Wissanu clarifies govt decision to enforce civil liability law

Rice pledging scheme
Wissanu clarifies govt decision to enforce civil liability law
Jeerapong Prasertpolkrung

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam held a press conference yesterday to clarify the government's move to enforce the civil liability law, which allows the state to issue an administrative order against officials who damage national interests.

Wissanu defended the government's demand for civil liability over the rice-pledging scheme, saying that though the authorities had received a petition from the accused on November 11 asking for justice, the government was adhering to the rule of law and not resorting to harassment. Here are some excerpts of the interview:

Why is the government pursuing civil liability calls against the accused?

The government is duty bound to seek civil liability as the damages were made to the state. The government can seek compensation in two ways. First, it can file a lawsuit under the Civil Code, which is common practice, and secondly if the violator is a state official, the government can resort to the 1996 Act on Liability for Wrongful Acts of Officials.

This legal venue is not an innovation or specially or newly designed for this case. It has been used against wrongdoing state officials. It is not barbarian, and can only be used against state officials.

Why resort to the second legal option?

Under the second option, the accused will still receive full justice because the case will go to court. Statistics also show that not all accused persons lose court battles. If the government uses the first option, its action will be questioned even if it is at a disadvantage. So right now, we will not change the path we take.

Has this course of action been applied to other cases before?

As per Article 10, the statute of limitations in this case would expire two years after a state agency acknowledges wrongdoing. The NACC wrote a petition indicating the wrongdoers on February 17-18 this year, which is when the count for the statute of limitations began.

This Act has been used since 1996 against state officials in 5,000 cases. For instance the procurement of fire brigades that caused Bt7.7 billion in damage; the procurement of Ellicott dredgers causing Bt3 billion in damage; three cases related to Klong Dan wastewater treatment: revoking land title deeds that cost Bt912 million, with Bt1 billion lost on land purchase and Bt15 billion in usage.

What is the intent of the Act and how is it usually enforced?

It's aimed at protecting officials in charge as well as for public benefit. Under the second option, the government kicks off the fact-finding process, which allows the accused to present evidence fairly. After the fact-finding panel completes its work, a civil-liability panel is set up to scrutinise the evidence as well as the rules if wrongdoing is committed. The decision by the second panel is final. Sometimes the second panel reduces the amount of compensation the accused has to pay. An administrative order will be issued after bothpanels complete their probe. [Wissanu did not elaborate who would be signing the order].

Can the accused file an appeal?

The accused has 15 days to appeal the administrative order. The appeal panel will then make a decision on whether to uphold the order or issue another administrative court ruling for the accused to pay less or more in compensation.

The government cannot seize the assets of the accused at this stage, and the accused has the right to file a petition with the Administrative Court.

The accused also has the right to appeal the Administrative Court's ruling with the Supreme Administrative Court.

How have the accused been identified so far?

The NACC classifies wrongdoers into four groups namely Y, B, P and 15 private entities, which also face a criminal trial at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders because they colluded with state officials.

At a meeting, legal specialists resolved that the second legal option would be used against Y, B, and P. It is not the prime minister or the government who have decided to opt for the second option. The second option is not something that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has created to harass people.

But are they "officials" defined under this Act?

According to the 1996 Act on Liability for Wrongful Acts of Official, "officials" also refers to "government officials" who are generally understood to be both civil servants and political office holders. Political office holders include the premier, also Y, B and P were government officials when they were accused of wrongdoings.

But the Article 4 (3) of the Law on Administrative Procedure and Liability for the Wrongful Acts of Officials cannot be used against the prime minister and ministers over government policies?

There is an exception if it concerns policy consideration, but if there is corruption in the implementation of government policies, the court has the power to take up the case and use administrative orders because it is against the law, good governance and illegal.

It is debatable whether the rice-pledging scheme policy itself is right or wrong. But the law does not rule out prosecution against wrongdoers in the implementation of the policy.

Why is the government pursuing civil liability against them at a time when the criminal charge is proceeding?

If we begin without the rule of law, it is the government that can in turn face both civil and criminal actions for dereliction of duty according to Article 73 of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Act.

How has the case progressed so far?

The Commerce Ministry proposed that the PM and the commerce minister appoint a fact-finding panel against B and P.

The fact-finding panel has completed its probe and presented the result to the PM and the commerce minister, as well as the civil-liability panel, which is now taking up the case for further review.

The fact-finding panel against Y, under the jurisdiction of the Finance Ministry, has been until November 30 to complete the probe and the period can be extended if the probe cannot be completed in time.

Who will sign and issue an order?

According to the law, agencies that were hit with damage from the rice-pledging scheme will issue an administrative order, not the PM. It is not that the PM is afraid or has chickened out.

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