Sunday, January 27, 2013

A little blunder that explains the country's terrible bureaucracy

This isn’t one of the “quirky” news tit-bits on the inside pages of a newspaper. It’s a real-life “dark secret” for this villager of Prachinburi who has finally decided to go public with his unusual ID “phenomenon.” Buarai Paosaeng of House No 9, Village No 11 of Tambon Nonsri, Amphoe Kabinburi, in the eastern border province of Prachinburi has carried this ID card for over ten years, under a cloud of uncertainty and perhaps a deep-rooted sense of anxiety. What if people found out that he was born on “Feb 31, 1961”? And how does he explain to anyone who asks him when his ID will expire? It’s clearly printed on the card that the document will remain valid until “Feb 30, 2563” with the signature of the local authorized official, no less. Of course, the ID is an authentic one, issued by the Local Administration Department of the Interior Ministry. Buarai has no doubt that he could produce it anywhere and it would be taken seriously. In fact, he has had no problems so far using it for all practical purposes. But what if someone finds fault with his birth date? What if he decides one day to exercise a Thai citizen’s right to apply for a passport? What if the passport was issued accordingly showing him with his “official date of birth” and an immigration official in one of the foreign countries raises a storm about “falsification” of an official document of international significance? That could spark an international incident and will the Interior and Foreign Ministries of Thailand come to his rescue? Probably not. The last time a similar incident took place only a few weeks earlier, as assistant headman of Aranyaprathet District of Srakaew province, also in the eastern part of the country, some serious consequences fell upon the ID card owner, not the officials concerned with issuing the weird ID with a strange birth date. The misfortune came upon Sangwian Kooncharoen, one of the local assistant village headmen, who reported that his ID card showed him born on Feb 30. The burden of proof didn’t fall on the officials concerned. Instead, he was told to show documents to prove that he had not been born on Feb 30. And when the controversy was widely reported in the local press, Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan was miffed – not at his own officials who had issued the card but at the card-holder himself for making such a fool of the people involved. “He deserves to die,” the minister told reporters. It was widely understood that the person the minister considered to be at fault was the person who made the issue public. The minister was simply trying to show the public that he was simply performing his duty to protect his subordinates to the best of his ability. The assistant headman, who officially was supposed to be under the minister’s jurisdiction as well, was left to defend for himself. He subsequently decided to do what a good, honest and responsible official was supposed to do: He quit. It’s not clear whether that would make it easier for him to get his ID card revised to confirm that he had not been born on a non-existent date on this planet. Now, Buarai of Prachinburi has a more serious problem. The birth date on his ID was even more challenging. Sangwian’s Feb 30 date was bad enough. But Feb 31 could prove to be even more “out of this world.” He just had to get the word out before people thought he was living in his own little surreal world. Buarai has a full history of his own to tell the world to prove that he hadn’t made up the information on his own ID card. He told reporters: “I am the son of Mr Ma and Mrs Kham. My birth certificate (a document to produce to get an ID) says I was born on a Wednesday, January 31, 2503 (1960). When I turned 17, I went to Kabinburi District to apply for my ID card. The card expired three times and has been renewed every time. When I turned 27, I was married and had our marriage registered with my wife at the same district office. That’s when I discovered that my birthday was Feb 31, 2504 (1961). I then went to the local officials to have the information on my ID and domicile document corrected. I was told to continue to use my ID and related document…until I heard that a similar case had taken place in Srakaew. That’s why I am making my case public as well so that I could probably get my real life back…” Buarai says he has never really been able to mark his birthday with the traditional “merit-making” ritual like most Thai Buddhists “because I don’t have a real birthday.” Perhaps, the national human rights movement could lend a helping hand. The consumer protect group should launch an investigation into this case before the next victim surfaces. To blame it on bureaucratic inefficiency would be blasé and counter-productive – and quite frankly, extremely boring. And to demand an explanation from the Interior Ministry and seek out the responsible parties would be tantamount to banging your head against a wall. You could get seriously injured and nothing will change

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