CORRUPTION IN THAILAND: CRONYISM, POLICE, MILITARY, THAKSIN AND POLITICIANS AFTER THAKSIN

CORRUPTION IN THAILAND

Corruption is a serious problem in Thailand and has been for some time. It was particularly endemic when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies were in power and cozy deals for Thaksin cronies was the norm. Among those who were the most outraged were old boys in the traditional elite, major beneficiaries of corruption in the past, who were left out. One government official said, “Corruption is devastating. It is the source of most of our society’s ills. It is our nation’s greatest enemy. Cabinet ministers have been tied to the drug trade. Military generals take money for supporting illegal loggers.”

Ambika Ahuja of Reuters wrote: “From minor bribes to dubious multi-billion-dollar procurement deals, corruption is as endemic as ever in Thailand. "The regulatory framework in Thailand is quite good but whether it is put into practice is a different issue," said Kanokkan Anukansai, Thai programme manager of anti-corruption watchdog Transparancy International. "The lack of stability makes it hard to make tough, potentially politically damaging decisions."[Source: Ambika Ahuja, Reuters, September 28, 2010 ^^]

“While there is no exact figure that measures how much corruption undermines Thailand's competitiveness, economists said worsening perception certainly hurts confidence. "Many investors are used to this and it's not their biggest concern (compared to political instability). But there appear to be more complaints in recent years especially in the construction and procurement businesses and this certainly eats into growth," said Poramet Tongbua, an economist at Tisco Securities. "It is something businesses keep an close watch on and would seriously consider if it gets worse." ^^

"Opportunities for graft and mismanagement remain high," said Danny Richards, senior Asia editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit. "While trying to push through spending programmes as quickly as possible, there does not appear to be any great priority placed on ensuring quality control." Complaints lodged against low-level administrators are also on the rise, according to the National Counter Corruption Commission's Pakdi Pothisiri. Nearly 3,000 cases were filed last year against police officers and more than 2,000 were against local administrative authorities, he said. ^^

Thaksin and Corruption

Thaksin was dogged by corruption and financial disclosure charges from the moment he took office. He was accused of having a conflict of interest between running the government and heading his business empire. When he became prime minister he and his wife were legally obligated to sell their shares in the Shin Corporation. Thaksin sold the shares to close relatives or associates, including 20.15 percent of the shares to his oldest daughter, 15.29 to his oldest son and 12.29 percent to the brother of his wife.

Thaksin officially declared assets of $17.7 million when he took office in 2001. His wife Potjaman was listed as having $244.7 million. At the time his family is believed to have considerably more than that. Even before he became prime minister Thaksin drew controversy. A week before the 2001 election he was charged with concealing assets from his telecommunications empire by transferring shares to relatives, his chauffeur, maid and others. At one point two of his domestic servants were among the top 10 shareholders in Thailand’s main stock exchange. An investigation after he became prime minister cleared him of these charges.

Early in his first term, Thaksin faced an investigation by Thailand's Corruption Commission. He was charged with failing to reveal all his wealth while he was a deputy prime minister in 1997 and giving Shin Corp. shares to his drivers and maids when he had to give up his stock. To follow Thai law aimed at preventing conflicts of interest, he gave stock in most of his companies to his son and teenage daughters. In the mid 2000s, according to the Wall Street Journal, Thaksin’s family controlled about 39 percent of Shin Corp. and the company's value orse and fell with Thaksin's approval ratings. Forbes magazine estimated that at that time Thaksin’s family’s wealth was around $1.9 billion.

After taking office in 2001 an anti-graft commission ruled Thaksin he had violated financial disclosure laws. He appealed and attempted to intimidate the judges by mustering up public support of his position and admitted he made an “honest mistake” in failing to declare millions handed over to his domestic staff. . His strategy seemed to work. In August 2001, he was acquitted of the charges against him by a Constitutional Court by a vote of 8-7. Had he lost he would have been forced to resign and would have been barred from politics in Thailand for five years. Many people saw the ruling as a set back for the rule of law and a capitulation in to public opinion since Thaksin had clearly broken the law.

