Thailand – Smart ID cards for monks & temple auditing

By | July 6, 2017

Monks are as technologically savvy as the rest of the population but may be offended by demands to mandatory carrying of special ‘smart cards’ with their religious and legal backgrounds. (Post Today file photo)

The government has raised a proposal for monks to have smart cards that show their backgrounds to enable scrutiny of monks by authorities.

The smart card plan is part of the government’s attempt to address a series of temple scandals, mostly involving monks who had sought monetary benefits from the temples.

WHAT INFORMATION WILL BE ON A MONK’S ID CARD?

The smart ID cards for monks will carry key information about each monk.

This includes:

1. When the monk was ordained,

2. Which temples they are attached to,

3. When they were promoted,

4. Whether they had left the monkhood before, and…

5. If they had a criminal record with convictions for criminal offences or drug abuse

Officials would be able to check the backgrounds of each monk using these cards, the minister said.

Currently, monks hold paper-based identification documents that are difficult to track.

REASONS FOR & AGAINST SMART ID CARDS FOR MONKS

Smart ID cards for monks would allow authorities to monitor monks who might be using their position and power to get rich off of temple donations, for example (see here also here & here).

Of course, there are also good reasons not to issue Smart ID cards.

Personal information would be stored on a centralized database which could be used to track physical movements and private life which could infringe on personalfreedom and privacy which even monks have even though a monk’s life is typically more disciplined than a lay person’s.

BIG INITIAL COSTS BUT BIG LONG-TERM BENEFITS 

Although the process of making smart ID cards and setting up data centres would be expensive, the new approach would be more much more effective and the stored information could be useful in the long run.

For instance, monthly allowances were sometimes mistakenly paid to monks who had passed away, most likely because of the slow process of verifying information about the monks.

IMPROVING TEMPLE ACCOUNTING & AUDITING STANDARDS 

The meeting will also touch upon how temples should make their income statementsand expense accounts (accounting system and reports) available for examination.

The National Office of Buddhism (NOB) requires temples to submit their financial statements, but most temple accounts do not meet accepted standards and lack details

NOB officials had asked temples to prepare their balance sheets using an approachthat confused the monks.

Only a small number of temples were able to follow the NOB’s instructions as they do not have a background in accounting.

INCOME & EXPENSE ACCOUNTS FOR TRANSPARENCY IN TEMPLE FINANCES

PM’s Office Minister Ormsin Chivapruck said he has instructed the NOB to informtemples that they only need to prepare income and expense accounts with necessarydetails

The income and expense accounts would help the NOB to examine the transparencyin temple finances.

A temple on average has an income of 3.2 million baht and expenses of about 2.8 million baht per year, according to research by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA). 

The same research also found there was a wide gap between large temples and small ones in terms of their annual expenses and income.

TAKING ACTION

The proposal has been approved by the cabinet Mr. Ormsin said, adding Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam asked him to draw up a plan for its implementation. The deputy PM also assigned the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) to study the idea. 

Mr Ormsin said he would seek the opinions of three senior monks who are members of the Sangha Supreme Council regarding the idea. 

The ministry said he would hold a meeting with the three monks — Phra Prom Molee, the fifth ecclesiastical regional governor; Phra Prom Munee, of Wat Ratchabophit Maha Simaram; and Phra Prom Bundit, abbot of Wat Prayurawongsawas — along with NOB director-general Pongporn Pramsaneh next Wednesday.

Source: Bangkok Post

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