All 13 vice-rectors at Thailand’s prestigious Mahidol University resigned en masse at the end of last month after Thailand’s anti-corruption agency announced that the vice-rectors of public universities needed to declare their assets under a new law.
The resignation on 31 March came just two days before the new law came into effect. The 13 vice-rectors – all medical doctors – will remain as ‘acting vice-rectors’, a position exempt from obligatory asset declaration to the office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission or NACC.
The National Anti-Corruption Network has predicted that vice-rectors at many other universities will follow suit and resign.
The transparency measures are part of the ruling military junta’s efforts to revive public confidence in the bureaucracy.
In January, the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 issued by Berlin-based anti-corruption group Transparency International downgraded Thailand from 76th in 2015 to 101 out of 176 countries – Thailand’s lowest rating in five years. The downgrading is due to military government repression, lack of independent oversight, and the deterioration of rights, according to Transparency International.
The latest order will require 564 vice-rectors from 84 universities to declare their assets, according to NACC Chair Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit.
“The resignation was not intended to protest or avoid the asset declaration as required by the NACC’s order,” said Mahidol University’s official statement signed by the university’s rector Udom Kachintorn on 4 April, adding that the announcement about asset declarations came abruptly during their tenure.
“We are afraid that with such short notice, the vice-rectors could not compile necessary information to make informed decisions and fulfil the conditions. This could have resulted in some mistakes later,” said the statement.
The statement further added that since it was difficult to immediately replace the vice-rectors, the university asked them to remain in position to ensure the smooth operation of the institution.
At Mahidol, vice-rectors are academics who serve in the university’s administration alongside their normal teaching duties.
Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Network, estimated that vice-rectors at some 200 universities in Thailand could resign their positions because of the new requirement. He said he would submit a request for the NACC to investigate the 13 Mahidol vice-rectors.
On 17 March the NACC made the amendment to the executive measures in the country’s Anti-Corruption Act, which requires high-ranking public officials, including in political office, the judiciary, military and police, to declare their assets. The latest amendment stipulates that in addition, the vice-rectors, officers in local governance, and additional personnel under the Royal Thai Police are obliged to reveal their personal financial details.
The amendment came into effect on 3 April, requiring the relevant public officers to declare their assets within one month. University rectors already have to declare their assets under this law.
NACC’s Watcharapol told NOW 26 television channel recently that the order was to ensure the transparency of the bureaucratic system and restore faith from the public. However, since Mahidol University’s 13 vice-rectors resigned before the law came into effect, they would be exempt from the obligation to declare, he said.
He said so far, the NACC has received 311 complaints regarding cases involving rectors and vice-rectors.
Another leading institution, Chulalongkorn University, stated there would be no resignations among its vice-rectors. Its vice-rector for public communications and international relations, Professor Pirongrong Ramasoota, said recently that none of the university’s nine vice-rectors would resign.
She told Matichon newspaper that Chulalongkorn’s rector would provide advice to the university’s vice-rectors on making the declarations, as he already declares his assets regularly.
“The fact that we have to submit the documents within 30 days is quite challenging since we have never prepared the necessary documents before,” said Pirongrong, adding: “We are also worried whether we can complete the process by the deadline, but the rector will guarantee this himself.”
Soraj Hongladarom, a philosophy professor and director of the Center for Ethics of Science and Technology at Chulalongkorn University, said it was questionable whether the law will work as intended, as people can just resign from their post, remain in an acting capacity and be exempted from the law.
“The amended bill is intended to make the dealings of the administrators more transparent. Whether it will actually reduce corruption or not we have to wait and see. But resigning en masse can be seen as a way to go around the law,” Soraj told University World News.
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