Thaksin was accused of giving friends lucrative satellite and cell phone contracts; using government Air Force transport planes to fly friends to a birthday party; buying obsolete fighters from Russia to earn a kickback of $85 million; favoring construction firms in purchases of security scanners and the construction transportation links for Suvarbabhumi Airport; and trading stocks without paying taxes. One study found that 8 of the 10 largest conglomerates in Thailand were led by people in Thaksin’s cabinet. All this came from a man who repeatedly told parents to set a good example for their children and said he hated people who cheated other people and said such cheats did not love their country. At one point he even championed himself as a corruption fighter.

See Thaksin Under History, There are Details, for example, about his corruption trial.

Corruption After Thaksin

Ambika Ahuja of Reuters wrote: “A 2010 survey by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd showed Thailand was perceived as the fifth-most corrupt of 16 Asia-Pacific economies. "Prescribed comment periods for new legislation and regulations are sometimes not honored," said The Economist Intelligent Unit, blaming transparency problems on a "complex hierarchical system of laws, decrees and regulations."[Source: Ambika Ahuja, Reuters, September 28, 2010]

The World Bank's Governance Indicators suggest corruption worsened between 2005 to 2008, with the indicator falling from 54.4 out of 100 to 43.5. It improved in 2009 to 51. Foreign investors say they largely factor corruption into their investments but that it remains a source of risk. One executive at a foreign luxury property developer said companies usually budget for direct and indirect bribes, sometimes to circumvent loosely worded regulations. "As long as it doesn't become unpredictable, it's just a cost of doing business" said the executive, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of discussing bribes.

Abhisit and Corruption

Ambika Ahuja of Reuters wrote: Abhisit “signaled zero-tolerance for graft when he took power in December 2008 with fellow a Oxford University alumnus, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij. But corruption indicators show graft remains deeply rooted two years into Abhisit's administration. The reason lies in one of the fundamental weaknesses of his premiership — \ he holds on to power only with the support of networks of politicians, generals and bureaucrats whose reputation for probity does not match his own, and who epitomize the patronage politics that has long bedeviled Thailand.[Source: Ambika Ahuja, Reuters, September 28, 2010]

“Corruption allegations have shadowed a $42-billion government-spending plan to rescue Thailand from recession. Questions were raised over procurement projects involving security forces, while abuse-of-power complaints against police and provincial officials remain a staple of local media reports. To form a government, Abhisit has been forced into uneasy alliances. A case in point is Bhumjai Thai, a party whose support is crucial to Abhisit in his six-party coalition government. The party's de facto leader Newin Chidchob is famed as one the country's most skilled practitioners of patronage politics, but is banned from parliament due to past alleged infractions. [Ibid]

“Months into Abhisit's $42-billion three-year government stimulus program, two government ministers resigned in scandals linked to abuse of the funds. Allegations ranged from irregularities in the procurement of hospital equipment and school supplies to rigged bidding process on construction projects. Official Bhumjai Thai leader Chavarat Chanvirakul oversees the Interior Ministry where he has been accused of auctioning off provincial governor posts to the highest bidder. He's also accused of orchestrating construction deals to benefit his family and helping to manipulate district chief examinations in northeastern Thailand to help allies. He has denied all allegations, calling them politically motivated.” [Ibid]

Acceptance of Corruption in Thailand

Jesse Schule, an English teacher in Phuket, wrote in his blog Travelin Asia: “ The difference between the corruption in Western society and what you see in places like Thailand, is that the Thais generally accept it, therefore it is a lot more out in the open. It also makes it difficult for any politician to point the finger at anyone else and accuse them of being corrupt, because almost all of them have paid and accepted bribes and kickbacks at one time or another. The most vocal of any Thai politician when it comes to issues of corruption, is Khun Chuwit Kamolvisit, the leader of The Rak Thailand Party. He is also a former brothel owner and pimp, who has admitted to paying bribes to police in the past, but has since claimed to have changed his ways. [Source: Jesse Schule, TravelinAsia, Hub Pages, March 5, 2012, /travelinasia.hubpages.com+]

