Alleged irregularities in police promotions were raised by the Move Forward Party (MFP) MP Rangsiman Rome during the censure debate on 19th February.
The Royal Thai Police (RTP) needs a major overhaul to tackle the long-standing problem of position buying among police according to the MFP.
The opposition politician mentioned long-standing issues within the police force, including corruption and position buying as well as certain favours through what he called tua chang, or “elephant tickets”.
This is a fast-track promotion system where people, including the undeserving, avoid having to meet the criteria needed to earn a promotion, he said.
Mr Rome accused Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who chairs the Police Commission which oversees the Royal Thai Police, of allowing such irregularities to occur under his watch.
Such malpractice existed also when Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon was overseeing police affairs.
The case in point, according to the MP, related to the so-called “police tickets” privilege that allegedly led to heavy jockeying for senior posts in the police force.
The privilege involved a waiver of some criteria set by the Police Commission, which led to promotions having been offered to undeserving officers.
The prime minister later came out to admit that there were problems within the force and he would tackle it, several days after the debate wrapped up.
According to sources close to the matter, the recent annual police reshuffle did not attract much criticism about position buying within the force compared to previous reshuffles, though it still exists with positions being bought and sold secretly.
The reshuffle proceeded smoothly as officers who were unfairly transferred previously have now been given the posts they deserved based on merit under a policy imposed by new national police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk.
However, in the wake of the new surge of COVID-19 infections linked to illegal gambling dens in eastern provinces of Rayong, Chon Buri, Chanthaburi and Trat, position buying has been exposed with police alleged to have the financial backing of a major operator of illegal gambling dens.
On 11th February, Crime Suppression Division (CSD) police arrested Somchai Jutikitdecha, aka Longjoo Somchai, at his house in tambon Muang Phra in Muang district of Rayong. He is believed to be a major operator of illegal casinos in the East that were blamed for enabling the spread of COVID-19.
Rayong was the epicentre of the new wave of COVID-19 wave in December. Health officials said the disease was spread by gamblers gathering at illegal casinos in the province and in adjacent Chon Buri province.
Mr Jutikitdecha was among five suspects sought when police raided 10 locations in the eastern province to suppress an illegal gambling network.
Sources said Mr Jutikitdecha was behind the transfer of officers affiliated with him to facilitate the operation of illegal gambling dens.
Following the crackdowns on gambling dens in the eastern provinces, several officers were transferred to inactive posts pending investigations.
Officers who seek to climb up the police echelons need a ticket, a reference or a stamp of approval from those power in the police force, politicians or businessmen, the sources said.
The ticket can be either a written reference or a verbal reference and the ticket will be sent to those responsible for compiling and submitting the list of promotions to those in power.
In some cases, officers who seek promotions did not need to spend money to get the ticket, but they received the ticket because they had served their bosses for a long time, the sources said.
When it comes to getting a “police ticket”, it depends on how officers curry favour with their superiors. The higher position their bosses hold, the more tickets they have, sources said.
For police who have no bosses to issue the ticket, they may approach politicians both in the government and opposition camps, who in turn would obtain the ticket from senior police, sources said.
“Prices for positions vary, with the positions of police superintendents costing between 5-10 million baht,” sources said.
Chartchai Na Chiangmai, a lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration’s (Nida) school of human resource development, said the constitution stipulated that police reform must be complete within one year of the charter’s enactment.
The charter also stipulated that while a bill on the RTP is yet to become law, appointments and promotions must be based on seniority and other qualifications, Chartchai said.
A bill promising to set in motion reform of the police sailed through its first reading in the House on 24th February.
The RTP bill was passed on its second reading by a vote of 565 to two with three abstentions. The vote followed a debate where MPs expressed scepticism about police reform which the bill, presented by the cabinet.