Old ginger’s challenge

Old ginger’s challenge

(จากคอลัมพ์ A Bout Politics หนังสือพิมพ์ Bangkok Post ฉบับวันที่ 11 ต.ค. 50 หน้า 16)

Instilling morality in politicians may be a mission impossible, even for hard-working Paiboon

Deputy Prime Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham’s admission to hospital is proof, if it was needed, that he is a hard-working “old ginger”.

Mr Paiboon is one of the more senior ministers who burn the midnight oil, trying to clear the daunting backlog of work as the government’s term in office nears its final lap.

His collapse during a cabinet meeting this week was initially attributed to a combination of age and a lack of rest.

But it soon emerged the problem was, literally, close to the heart.

Mr Paiboon underwent a balloon angioplasty procedure at Ramathibodi hospital to clear a blockage in one of three coronary arteries which have narrowed over the years, restricting the supply of blood to his heart.

Sympathy poured in for Mr Paiboon who was thought to have over-exerted himself in office.

His commitment to the job, especially in handling social issues, won praise – even though social policies are among the government’s weaker points according to opinion polls.

Close associates, reporters and political observers were in agreement that Mr Paiboon had pushed himself a little too hard in his campaign to instill a sense of morality and ethics in both young people and politicians.

Before his collapse, the deputy prime minister visited flood victims in the northern provinces and juggled his time between official engagements.

On the side, his morality campaign was being tested as what promises to be yet another stressful mission arrived on his desk.

Mr Paiboon set up a fact-finding committee to probe a top official at the Social Development and Human Security Ministry accused of graft and adulterous affairs with young and middle-aged female officials.

The man’s sexual predations were said to have influenced the promotion of certain female officials and to be linked to alleged mis-spending of a ministry fund.

The inquiry is believed to relate to alleged squandering of cash donated for humanitarian causes and projects to help the poor.

Mr Paiboon enlisted help from non-partisan high-ranking officials at the Ministry of Justice, led by justice permanent secretary Jarun Pukditanakul.

The investigation must be concluded within a month, and expectations at the ministry are high.

Mr Paiboon is not likely to be lenient in handling such transgressions under his ministry’s roof.

He has the image of a socially respected, almost monkish, figure who exudes a distinguished charisma.

With such a “revered monk” working in the secular world, it will be interesting to see what steps Mr Paiboon takes next to root out morally corrupt officials. People have grown all too accustomed to politicians in power sitting on problems and turning a blind eye to the actions of unscrupulous but influential civil servants.

Rumour has it that the tremendous pressure has been weighing down Mr Paiboon. However, that is not what caused him to faint.

It may well be the thought that improving the moral standards of politicians in general is “mission impossible” that did the most damage to his heart.

Preaching morality and ethics is one thing, practising it is another. And if this is indeed the issue which landed Mr Paiboon in hospital, he could be absent from work for a long while.

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