FROM THE YEAR 2005
Police General Pratin Santipraphob has held fast to a strict code of ethics throughout his rise to the top of the Royal Thai Police Department and his ‘second career’ in the Senate.
At 71 years of age, Pol Gen Pratin Santipraphob, senator and retired head of the Royal Thai Police Department, is as fit and active as a man many years younger. He keeps in shape both physically and mentally by exercising every morning and playing golf regularly on Saturday and Sunday.
Pol Gen Pratin is a truly humble person who prefers privacy to the limelight. Very few people know that he was once a famous athlete – maybe yet another reason for his excellent physical condition. He was on the Thai national soccer and rugby teams, and is a former Thai record-holder in the 100-metre sprint. He was also a good boxer.
One of his admirers explained: “Had it been another person, he would have been crucified and condemned by the usually intrusive and unforgiving Thai press. But Pol Gen Pratin came out unscathed, and even became more popular with ordinary people, something of a ‘folk hero.’ ”
Many citizens in the Kingdom admire him for his lifelong uncompromising stand against corruption and injustice, and this has led to a logical second career for the general.
“After my retirement from the Royal Thai Police Department in 1994, I wanted to use all my experience to continue helping the people and my country, so I decided to run for the Senate,” he said.
He did well in Thailand’s firstever Senate election on March 4, 2000, when he came in fifth out of 18 candidates elected for the Bangkok constituency, with around 70,000 votes.His six-year term will expire in March 2006, and the law allows a senator only one term. “I would like to rest after my second retirement, playing golf and reading books, but if I can help my country then I am ready to work again. Right now many people come to see me all the time seeking advice or assistance,” said Pol Gen Pratin.
“The candidates must be connected ‘indirectly’; they cannot run on their own. If a candidate upcountry has no support, who will ‘introduce’ him to the people? He has no chance. Even now, the Senate is not entirely neutral,” Pol Gen Pratin said without elaboration.
When asked what was his biggest achievement as a public servant, he replied: “During my 36 years in government service, I never thought of achievements. When I had a duty to perform for my country, I did it to the best of my ability, and I continue to do so.
“However, I regard one particular episode as very significant. During the time of the communist insurgency in Thailand, I approached one of their big leaders and gained his trust. When some of their members were arrested, I would go to look after their kids and even sent them to a vocational school. We tried to understand the communists and to get the facts straight. I wanted the government to understand them and vice-versa.”
Pol Gen Pratin added that it was General Prem Tinsulanonda who deserves all credits for the successful resolution to the problem. “He was the mastermind behind everything. He wanted peace and prosperity for our country,” said Pol Gen Pratin.
Campaign will go on
In between the rounds of golf he plays during his second retirement, it’s a sure bet that Pol Gen Pratin will continue his efforts to make Thailand a better and safer place. He has been campaigning for many years for a new law against the selling of firearms to civilians. He explained: “This would decrease violent crimes. Based on police records, individual gun owners often find their pistols inadequate when facing assailants with superior weapons. Guns in individual possession are rarely used for self-defense, but are misused to settle personal feuds.
“Only police officers or army, air force and navy personnel while on duty should have the right to have a weapon, and then they should return it afterwards to their units. They shouldn't carry guns on the street, with the exception of plain-clothes detectives, who should hide them and be discreet.”
Anyone possessing a gun should get a life sentence, he said, and as for war weapons like machine guns, grenades or bombs, a death sentence should be imposed. “This type of crime should be regarded as a very serious offense endangering the life, security and livelihood of our citizens,” the general stressed.
“As for the police, I am very much disappointed because I intended to make them be good to the people and to gain their faith. But I couldn't achieve that goal. Problems come mainly from the higher levels. How can people trust the police when they behave like gangsters or take money from them?” he asked.
The Senate Anti-Graft Committee, chaired by Pol Gen Pratin, initiated investigations into two very important matters that have rocked the country during past months. The first concerned nine commissioners of the National Commission to Counter Corruption who awarded themselves a pay rise last August. The second was an alleged bribery scandal involving the purchase of CTX 9000 check-in baggage screening machines for Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
Pol Gen Pratin believes that corruption in Thailand is getting worse, and not just in the public service sector but in the private sector as well. “Many people now prefer to make money in any possible way. Their attitude is that money can do everything. In such circumstances, it is very hard to solve the problems,” said the general.
“I asked many students at a high-school what they would like to become in the future: maybe a medical doctor, an engineer or a teacher? The most common answer was a politician, because they can make lots of money easily, and can do and have everything.
“Still, I would like to try and give some advice to the young people: Please study! We in Thailand have very good schools and universities. Don't spend money on luxury items.”
Pol Gen Pratin wasn’t keen on interviews but finally granted me one 11 years after he retired from the police force. He was known as tough man, incorruptible and uncompromising – and also for his former athletic achievements. He was a policeman feared by the criminals, and not only them. I had had a working relationship with him since from 1990. We sometimes met for consultations in his office at the Royal Thai Police headquarters in Bangkok. When he became the police chief in 1993, I felt the right man was in the right place, but he retired the following year and was elected to Senate in 2000.
Pol Gen Pratin assisted me in suppressing a bourgeoning underground trade in fake watches, fashion items and leather goods. I was assigned this activity by a pool of exclusive foreign brands and conducting operations with help from the Economic Crime Investigation Division headquartered on North Sathorn Road.
Once we conducted a raid on sellers of fake goods at Chiang Mai’s Night Plaza. After police arrested a few sellers and took them to the police stations, other vendors surround the building and wouldn’t let me or our lawyer leave. We were stranded and in danger of being mugged by the mob if we ventured outside. In desperation I called Gen Pratin at his home in Bangkok around midnight and asked him to help. He spoke a high-ranking officer in Chiang Mai who seemed shocked to have the Thai police chief on the line. We were immediately given a police escort out of the station which deposited up safely at our hotel. We left Chiang Mai the next day.