Tongue-Thai’ed! Part XVIII: Thai Minister throws tantrum over villager with no birthday

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 11, 2013

This is the XVIIIth edition of  “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, in which we encapsulate the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures – in short: everything we hear that makes us go “Huh?!”. Check out all past entries here.

One of the first light-hearted stories of 2013 took a very disturbing and serious turn involving a civil servant with a non-existent birthday and a disgraced minister that made a fool out of himself with an unbelievable rant, not without consequences.

Earlier this week, news spread about a man called Sangwian Kuncharoen, an assistant village chief in a small community in Sa Kaeo province, located on the Eastern border of Thailand. The 53-year-old actually isn’t supposed to be that old – he isn’t supposed to able to celebrate his birthday ever – because Mr. Sangwian has an unusual bureaucratic problem:

A mistake on his civil registration records listed him as born on Feb 30, 1960 – a date that did not exist. Because of the error, Mr Sangwian never officially graduated and could never open a bank account. And not once in his life has he been able to hold a party on his birthday. (…)

Since his house registration document carried the wrong birth date, his identification card, issued to him at the age of 17, repeated the mistake.

The error has plagued him ever since. For a person to change his or her birth date they need at least two witnesses _ including an official who can guarantee the information was incorrect _ to testify in support of the change request. It difficult to do for people who have moved away from their birthplace, he said.

Mr Sangwian raised the problem of his non-existent birth date at a meeting of about 400 village headmen, and other local administration officials yesterday in Aranyaprathet district.

Feb 30 birth date causes problems“, Bangkok Post, January 9, 2013

Suffice to say that he is in a bureaucratic nightmare! Of course, the local media picked up on this quickly and ran it as a  light-hearted story of an oddity from the Thai heartlands.

However, since these things (i.e. citizen registration) fall under the responsibility of the Interior Ministry, the man at the top of it, Jarupong Ruangsuwan, got personally involved – but not to personally fix the Mr. Sangwien’s problem, but rather to blame him for the problem.

And boy, the minister did go on a rant…

การร้องเรียนผ่านสื่อแบบนี้ เท่ากับเป็นการเผาบ้านตัวเอ งซึ่งทำไม่ถูก ขอให้ทาง ผวจ.สระแก้ว (…) ว่า ทำไมนายสังเวียนไม่ไปยื่นเรื่องเพื่อแก้ไขให้ถูกต้อง แต่กลับมาร้องเรียนออกสื่อทีวีให้เป็นข่าวแทน ถามตรงๆ ว่าทำไมถึงอยากดัง (…) แต่แบบนี้ควรโดนสอบทางวินัยหรือไม่ เพราะถือว่ามีเจตนาทำให้กระทรวงมหาดไทยเสื่อมเสีย

“To file such a complaint is as bad as to burn down your own village, which is not right. I want to ask the authorities in Sa Kaeo province (…) why he has not requested this to be corrected, but instead went public on the media with it instead – does he want to get famous?! But should he in case be the subject of a disciplinary committee? Because he has intentionally damaged [the reputation of] the Interior Ministry!”

“คนอื่นอย่าริทำเป็นอันขาด ขอพูดแบบนักเลงเลยว่าแบบนี้สมควรตาย เพราะไม่อย่างนั้นตนคุมลูกน้องไม่อยู่ เห็นได้ชัดว่าเรื่องที่เกิดขึ้นนั้นผิดแน่ๆ อยู่แล้ว แต่กลับเอาเรื่องมาโพนทะนาให้ใหญ่โต ทำให้องค์กรเสื่อมเสีย ผมถือว่าเป็นเรื่องต้องตำหนิ ใครก็อย่าทำแบบนี้กับผมอีก ผมเอาตาย ไม่เก็บไว้แน่ ผมรักและสนับสนุนคนดี แต่คนเผาบ้านผมรับไม่ได้ ไม่รู้ว่าจะทำเรื่องเล็กให้เป็นเรื่องใหญ่ทำไม ทั้งๆ ที่ข้าราชการกระทรวงมหาดไทยต้องทำเรื่องใหญ่ให้เป็นเรื่องเล็ก ผมชอบคนแบบนี้มากกว่า”

“Others should not even think about doing the same – let me be very clear that in that case you should die [probably out of shame]! Because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to handle everybody. It is clear that this incident is just wrong anyways! But blowing this this out of proportion is damaging our organization. It is something that has to be blamed! Nobody should dare to do that to me again, or I will take you down! I won’t let go! I love and I will promote good people, but I cannot accept people burning [or metaphorically bringing] down the house! I don’t know why he’s making such a big fuss out of such a small thing. All officials at the Interior Ministry have to work big things into small things – I like THAT kind of people more!”

‘จารุพงศ์’ ฉุนขาด ซัด ‘ผช.ผญบ.’อยากดัง“, Thai Rath, January 10, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we have the first public political blow-up of this very young year! I don’t know what’s more damning: the fact that the Thai bureaucracy is not able to fix an apparently simple, but severe problem (then again you could ask why it took Mr. Sangwien that long to bring it to attention) or the fact that the Minister of Interior went on a disproportionate rant to roast that man and make it an even bigger problem. On the other hand, we have seen before that somebody high-ranking would only know to show authority by throwing a threatening, loud tantrum. If this wasn’t the Thai bureaucracy, he would probably already have to deal with human resources now…!

Unfortunately, Mr. Sangwien eventually resigned from his position amidst the pressure from the Interior Minister and thus evades a potential investigation. Meanwhile, the governor of Sa Kaeo province has ordered that his birthday, in accordance with regulations, will be changed to February 1. So, pretty soon Mr. Sanwien can finally celebrate his birthday for the first time – and hopefully without anybody yelling at him.

If you come across any verbosities that you think might fit in here send us a email at siamvoices [at] gmail.com or tweet us @siamvoices.