“In an interview with The BBC in 2010, Khun Chuwit likened corruption in Thailand to the way Thai people share their food, as apposed to the way foreigners are more inclined to eat off their own plate. It seemed as if he was defending the ways of corruption in his country, however just over a year later, he is now making headlines for his attacks on corrupt police officers, underground casinos and even his former business of selling sex. Perhaps because of his background, or his wild theatrics, very few people actually take Chuwit seriously. +

Cronysim and Nepotism in Thailand

Cronysim and nepotism are also problems in Thailand. Politician routinely put their relatives in high positions. Business leaders, military leaders and politicians form relationship that have their own self interest and enrichment in mind not the public welfare. Success is often measured in terms of patronage and connections in the Old Boys network.

In some workplaces and among certain professions it seesm like everyone is related. On nepotism and cronyism, Stephane Peray, a French cartoonist and long time Bangkok resident said, “This a Thai-Chinese thing, When you are in power, you have to share it with your family and friends . Nepotism and cronyism, they make sense, You are supposed to help your family and friends.”

Nepotism and croyism were under Thaksin. Key positions in the national police force, for example, were filled with his former police academy classmates, some of whose credentials were less than stellar.

Thai Politicians and Drugs

It has been said that sale of heroin and opium "greased" the Thai economy in the 1990s and that many the skyscrapers built in Bangkok at that time were financed with drug money. Even cabinet ministers have been tied to the drug trade. Asian historian Stanley Karnow told Time, "Drug dealers in a Thai Cabinet? There's nothing new about that. We didn't mind when the generals ran the opium shipment because they were lovely anti-communists.”

Thanong "Thai Tony" Siriprechapong, a former legislator from Thailand's Chart Thai (Thai Nation) party, was extradited to the U.S. to face charges of smuggling more than 45 tons of marijuana into the U.S. The owner of a hotel and restaurant chain in Thailand, Thanong was indicted in 1991 on three counts of smuggling marijuana between 1973 and 1987. In 1993, a house in Beverley Hills, a Mercedes and other assets in the U.S. were seized. In 1996, he was extradited to the U.S. to face drug charges there. In the early 2000s he was allowed to go home after serving 3½ years in a U.S. prison.

Two other members of the Chart Thai party were denied visas in 1995 for their suspected links to drug trafficking. In 1992, the head of the Chart Thai party, Narong Wongwan lost his chance to become prime minister when it was discovered that he too was denied a visa for suspicion of drug trafficking.

Large Scale Corruption

Government ministers are notorious for taking large bribes and business leaders are infamous for skimming profits. The party of one prime minister was accused of accepting pay offs from a Swedish company for the approval to purchase Swedish submarines. Politicians and generals have been involved in illegal logging schemes in Cambodia and Myanmar and drug trafficking. Health ministers have ordered hospitals to buy specific medicines at 10 times their market values.

In one case, bank executive, politicians and officials at the Thailand's Central Bank embezzled government money, diverted funds to accounts of friends and used insider trading tactics to push up stock prices. When they banks falters the government bailed them out with $4 billion.

India-born, Thai businessman Rakesh Saxena was accused of embezzling $88 million from the Bangkok Bank of Commerce, He was arrested in British Columbia in 1996 and successfully fought extradition to Thailand for more than decade while living a life of luxury under house arrested. At one point he attempted to arrange of coup of Sierra Leone from his house. He reportedly stole $2 billion from a Thai bank.

