Thailand's regulator and the Lewinsky effect

25 Aug 2014

The sub-committee that investigated allegations of corruption in Thailand’s telecom regulator must be among the most stupid and incompetent people in the country. They took almost two years to come up a damning report into the 2012 3G non-auction, recommending that the four accused regulators be indicted for corruption, only for the full National Anti-Corruption Commission board to dismiss all counts as totally baseless.

The most vocal complaint came from the finance ministry deputy permanent secretary Supa Piyajiti, who accused the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commissioners of holding an auction without any competitive element - given the way the rules were changed at the last minute to lower the spectrum cap to fit the number of bidders.

The sub-com found them guilty of holding an auction that was not competitive, of ignoring their own consultant’s recommendations and of helping the private sector, which obviously was total nonsense. The NACC board decided that there was no collusion as the auction went through seven rounds.

Yes, it took seven rounds (including the idle rounds with no movement), but it was not seven competitive rounds. It was seven rounds of shuffling around to avoid bidding on the same slots, not seven rounds of increasing the bid to outbid the other, but that was a minor detail.

One might call this the Lewinsky effect. Everyone remembers Bill Clinton was impeached and found guilty of sexual misconduct. Nobody remembers that he was actually impeached for lying under oath; for perjury.

Ergo, Supa’s complaint was that there was no competitive element. The sub-com agreed, but the full board, in their supreme wisdom, decided there was no collusion.

The same could be said of the foreign dominance notification. The allegation was for criminal misconduct of a public officer, section 157 of the criminal code, of neglect to perform their duty. The NBTC was accused of not following its own rules, the foreign dominance notification, in allowing Dtac, a foreign-dominated company, to bid.

“I say, let’s forget about reading this long and boring sub-com report and just ask the business registration department if Dtac is Thai or not”, someone probably said in the NACC meeting room.

And that is what they did. The NACC asked the Department of Business Registration, which said that Dtac was a Thai company.

Again, the Lewinsky effect comes into play. The NBTC was accused of criminal dereliction of duty; of not following its own rules (which admittedly is different from that of Ministry of Commerce rules in determining nationality). The NACC said that according to the company registrar, Dtac is a Thai company.

Then there was former Senator Paiboon Nititawan’s point that the constitution calls for the auction to be held by the full 11-member regulator board, not the 5-member telecoms sub-board. His argument was simple, since the constitution (now torn up) referred to the entire regulator, its telecoms board and its broadcasting board separately, the three are discrete. Paiboon said that one cannot simply divulge one’s constitutional responsibilities to what is effectively a third party. The telecoms sub-board, Paiboon argued, did not have the right to hold the spectrum auction.

Again, the year-long investigation that was a total waste of time came to one complex conclusion, only for someone in the NACC board to simplify it.

“Documents show the NBTC ordered the telecoms sub-board to hold the auction, hence this allegation is baseless,” was the response.

Actually that was surprising. They should simply have said that the constitution in question no longer exists so the allegation is baseless. At least that would have made at least one acquittal make sense.

The list goes on and on.

Obviously the sub-com wasted almost two years, asking the wrong people wrong questions, when the truth was so much simpler and took the five NACC commissioners just a few weeks to absolve the NBTC on all counts and bring this baseless case to a close.

Obviously this had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the NACC commissioner who did all the talking to the press about the 3G auction applied a couple of days later for the National Reform Council, from which most of the constitutional drafters will be picked.

Obviously this also has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the NBTC for legal, Suthipol Thaweechaikarn - who drafted amendments to the frequency act that would allow the junta, sorry, the kind and benevolent rulers of the country, to allocate spectrum as they see fit - has been promoted to the board of the Office of the Auditor General.

Obviously he will not be replaced by yet another a military person picked by a legislature that unanimously voted in the coup-leader as the next PM no questions asked.

Obviously, the reason for this strange writing style has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that criticism of Thailand’s military rulers, the National Council for Peace and Order, its work or anyone working for it is now illegal or that dissenters are actually being arrested in broad daylight and held without charge under martial law.

Everything is awesome in Thailand. Everyone is happy here.

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