Manas faces baptism of fire
Observers monitoring the situation in the Thai Buddhist clergy have little confidence in the newly appointed director of the National Office of Buddhism (NOB).
Questions have been raised as to whether the new NOB chief will measure up to the task of investigating corruption and malpractice in Buddhist organisations, including the NOB and temples, particularly allegations of corruption involving the NOB’s grant-in-aid scheme for temples nationwide.
On Tuesday the cabinet appointed Manas Taratjai, director-general of the Religious Affairs Department, the new NOB director to replace Pongporn Pramsaneh who was transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office to become an inspector-general.
PM’s Office Minister Ormsin Chivapruck reportedly proposed his transfer and his successor to the cabinet.
But observers noted that Mr Manas has no proven track record investigating malpractice and graft.
Therefore, when PM’s Office Minister Ormsin Chivapruck vouched for him and gave his assurances that Mr Manas has what it takes to continue the graft probe, no one gave them any credence.
Instead, the choice of Mr Manas is widely believed to support the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC), a source said, adding that the transfer of Pol Lt Col Pongporn may be intended to stop the investigation into the alleged embezzlement of temple funds.
Based on information by Pol Lt Col Pongporn, the office provides grant-in-aid for Buddhist temples nationwide to the tune of about four billion baht a year.
The budget is allocated to four main areas. The office allocates 500 million baht for the maintenance of temples, 1.9 billion baht goes toward supporting religious education among Thai monks and a sum of 600 million baht goes toward promoting religious activities aimed at promoting Buddhism.
About one billion baht goes to a personal allowance fund for monks.
At the centre of the scandal are the first three categories.
Paiboon Nititawan, former senator and ex-member of the defunct National Reform Council, said he has monitored budget allocations for at least three well-known temples whose abbots are members of the SSC.
The budget allocations at the centre of controversy are the 600-million-baht budget aimed at promoting Buddhism and the budget that supports religious education, Mr Paiboon said.
He claimed that the temples in question received the budget allocations but failed to show any proof of budget spending.
Regarding the budget to support religious education among monks, Mr Paiboon said some temples requested budget allocation to support the so-called “scripture schools” they claim to be running but checks found that no such schools actually existed.
For temples which operate the schools in their compound, some had no students and still asked for the budget allocation, Mr Paiboon alleged, adding these malpractices had taken place during the tenures of previous directors of the NOB before Pol Lt Col Pongporn was appointed as office chief.
“Monks who requested such budget allocation committed a gross violation of the Buddhist monastic code of conduct, and must be defrocked. They are temple abbots,” Mr Paiboon said.
“I believe this is a reason for the transfer of the NOB chief [Pol Lt Col Pongporn] so as to end the investigation,” Mr Paiboon said.
He added that the government must clarify the matter and not “sweep the mess under the carpet” with Pol Lt Col Pongporn’s transfer.
Pongporn: Transferred but not happy