In November 2008, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A former Nishimatsu Construction Co. executive who was arrested on suspicion of embezzling some of the firm's slush funds said more than $4 million from the slush funds was used to win a construction contract in Thailand. The second-tier general contractor is suspected to have used the money to improve its performance on its overseas projects. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 21, 2008 ]

Too Much Cash in Bureaucrat’s Home for Burglars to Steal It All

In 2012, news sources ran stories about a bureaucrat in the transport ministry that had as much as 1 billion baht ($34.3 million) in cash stacked up in his house. The amount was revealed by a gang of robbers that stole a portion of it. Jesse Schule wrote in his blog Travelin Asia: “ During the flooding in Bangkok last year, Police were called to investigate a robbery on the night of November 12, 2011, at a home in Bangkok's Lat Phrao district. The home belongs to permanent secretary for transport Supoj Saplom. Mr Supoj initially told the police that he was robbed of 1 million baht, but later the story changed, and he claimed a loss of 5 million baht in cash, which he reported was a dowry from his daughter's marriage. [Source: Jesse Schule, TravelinAsia, Hub Pages, March 5, 2012, /travelinasia.hubpages.com+]

This case was already attracting a lot of suspicion, but then in a strange turn of events, police were able to recover over 16 million baht after capturing the burglars that were responsible for the robbery. Pol Lt Gen Winai Thongsong has since reported that based on information obtained from the suspects, the robbers had made off with more than 100 million baht in cash. The suspects have told police that they were simply unable to carry all of the money, estimated in the hundreds of millions of baht (5-10 million USD).

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung later claimed that the money involved in the robbery was a result of kickbacks in connection with bidding for extension of subway lines. Chalerm has since reported that from tracing the ring labels of the seized cash, investigators found that some of the banknotes were from a bank in the Northeastern province of Udon Thani, where a construction company from that province was involved in fixed bidding that allowed the company to win project bids, thanks to their payment of kickbacks.

Khun Supoj has since been transferred from his post as permanent secretary for transport, pending an investigation into alleged corruption. Despite the allegations made by deputy PM Chalerm, a government appointed panel has dropped the case, saying that there is not enough information to warrant an investigation. If this case remains unsolved, it will leave a lot of people wondering if there are any limits to the state of corruption in this country, and if Khun Chuwit Kamolvisit expects anyone to take him seriously, he might want want to start with this case, it would carry a lot more weight than the casino busts he has been making so much noise about.

Corruption in the Thai Military

Thai military rulers have traditionally had close relations the Thailand’s Chinese dominated commercial community. Powerful military generals have stakes in casinos and illegal logging operations. It is widely believed that the methamphetamine trade is controlled by organized crime syndicates that are often run or protected by powerful civilian or military figures.

There has traditionally little accountability or transparency over the way military budgets were spent. Ranking officers had a great deal of freedom to purchase weapons systems as they saw fit. Some military leaders have made some dubious weapons and hardware acquisitions, presumably because they received kickbacks from the companies that sold them.

Ambika Ahuja of Reuters wrote: “The Thai military, whose more than 1,000 active generals outnumber those in the U.S. military which is at least three times its size, is also a perennial source of cost overruns and corruption allegations. The army budget has doubled since a 2006 military coup removed a government led by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of corruption and later convicted in a Thai court of breaking conflict of interest laws while in office. [Source: Ambika Ahuja, Reuters, September 28, 2010=]

“Recent army procurement deals have raised questions of whether military corruption has worsened since the coup. These include a 350 million baht ($11.4 million) purchase of a leaky surveillance blimp last year and more than 700 UK-made GT200 bomb detectors that turned out to be an embarrassing scam — they are lumps of plastic with no working mechanical parts. The military said it would keep the airship if its U.S. manufacturer paid for repairs. It initially insisted the bomb detectors, which cost 900,000 baht ($29,360) each, worked fine until weeks of public outcry brought an admission they had flaws. But they said the purchase was above board. "Cases like these are hard to pin down because there is no serious investigation into who was accountable. It is usually taken as an honest mistake and the blame is on manufacturers. The procurement side gets off lightly," said Nuannoi Trirat, an economist at Chulalongkorn University who studies governance. =

Small Scale Corruption in Thailand

In survey in the late 1990s, 74.4 percent of the Thais asked said they had been asked by customs officials to pay bribes either at Bangkok’s Kling Toey seaport or Don Muang International Airport.

