labour, employers and employees.

The PM said if the committee’s decision to raise wages by only 2–16 baht is submitted to the cabinet for endorsement, he will reject it and call for a more suitable raise. “Should we really have to leave the minimum wages for Thai workers this ridiculously low, while Singapore, for one, offers a minimum wage of 1,000 baht a day?” he asked.

“Are we willing to let our workers be treated as if they were second- or third-class citizens of the world?” Mr Srettha added.

While inspecting government projects in Kanchanaburi yesterday, Mr Srettha was asked by reporters to elaborate on how he would push for a revision of the panel’s decision. He said he would not give a direct order to the committee to revise the decision, but instead discuss the matter with members to find a solution to the low-wage problem.

“Business operators and employers alike have benefited greatly from the government’s measures, and now it’s time for them to give back [by offering better wages] to the workforce, which is the most important mechanism in the manufacturing sector,” he said.

Mr Srettha said that in the southern border provinces, he has started to raise confidence among local business operators by securing deals with Malaysia.

The wage hike for workers in these provinces should be higher in return for those gains, he said, noting these workers will only receive a hike of 2–3 baht.

Asked what should be the proper minimum wage rate, Mr Srettha said the new rate must be agreed by all sides.

“The raise for the three southernmost provinces isn’t enough for even buying one egg,” he said, referring to a revised rate of 330 baht per day from 328 baht.

When asked whether he would push for a wage rate of 400 baht per day across the board as promised during the election season, the PM said it may be suitable for some provinces.

When asked if he was concerned if the government’s push would end up driving away businesses to another country, Mr Srettha said the notion is more of a threat rather than a possibility.

“No, no one would ever move away simply because the minimum daily wage is raised from 300 baht to 400 baht, especially while the government continues offering more benefits including tax privileges,” he said.

Now that Thailand has won against Singapore in terms of its ability to attract major companies to set up data centres here, Thai workers should be paid better wages.

“I’m not saying this because I am trying to please the voters. The election campaign ended a long while ago,” he said.

“What’s happening now is the reality in which living conditions of the people need to be improved and be taken care of along with the government’s economic stimulation efforts,” he said.

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