Media to blame for fanning conflict

Amornrat Mahitthiroo believes the media is responsible for exaggerating disagreements between transport committee and Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um

Bangkok Post
Friday, August 10, 2007

By Amornrat Mahitthiroo
The media, as well as Bannawit Kengriam himself, has to be blamed for fanning the conflict between the chairman of the National Legislative Assembly's transport committee and Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um. The row is deep-rooted and has now reached boiling point. It hit the headlines when the deputy minister gave an interview to a radio programme which played up the news.

The last straw which led to the conflict came when Adm Bannawit played a role in negotiating with the State Railway of Thailand's temporary cleaning staff, who protested at Hua Lamphong station against the SRT's bid to outsource cleaning services early this month.

Instead of querying Adm Bannawit over his role in negotiating with SRT cleaning staff, members of the media posed a question directly to Mr Sansern, asking him whether transport officials should act on commands issued by Adm Bannawit.

The answer given by the deputy minister was that officials had to respond to orders or policies issued by transport executives or the minister.

However, it was interpreted in such a way that the deputy transport minister accused Adm Bannawit of meddling in the work of the agency under the Transport Ministry.

This upset Adm Bannawit, now in China, who challenged Mr Sansern to a public debate over his alleged "interference."

While Adm Bannawit always wants to put himself in the public's attention, the media should have more understanding about the roles of the legislative and executive branches and should question Adm Bannawit's improper roles, like that at the SRT.

Some media outlets enjoyed presenting news that caused rifts. Instead of seeking clarification on the matter, they let the conflicting parties trade words. They played up the issue by claiming that the deputy transport minister refused to have the NLA's transport committee investigate projects under the ministry.

Adm Bannawit is an easy target for criticism because he wears many hats. He has been given key roles following the Sept 19 coup because he is a close friend of assistant army chief Saprang Kalayanamitr, who chairs the Airports of Thailand (AoT) and TOT Plc boards. He has been given important tasks -- to root out networks of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in several state enterprises under the Transport Ministry such as AoT, which manages Suvarnabhumi airport, and the SRT, and also TOT under the Information and Communications Technology Ministry.

The problem is that sometimes he is confused about what role he should play.

He has asked concerned agencies to supply him with documents about various projects.

On several occasions, he has given verbal instructions to state officials on how they should work, causing confusion among those officials.

Claiming responsible agencies had failed to act, he issued direct orders or stepped in to solve problems.

For example, he asked the Ninth Region Police not to seize passenger vans operating illegally between Bangkok and the southern provinces.

He has often given press interviews on projects before the boards of those agencies made resolutions.

He caused public confusion over the reopening of Don Mueang airport by claiming that it had to be reopened for service as Suvarnabhumi airport had to be closed.

As far as his authority on the NLA's committee is concerned, it can look into issues or cases relating to the Transport Ministry but has no authority to meddle in the work of agencies under the ministry or issue orders to them.

Therefore, Adm Bannawit's roles are interfering in the work of the Transport Ministry, but some media outlets failed to question him on this.