GOVERNMENT IN TURMOIL
Samak to pick 'capable'ministers at next session
By The Nation

Premier vows to amend charter

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej yesterday vowed to save his administration by taking two actions - effect major changes in the Cabinet line-up, and amend the Constitution at the next House session.

"The Cabinet reshuffle is a certainty and will be a major revamp as I intend to recruit capable individuals to join the administration," Samak said.

He is pinning his hope on the revamped Cabinet restoring confidence. He conceded, however, that it was not easy to attract talented people because of harsh provisions binding on Cabinet members.

"In the past, it was considered an honour to join the Cabinet. Now being a minister is like having one's leg in jail already," he said.

Samak said he will address the press tomorrow to showcase his government's measures designed to steer the country through the economic volatility caused by rising oil prices.

The authorities spent five months to map out the package of measures and were ready to show the outcome of their work to help people cope with the economic woes, he said.

The Cabinet reshuffle should happen after July 18, he said. Although he had finalised his decision on the new line-up, he would take time to review pertinent issues before unveiling the ministerial appointments, he said.

Samak said he wanted members of the public to judge for themselves whether the attempts to remove him from office and dislodge his government were justified. Tomorrow, everyone will see how hard-working and dedicated the government is in serving the public, he said, asking if it was fair that an elected government be dislodged by a non-elected body like the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) appointed by the junta?

The prime minister attributed the political predicament facing his government to unfair provisions in the Constitution.

He said the confusion about the fate of the government was triggered by the litigation seeking to dissolve the People Power Party and three other coalition parties.

In the past, electoral fraud cases applied to individual wrongdoers, he said. But the new rule under Article 137 of the Constitution added a clause to penalise the party by disbandment, which he sees as unfair, he said. Regarding Preah Vihear Temple, Samak said the opposition Democrats had gone overboard to politicise the issue.

The added clause in the charter's Article 190 took effect even though the Surayud Chulanont government strongly opposed it, he said.

This led to the judicial ruling against the government for committing an unconstitutional act to bypass Parliament, which could have happened regardless of which party is in power at a given time, he said.

Charter writers were bent on faulting the government resulting in unfair rules, he said.

He deplored the Democrats for trying to impeach and prosecute former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama in spite of his resignation.

He claimed the Democrats might have no choice on the temple if they were in power but to do what his government just did. He said it was his misfortune to head the government at a time deemed unavoidable to resolve the temple issue.

When the Chuan Leekpai government had to literally pawn the country to the International Monetary Fund, it eluded any legal wrangling because there was no second clause of the Article 190, he said. His government was not so fortunate.

He said even his government was found to have violated the charter, one of nine Constitution Court judges ruled in the dissenting opinion that parliamentary scrutiny was not required on the temple issue.

Government deputy spokesman Natthawut Saikua said he understood that the Cabinet reshuffle might take place after the verdict on the qualifications of Deputy Commerce Minister Wiroon Techapaiboon, expected on Friday.

NCCC member Klanarong Chantik said the prime minister had made misleading remarks relating to the commission and the graft provisions. The Cabinet and individual ministers would be suspended from duty only after the NCCC ruled and not when a graft inquiry was launched as insinuated by Samak, he said.

Samak had also erred to portray the NCCC as lacking legitimacy to investigate alleged graft violations involving Cabinet members because NCCC members were not sworn-in by the King, he said.

Like office holders in independent organisations, NCCC members have never been required to attend the swearing-in ceremony, he said. Only Cabinet members and judicial office-holders are required to do so.

Democrat Party deputy leader Alongkorn Pollabutr said Samak had tried to portray the Democrats in a bad light. The government would not have been in trouble and a case for impeachment could have been avoided had Samak heeded the opposition's advice to consult Parliament before taking action on the temple, he said.

PPP spokesman Kudhep Saikrajang said the constitutional amendments would be the outcome of the review by the House panel, dismissing speculation that the government might initiate the rewrite.

He said the government will not quit nor will it dissolve the House.