The appointment of Pattaya’s former political machine to the national government sparked controversy, with both the appointers and appointees denying it has anything to do with politics.
The Cabinet on April 24 named ex-Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome an assistant to Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, and Itthiphol’s elder brother Sonthaya, who once headed both the tourism and culture ministries, an advisor on political affairs to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
The appointments, particularly of current Palang Chon Party boss Sonthaya, who was a cabinet member for two former governments, raised eyebrows, with junta critics calling it more proof Prayut is trying to tie up career politicians ahead of next year’s anticipated election so he can remain in power.
Prayut, in comments to the national media, did nothing to dispel that notion, admitting he wants a well-connected political veteran to help him learn more about politics.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam defended the appointments, saying neither was a political post and both men can remain in their jobs even if the ministers or government changes.
Weerasak, however, took pains to point out he was not the one who appointed the Kunplomes and would “wait and see” how they worked out, while Pattaya’s former mayor – who was replaced with junta-appointed Anan Charoenchasri after his term expired in 2015 – said he only took the job to boost Thailand and Pattaya’s tourism industry.
He said the ministry is looking to reorganize the Tourism Authority of Thailand to be more efficient and better develop and renovate tourist attractions. Currently, TAT is in charge of marketing while the ministry’s Department of Tourism is tasked with issuing licenses and improving tourism routes.
A revamp will see those functions merged, Itthiphol said.
The ministry also plans to appoint provincial-level tourism and sports directors while handing over sports-related attractions and events to the Sports Authority of Thailand.
Being that many of those sporting events take place in Chonburi, and with his familiarity with Pattaya’s tourism and business-meeting facilities, he sees his role as a ministerial advisor only, helping Pattaya and Chonburi.
He said he doesn’t want people to look at his appointment as a political step, but one that should be judged on how he helps Chonburi and the nation’s tourism industry.