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Officials' testimony was like 'Rashomon'

 

AFTER listening to the testimonies of all the top finance and monetary officials involved in the baht fiasco, a member of the Nukul Commission snapped: ''It was Rashomon.''

He was referring to ''Rashomon'', a Japanese movie produced in 1950 as a classic superlative study of truth and human nature. It features four people involved in a rape-murder but who end up telling varying accounts of what happened.

''You've got to read between the lines of what they said,'' the Nukul Commission member said.

After interviewing 24 top-ranked individuals and browsing through stacks of official documents, the Nukul Commission spent about three months to read between the lines.

The result was a dynamite, 205-page report that got to the bottom of what went wrong, since the early 1990s, with the management of the Thai macro-economy, the financial system and the foreign exchange policy.

Its highlight lies in the turbulent episode of the baht defence between July 1996 and 1997, the mismanagement of the monetary policy between 1990 and 1997, the role of the individuals involved in the disastrous baht defence, the fishy bailout of the Bangkok Bank of Commerce, the spend-it-all Financial Institution Development Fund and the weak spot in the structure and management of the Bank of Thailand.

The courage of the Nukul Commission to single out individuals whom it thinks were responsible for the economic mess may be controversial. The key individuals include Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the former prime minister, Dr Amnuay Viravan, the former finance minister, Rerngchai Marakanond, the former Bank of Thailand governor, Vijit Supinit, also a former central bank governor, Dr Chaiyawat Wibulswasdi, who has just resigned as governor, Jaroong Nookwun, the former deputy governor, Dr Siri Garnjarerndee, the assistant governor, Bandid Nijathaworn, the former director of the Banking Department, and Phaiboon Kittisrikangwarn, the former division chief of the Banking Department.

These individuals blundered every step of the way as they grappled with the financial and foreign exchange crises.

Even before the Cabinet could hold a scheduled special meeting today to deliberate the Nukul Commission Report, leaks of the report to the media have created earth-shattering repercussions.

Chaiyawat, the central bank governor, and Jaroong, the deputy governor, decided to tender their resignations on Monday, realising that after the damaging report about their links to the past was made public, their legitimacy would come to a tragic end.

In his letter of resignation, Chaiyawat admitted that the ''haunted past'' would continue to trouble his governorship unless he stepped down.

Nukul Prachuabmoh, the no nonsense former central bank governor, staked his reputation on the investigation which he directed in earnest along with his highly respected members Dr Ammar Siamwalla, Dr Krirkkiat Pipatseritham, Kovit Posayanond, Nopporn Ruengsakul, Dr Amorn Chandrasomboon and Amaret Sila-on.

From the outset, the Nukul Commission realised that they could be doing a thankless job. If the report failed to meet public expectations, the commission would be blamed as just another futile exercise of the government to cover up the mistakes of the past. If the report fulfilled its mission as a reflection of what had gone wrong, the Nukul Commission would get even more flak for it was almost certain that the report would generate controversies.

Already the Thai public cannot wait to read the Nukul Commission Report, written like a best-seller. The report is phenomenal, both as a catalyst of change and as a reflection of the sick system that is badly in need of repair. There has been pressure on the Chuan government to make public the report, for Thais really have a right to know about the complicated subject that has completely changed their fortunes.

After the baht collapse, Thais have had to pay higher VAT tax, up from 7 per cent to 10 per cent. The cost of the Bt1 trillion bailout of the financial institutions will be borne by this generation and next through higher taxes.

Moreover, Thais have lost an opportunity to live a better life due to the economic woes -- the result of grave mismanagement, the lack of vision, personal rivalries and the failure to observe their duties by a handful of individuals who were the architects of Thailand's macro-economy since the 1990s. The price of this lesson is very dear indeed.

BY VATCHARA CHAROONSANTIKUL and THANONG KHANTHONG

 

 

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