Religious offices will seek to curb temple corruption: Wissanu

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Source: nationmultimedia.com

THE NATIONAL Office of Buddhism (NOB) will meet with the Supreme Sangha Council (SSC) to find ways to publicise temple assets for transparency and to prevent corruption, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngarm said yesterday.

Citing a recent discussion with Omsin Cheewapreuk, the minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office who is in charge of the NOB, Wissanu said transparency was a long-standing issue and there were many ways temples’ assets could be disclosed to the public.

He said it was up to concerned agencies to find the appropriate way that would not violate the law or clerical rules, or make the Thai Buddhist community feel uneasy.

Currently, each temple has a “Vaiyavajakorn” layperson manager who handles financial matters along with the abbot. But such a system does not include punishment in the case of violations and cannot stop influential figures from becoming involved, so the NOB and SSC should discuss the problem, Wissanu said. However, he said the |issue did not require a new bill or legal amendment at present.

Meanwhile, former senator and charter drafter Paiboon Nititawan urged the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission’s secretary-general to investigate if abbots at 12 temples had been involved in the alleged embezzlement of Bt60 million in temple maintenance funds.

His comments followed a recent case in which four NOB officials were accused of corruption by embezzling the Bt60 million from maintenance funds belonging to 12 temples in six provinces, while four civilians were accused of aiding and abetting the crime. One temple each in Ayutthaya, Lamphun, Phetchaburi and Chumphon, as well as three in Amnat Charoen and five in Lampang, were implicated in the scheme.

Paiboon also urged Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to order temples to have a proper accounting system and open temples’ assets lists to the public to prevent corruption.

Paiboon said a ministerial regulation could be passed to require temples receiving funds to keep a proper accounting system and reveal information to the public.

At present, temples could receive money without any requirement to report to the NOB how it was spent, which left many opportunities for corruption, he said.

Another scandal involved a recent murder case in which a 17-year-old novice at a Nakhon Si Thammarat temple was killed and buried in the temple compound, allegedly by people who had benefited from donations to the temple and the rental of its assets.

A source at the Central Investigation Bureau’s Counter-Corruption Division (CCD) said the case against the four NOB officials would be submitted this week to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). If the NACC determines there are grounds to press charges, the CCD would proceed with legal action.

Last Friday, NOB chief Pol Lt-Colonel Pongporn Pramsaneh cited initial findings that the Bt60 million had been stolen between 2013 and 2016.

The scheme allegedly involved officials inflating the amount of money the temples needed for maintenance. After the funds were transferred to the temples’ bank accounts, temple personnel reportedly returned up to 75 per cent of the money to the officials in the form of “change” in line with previous agreements.

The NOB chief’s comment followed last week’s raids on 10 locations, including three houses in Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Prakan, which belonged to two accused officials and one alleged civilian accomplice. The investigation, which was initiated by the Office of the Auditor-General in 2015 alleging corruption at a single temple, has widened to implicate other temples in the same scheme.

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