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Anti-graft law passes first reading, new ethics watchdog mulled

Moves to reform and clean up the political sector advanced on two fronts last week as the first reading of a new anti-graft bill passed the National Legislative Assembly, and the Constitution Drafting Committee endorsed a proposal for a new watchdog to initiate ethics investigations against political office-holders and state officials.
 
Fighting corruption is one of the flagship policies of the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and the Thai leader made it his priority from the beginning of his administration.  He has also stressed that national reforms should include strong measures to discourage, prevent and punish corruption, especially among politicians and those working in the bureaucracy and public sector.   Transparency International’s annual global Corruption Perceptions Index in 2014 saw Thailand rose 17 places from 102nd in 2013 to 85th.     
 
The new anti-graft bill before the legislature is significant in that it removes the statute of limitations on corruption cases.  Lawmakers voted 172 to 5 in favor of the bill, which must pass through two more readings before it can be signed into law by constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as is customary for all laws and important government appointments in Thailand.
 
According to the Bangkok Post, the bill would change the legal definitions of foreign government officers and international organizations, although it did not provide details of the new definitions.  The report said, however, that it effectively grants the National Anti-Corruption Commission more power to pursue corruption cases, and authorizes the agency to probe cases in which corruption is carried out overseas.
 
The bill complies with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, and aside from eliminating the statute of limitations, grants greater power to seize assets from those convicted of corruption.
 
The Constitution Drafting Committee, however, had earlier urged the legislature to shelve the bill because the Committee was unsure if all its provisions would be line with anti-corruption measures they are writing into the new charter and the range of powers it will confer upon the National Anti Corruption Commission.
 
Meanwhile, the Committee voted last week to favor in principle the establishment of a new independent organization that would be empowered to investigate politicians and state officials for alleged violations of ethics.
 
Called the National Morality Assembly, it would establish a code of conduct for political office-holders and state authorities, and look into complaints about violations of the code.  Rather than forwarding cases to parliament, however, the Assembly would put the alleged violators on an impeachment list and submit it to the public for a vote to determine whether the accused should be relieved from office.
 
See the orginal article at Thailand e-Focus

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