“White envelopes” is the term used to describe corruption money. Inspectors taking bribes overlook shoddy workmanship that have lead to buildings collapsing and people dying. Greedy doctors have let patients die so they can harvest their kidneys. Monks have embezzled money from temple donations.

Projects to help the poor are often undermined by corruption. According to the Bangkok Post a project hatched by Thaksin to bring housing to poor urban neighborhoods was plagued by allegations that contractors for the Ban Ua-arthorn housing projects in Bangkok were forced to pay kickbacks of about $300 per unit to politicians. There were other abuses that left behind a trail of angry homeowners and non-performing loans. Those that did get houses complained of holes in the walls, roofs that blew away in the first storm and shoddy construction. Other projects were not even built because of bureaucratic inertia and lack of coordination between different agencies. [Source: Bangkok Pos, December 2, 2006]

Corruption and the Police in Thailand

Corruption is institutionalized in the police force in the form of extra-budgetary payments to police officer's welfare funds, holiday banquets, office renovations, bribe-taking, and extortion. Police are poorly paid. A patronage system, in which beat police, funnel money to their superiors is institutionalized.

According to a Bangkok Post editorial: The National Police Office’s fundamental problems are “widespread nepotism, corruption, lax law enforcement and disrespect for the rule of law. Nepotsim is particularly deeply entrenched. It is a known fact that capability, resourcefulness and seniority—the standard yardsicks for promotion in a government bureaucracy—are not enough to be promoted without the right connections or enough money to kick up to their superiors. There is a great deal of truth to the rumor that the post of chief inspector at a “good” police station costs about 500,000 baht (about $15,000).

Another root cause of corruption is relatively unknown to the public is the unspoken tradition that police officers are not supposed to be seen riding city buses. It has become accepted practice that once they enlist in the force they must acquire a car, despite their humble pay.

Police, Bangkok’s Sex King, Prostitution and Corruption

Ironically, although prostitution is illegal, many sex businesses have government or police officials among their owners. In other cases, these officials are paid by the establishment owners to avoid enforcing the law. In the 1990s it was reported that one police commander had stakes in two massage parlors and cabinet ministers receiving cases of fine wine and free services with the best girls.

In the 1990s it was reported that Thailand's thousands of brothels, massage parlors and hostess bars stayed open by bribing local police between $120 and $600 a month. One study at that time showed that Bangkok's 1,000 or so entertainment houses paid police $600,000 a month. The police allegedly used the money to buy imported cars and nice suburban homes. In 1994, one police colonel was found to have $920,000 in his bank account.

Corrupt policemen and politicians often get much of their money from sex industry operators. In the 1990s, a superintendent received $2,000 a month from sex industry operators; a deputy superintendent in crime suppression received $1,250 a month; a deputy superintendent in investigation got $500; a deputy superintendent in the traffic division, $250; an inspector, $85; a deputy inspector, $50.

In the early 2000s, Chuwit Kamolvisit was known as Thailand’s sex king. He owned six enormous, very profitable massage parlors—Victoria’s Secret, Honolulu, Hi-Class, Emmanuelle, Copabacana and Sea of Love. A rough and flamboyant former policeman, he reportedly paid out $300,000 a month in bribes and one had the establishment of a rival bulldozed to the ground.

When police crackdowned on his establishments Chuwit Kamolvisit he responded by revealing that he had spent $2.5 million over 10 years bribing the same people who were involved in his arrest. He said he felt betrayed and double crossed. He didn’t name any names but he threatened to do so In a press conference Chuwit said, “I’m a mad dog now and I’ll bite anyone...I used to buy whole trays of Rolex watches for police officers. I used to carry cash in black plastic bags for them. But they are still harassing me.” He said he also gave out free car repairs, home fix ups, boxing tickets, golf club memberships, free bowling and free services at his massage parlors.

