More measures needed to combat temple corruption: The Nation

Recent allegations of funding misappropriation from officials of the National Office of Buddhism and temples' abbots have become a cause of concern in Thailand.
Recent allegations of funding misappropriation from officials of the National Office of Buddhism and temples' abbots have become a cause of concern in Thailand.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on 15 June, the paper condemns the corrupt monks and officials linked to the embezzlement of temple funds

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK)- The recent murder of a novice monk in Nakhon Si Thammarat helps justify the suspicion that Buddhist temples are used by certain groups of people to make personal gain, including greedy priests.

Five people were arrested in connection with the murder of the 17-year-old novice, whose body was found buried inside the temple where he'd been ordained. Police investigators suspect he might have learned about an apparent plot to embezzle temple assets.

One of the people allegedly involved in his killing had later been ordained as well at the temple, becoming a full-fledged monk. Another suspect, the monk's lover before he donned the robes, had millions of baht transferred into and out of her bank accounts. It turned out that a lot of money had also been removed from the temple's bank accounts.

The temple earns hundreds of thousands of baht each month leasing space for car parking, selling charms and amulets, and leasing about 90 residential units erected on its land.

Other temples around the country have similar income sources, in addition to donations from worshippers seeking to make merit for themselves and loved ones and thus earn better karma and better chances in their next lives. Temples also receive funding from state agencies, particularly the National Office of Buddhism, to renovate their structures and the artefacts stored there.

An investigation continues into allegations of funding misappropriation involving former and current officials of the National Office of Buddhism. The suspects stand accused of pocketing a large share of a Bt500-million (S$2 million) maintenance fund set aside for several selected temples, skimming off as much as 80 per cent of the amounts allocated.

A dozen temples in Ayutthaya, Amnat Charoen, Lampang, Lamphun and Phetchaburi are suspected of involvement in the wrongdoing.

The allegedly corrupt officials are further suspected of having benefited from the cooperation of the temples' abbots, whose signatures were needed in transferring the officials' "share" of the money from their temples' bank accounts.

Paiboon Nititawan, who once headed a religious reform committee of the now-defunct National Reform Council, has called for the abbots to be investigated as well to determine if they were involved with any embezzlement. He said anyone involved must be punished.

Several senior monks seem to pay more attention to accumulating wealth than practising Buddhism to better themselves and humanity as a whole - the supposed goals of a priesthood anywhere in the world. This in turn has led to their further defilement and has created more problems for the monastic community and lay society.

Monastic rules make clear that abbots must keep temple assets separate from their personal property.

The evidence suggests that the relevant authorities are not strictly enforcing these rules or the applicable laws of the land. This in turn represents further proof that many of those authorities are themselves corrupt, forever seeking their own windfall from the temples.

It is time to reform the financial management of all temples so as to prevent corrupt officials and greedy monks from stealing money given quite literally in good faith by worshippers and in abiding trust by taxpayers.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.