Parties facing up to problem of boozed MPs

MPs from both Pheu Thai and opposition Democrat parties continue to work on the problem of parliamentarians who turn up drunk for work, following claims Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung was intoxicated during a meeting on Friday night.

Pheu Thai MP Paijit Sriworakhan, as chairman of the committee on House affairs, said the committee would discuss measures to prevent alcohol consumption in the Parliament compound during a meeting on Thursday morning.

Incidents of drinking are reported to have happened many times before, especially late at night, but Chalerm's case had received much public attention.

Paijit said the committee would also consider Democrat MP Rangsima Rodrasmi's proposal of introducing alcohol check equipment at the Parliament. However, any investigation into whether Chalerm was really drunk was for House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranont, as chairman of the House committee on morality, to conduct.

Rangsima said she planned to ask the Democrat party meeting today, and the next meeting of opposition whips committee, to consider how to deal with the Chalerm case.

A 20-member committee on parliamentarians’ morality and ethics was appointed earlier this month. Its members include the House Speaker, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and former House speakers such as Chuan Leekpai and Wan Muhamad Noor Matha.

According to Article 38 of the parliamentarian Code of Ethics issued in 2010, in a case where the committee finds an MP guilty of wrongdoing, it can determine the penalty, give a warning or force the offender to apologise in minor cases, and propose impeachment in serious cases.

In the parliamentary regulations on morality, no article directly prohibits an intoxicated MP from attending parliamentary meetings. However, other regulations might be considered in Chalerm’s case - such as Article 11 that requires parliamentarians to uphold the reputation and dignity of the Parliament and not do anything disgraceful. Article 15 requires MPs to respect other people’s rights and not use impolite words or conduct as an insult, or accuse others without proof. They must not bring false stories into parliamentary discussion or anywhere else. Under Article 16, the MP must not intimidate or threaten others. And under Article 28, an MP must not cause sexual or any harassment towards others.

Meanwhile, Chalerm insisted yesterday he had never been drunk while in Parliament, saying he was swaying while walking on Friday night due to an old illness in his ears.

He said he suffered from the condition for three months about four years ago. He also denied reports he had intimidated MP Rangsima Rodrasmi on the same night. Rangsima shouted out during a parliamentary meeting that Chalerm was drunk.

"May I modestly clarify that I walked towards Rangsima but I did not intimidate her. We usually talked when we met outside (the chamber). Her hometown is in Samut Songkram, mine is in Bang Bon suburb, that’s a nearby area. I was just joking when I told Rangsima I was not drunk with alcohol but I was just intoxicated by love," he said.

"All agencies please come and examine my morality… bad people are those having adultery with another's wife or husband. That’s bad. And I was accused of having a red face, how can my face be dark [revealing a shadow of bad energy]? My face is red because I work out," he said.

Chalerm said he has a rule not to drink alcohol before delivering a speech or speaking in parliamentary meetings. He said to accuse someone of being drunk would need an alcohol check, not just a look at their face.

He said the Democrat’s claim of finding alcoholic drink bottles at the Parliament was not proof against him as there were over 2,000 people at the Parliament. He said the Democrats should propose a fresh enquiry so he could clarify the situation in the coming House meeting.

Asked by reporters what he thought about introducing alcoholic test equipment to the Parliament, Chalerm said that would need a law amendment. But members had the opportunity to consume alcohol anywhere - at home or in restaurants - not just in the Parliament.
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