The Bangkok Post reports that, as expected, the Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has defended the extravagant use of taxpayer funds for Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and his 38-member “entourage” to fly on a chartered plane to Honolulu.
The Dictator scoffed at the idea that the trip be investigated: “Why do we have to form [the panel to probe]?” He added: “Are there any direct flights to the meeting? No, there are not…. Did they go for the [country’s] benefit or for a holiday?” He warned against a “witch-hunt.” Prawit is reported to have “echoed the premier’s comments, saying there was no direct flight to Hawaii and that making a stopover would have wasted time.”
Meanwhile, Prawit “said he believed someone was trying to undermine him, insisting he gained nothing from the flight arrangements.” This hints at rumors that there are disgruntled military factions working against him. Some of the rumors link those factions to The Dictator himself.
Previously, the dictatorship has jailed persons questioning spending by the junta and the military.
On notions of time-wasting and no direct flights, it is not entirely clear to us why a direct flight is mandatory for the military and bureaucratic elite. Several airlines operate flights to Honolulu via Asian hubs. The flight time, including a 1-stop change, for the airlines we checked ranges from just over 15 hours to 17.5 hours. Business class airfares (including food and drink) range from US$3,000 to $8,000. We could not locate a service offering first class (perhaps explaining why commercial flights were anathema for these military bigwigs).
Even if all 39 went business class, the cost would be about $117,000 to $312,000, representing a substantial saving to the Thai taxpayer.