Thai Police and the Saudi Gem Scandal

One of the worst scandals in Thai history involved the theft of $20 million worth of jewels by a Thai servant from a palace owned by the Saudi Arabian royal family. Some of the jewels were family treasures hundreds of years old. [Source: William Branigin, the Washington Post, August 30, 1994]

The 200 pound cache of jewelry was stolen in 1989 from the home of Prince Faisal bin Fahd, the son of King Fahd, while the prince and his wife were on a three-month vacation. The Thai servant, Kriangkrai Techamong, was arrested in Thailand and the jewelry was recovered by Thai police in Bangkok, but then mysteriously taken to a Bangkok hotel for two days before being transferred to the police station.

When the jewels were returned to Saudi Arbai, about 80 percent of the items were still missing and most of the rest were fakes. The most valuable pieces were believed to have been taken by high-ranking police officers after the jewels were recovered and before they were taken to Saudi Arabia. For the crime, Kriangkrai was sentenced to five years in prison and released after two years a seven months for good behavior.

In 1994, many of the jewels were turned in anonymously under a no-questions-asked agreement. Among the items still missing at that time were a "priceless" 50-carat blue diamond, a necklace of very rare green diamonds, "rubies the size of chicken-eggs," and a $2 million bracelet with a huge blue sapphire.

The Saudi's have little doubt that high-ranking Thai police officials were involved in the theft. The stolen blue sapphire and some stolen pearls, according to one Saudi investigator, were made into a necklace worn by the wife of a senior police general at a party in 1992. The largest cache of stolen jewelry was turned in the day after criminal charges were dropped against a senior police general and the former national police chiefs.

Tips on Bribing Bangkok Traffic Cops

In 2011, Bangkok-resident Hugh Paxton wrote on his blog: “The only honest traffic cop in Bangkok is made of plastic. Or so the saying goes”—a reference to fake, life sized police placed at busy intersections to deter would-be traffic offenders. “But these plasti-cops do at least have one advantage over their flesh and blood colleagues. They may be extremely shiny and may have spray paint on their faces – but they don’t break the law. [Source: Hugh Paxton, hughpaxton.wordpress.com==]

“Fairly recently, Rodel, a good friend of mine, gave me a lift and made two serious mistakes. The first was failing to see an invisible sign prohibiting U-turns....Rodel’s second blunder was taking his car out just before lunch; a time when the police, having spent their previous day’s earnings on bar girls, now have their minds on noodle money.Their wives have refused to cook them breakfast and (if they’ve been smoking the ‘sticky stuff’) they’ve got the munchies. ==

We were pulled over very promptly by a tiny, wasp-waisted cop wearing a very large motorbike helmet, reflective shades and a face mask...Rodel knew the ‘one minute rent-a-cop’ routine; there was even some falsely good humoured haggling, and after the fun was over the police ‘road block’ mounted his bike and shot off at a speed clearly exceeding legal limits. A good bust! He now had a 100 Baht noodle voucher in his wallet. Hope he got food poisoning! Rodel took the incident in his stride. ==

In regards to avoid or handle such situations Paxton advised: “1) Take a taxi rather than self drive in Bangkok. The drivers know the police situation. 2) If you are pulled over don’t start scrabbling in your pockets and thrusting coins at the officer. Coins are insulting. They also fall all over the place and somebody’s got to pick them up making every passing car slow to watch the spectacle. This is a paper money transaction. 3) He won’t ask you for a bribe because that would be illegal. So don’t verbally suggest it. Suggesting it could get you into subverting the cause of justice territory. In the extremely unlikely event that he is honest he might arrest you. ==

4) Call the puss bag ‘sir’ and look daunted, apologetic and humble. 5) Try and guage the officer’s mood. Does he look very hungry? Is he waving his driving tickets in a part of the road that might get him killed by speeding drivers or scooter riders skimming past mere inches from his spine? If so do not immediately hand over anything. With a bit of luck a car driven by the spaced out daughter of a Red Shirt politician will knock him out of his boots and send him 300 meters away from you. 6) Does he want another 100 Baht? If he does, and you can’t afford it, show him an empty wallet, grovel a bit. 7) The bribe hand over. It needs to be disguised. You curl your 100 baht note into a fist, he gives you his fist and cunningly extricates the note. Passersby are assumed to be watching a friendly cop/public exchange of knuckle touching. ==

