Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and No.1 Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon are showing lack of leadership in refusing to address the multi-million baht watches. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Both Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, are setting a bad example for leadership with their responses to the public over the luxury watch saga involving the latter.
For the military regime, which seized power from an elected government and accused past administrations of failing to tackle corruption, the reactions from the two generals have been extremely disappointing.
Since early this month, Gen Prawit has become a subject of public scrutiny after a photo of him wearing a luxury Richard Mille watch, estimated to cost around four million baht, and an expensive diamond ring went viral on social media.
The scandal put Gen Prawit in the spotlight over whether he had declared the watches to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). Inevitably, it made him a subject of allegations of being unusually rich or concealing his possession of the timepieces.
Gen Prayut at first distanced himself from the controversy and later played down the matter. Gen Prawit, meanwhile, has been mostly silent.
Both of them should realise that their handling of the scandal has made the regime’s commitment to tackling corruption look like a farce.
What makes matters worse for them is that the controversy did not end with the first watch and diamond ring. The CSI LA Facebook page, which first exposed the two items, has come up with more pictures of Gen Prawit wearing more luxury timepieces — a total of 11 watches so far. These costly accessories comprise three Richard Mille, four Rolex, three Patek Philippe and one Audemars Piguet watches.
The price of each watch is estimated to range from 554,000 baht to as much as 4 million baht, bringing their accumulated value to over 10 million baht. None of the watches is believed to have been included among the assets declared by Gen Prawit to the NACC, a mandatory process required for holders of political positions.
Gen Prawit is duty-bound to explain the matter of the first watch and the diamond ring to the NACC by Jan 8.
The deputy premier has so far declined to reveal his explanation in his correspondence with the anti-graft agency. As the saga intensified, he even decided not to mention whether he included information on the newly discovered watches in his letter.
While his submission of the letter to clarify the matter to the NACC is a process required by law, a better explanation to the public could demonstrate how accountable he is as a leader. He should have provided a clear account of how he acquired the timepieces and done it in a straightforward manner. This kind of information will be subject to disclosure to the public anyway, once the NACC receives it.
Meanwhile, Gen Prayut, who has urged the public not to tolerate corruption, has not handled the matter with the gravity it deserves, making accusations of the discovery of the watches being a plot designed to cause a rift between him and his deputy.
The two leaders must do better. Gen Prayut was wrong in asking the media to be patient about the watches and not to make them a big issue. This is, in fact, a very important matter. He must urge his deputy to clear the air about not just the first watch he was seen wearing but all 11 of the timepieces.
For Gen Prawit, it should not take much time for him to locate the receipts for the watches and inform the public of the details. He must also ensure that information on all 11 items is provided to the NACC by the Jan 8 deadline, without waiting for the agency to ask him to send clarification about the additional items.
As national leaders, the two generals must demonstrate they are answerable to the public and that transparency and accountability are mandatory, serious qualities required from all types of leaders, not just politicians.