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Thai Military’s Economic Control Under Scrutiny

The ruling Pheu Thai Party’s endeavor to transfer businesses under military control to other agencies faces resistance from the armed forces. The House of Representatives initiated an ad hoc committee in late January to explore avenues for removing military-controlled businesses, aiming to curb unregulated profit and corruption, redirecting the armed forces’ focus to national defense. Chaired by Jirayu Huangsub from the Pheu Thai Party, the 25-member committee, including politicians and academics like Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Puangthong Pawakapan, and Bencha Saengchan, deliberated on this matter.

The committee encountered a divide between the government and opposition regarding the military’s involvement in business. While the opposition staunchly advocated for the military’s disengagement from commercial activities, the government appeared hesitant to challenge the military’s interests.

Representatives from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, including Mongkhon Buddhawaong, Chayut Nawesphutikorn, and Jakkrit Thammawichai, safeguarded the military’s economic policies within the committee.

To gain insight into military-controlled businesses, the committee established sub-committees focusing on the energy sector, sports, and entertainment businesses. However, the lack of detailed information hindered progress, compelling the committee to extend its timeframe by 90 days.

Jirayu emphasized the necessity of investigating various businesses to assess the military’s involvement accurately. Transferring businesses out of military control remains a pivotal aspect of the government’s military reform agenda, particularly concerning areas like the Navy’s electricity service in Sattahip district.

Complaints from locals about higher electricity prices set by the Navy than those by the Provincial Electricity Authority underscored the urgency for change. Additionally, proposals to relocate military-operated golf courses for security reasons were debated within the committee.

The Thai military’s economic involvement dates back to the 20th century, notably expanding during Marshal Sarit Thanarat’s rule. Investments span various sectors such as oil drilling, electricity generation, retail, and real estate. Despite financial challenges and mismanagement leading to enterprise closures, the military’s economic footprint remains significant.

However, the extent of military-owned land remains undisclosed, raising questions about transparency and accountability. Military representatives justify economic ventures as means to fund troop welfare, defending businesses as essential for providing education, insurance, and housing subsidies.

While claiming transparency, the military refrains from disclosing financial details to the committee, sparking concerns about accountability. Committee member Thanathorn’s inquiries into financial reports remain unanswered, highlighting challenges in evaluating military-controlled enterprises’ viability.

The lack of financial transparency raises doubts about the military’s commitment to reform. As the committee perseveres in its scrutiny, the tension between military interests and civilian oversight underscores the complexities of reforming Thailand’s military-economic nexus.

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