Executive Summary: Use your instincts. But follow my instructions. Bear in mind that if one of these germs books you for your traffic offence his move will also involve one shit load of paperwork for your arresting officer. And if it’s rush hour time it will take him hours to get anything done. And his fellow traffic cops will regard him as a dangerous subversive. ==

Fighting Corruption in Thailand

Corruption-fighting components of the 1997 Constitution included requiring financial disclosure statements by Cabinet ministers and the establishment of the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC). Violating the rules claimed a powerful interior minister and almost claimed Prime Minister Thaksin.

According to Thai government: “The Criminal Section for Political Position Holders is a newly established section in accordance with the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, B.E. 2540 (1997), to handle cases of corruption involving political officeholders, such as the prime minister, ministers, members of the House of Representatives, senators, or other political officials, in case they are accused of accumulating unusual wealth, abusing their official positions and authority in violation of the Criminal Code, or abusing their official positions and authority in violation of other laws. The consideration of such crimes may also include other persons as major players or supporters. The Criminal Section for Political Position Holders employs an inquisitional method, unlike other general cases. The Supreme Court is empowered to inquire into facts and procure additional evidence as deemed appropriate, as prescribed in the Organic Act on Criminal Procedure for Political Position Holders, B.E. 2542 (1999). [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department=]

Thailand has a grassroots anti-corruption movement and a handful of police that claim they are uncorruptable. One of Thailand’s most well-known anti-crime figures in the 1990s was Lieut. Gen. Seri Temiyavej, a career police officer who said he had "never taken a bribe" and people believed him. Sometimes called "Thailand's Eliot Ness, Temiyavej was appointed to highest police position in Thailand in 1998. He held press conferences displaying money seized in bribery-related investigations and became a symbol of a reform movement aimed at doing something about corruption.

Temiyavej once said, "the power of money can change you, corrupt you, defeat you." He was the subject of several biographies and television series and even had his own 2,000-member fan club called "Friends of Seri." But not everyone liked his ideas. After being appointed to a senior position in the Bangkok police force and insisting that officer refuse all gifts and sleep three to a room to save money while traveling, Temiyavej received several death was the target of a 1991 assassination attempt in which a bomb exploded under his office desk (he escaped injury because he was at a meeting).

Corruption, Leaks and Whistleblowers in Thailand

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “Most reports of corruption are deliberately leaked to the press by politicians or officials to undermine rivals. These are often knee-jerk reactions with no possibility for full investigation. This kind of whistleblower does not protect the public good but only serves a political objective or a career. Therefore, a distinction must be made: whistleblowing is not a political act but a moral act. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The nation, November 13, 2006]

Thais normally do not want to poke their nose into other people's business. From time to time in their daily work, most people witness corruption and malfeasance committed by superiors and colleagues. They do not report such wrongdoings to anyone. They all keep the secret. They think it is not their job to "blow the whistle" because it could backfire and cost them their job. Worse, they might be portrayed as a traitor who does not love their organisation or who is not part of the team. Little do they know they contribute to this collective mentality that is shaping Thailand into one of the most corrupt and wasteful countries in the world.

Without understanding, it will be impossible for Thais to change their view of whistleblowers as headline-makers or traitors. The biggest problem in Thailand is that we put too much loyalty and faith in individuals without enough attention to principles. We are more willing to keep secrets to protect vested interests or reputations than to reveal wrongdoing to serve the broader public interest and to prevent the proliferation of unethical conduct.

Thailand was the first Southeast Asian country to have a freedom of information law. Enacted in 1997 to much fanfare, it was supposed to make the country more transparent and accountable. Before Thaksin came to power, the law did have effect as it promoted the public right to know. Disclosure of information was supposed to become the norm, not the exception. It should have helped to expose corruption and make Thailand more efficient. Somehow, under Thaksin's leadership, the information law has been twisted. It has even been used to block disclosure, making media and public access to information extremely difficult.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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