Bribery rank set to worsen
Thailand returned to the spotlight for the wrong reason again last week as a new report on corruption ranked it as the third-worst country in the world in terms of bribery after India and Vietnam. The ranking by independent watchdog Transparency International (TI) is based on a survey conducted between July 2015 and January 2017 on 21,800 respondents in 16 countries and territories across the Asia-Pacific.
It has since captured the public imagination both offline and online, with netizens circulating it widely using their respective online channels and networks.
The initial report, released in January, showed that Thailand’s position — when measured for corruption in general — had shot from 76th in 2015 to 101st out of 176 countries in 2016.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted the results reflect the impact of previous administrations.
In the more elaborate report, many Thais admitted to paying bribes for basic services. Some 46% said they had bribed the police in the last 12 months while 35% admitted to bribing public schools, often to guarantee placements for their kids.
This will come as scant surprise to many Thais, who are born into a great country where bribery is not only endemic but has for centuries been built into the very fabric of society.
But the strong reaction from the public, at least to a degree, seemingly reflects people’s frustration with the slow pace of several high-profile bribery cases recently.
One of these would be the Rolls-Royce scandal that erupted in the wake of an action by the UK Serious Fraud Office. The British luxury car maker was ordered in January to pay £671 million for paying bribes to land export contracts. Two state enterprises in Thailand were allegedly involved.
Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) launched a probe to investigate but critics slammed it for proceeding sluggishly. The same inertia can be seen in the “tea-money” probe into whether the headmaster of the prestigious Samsenwittayalai School was involved in accepting bribes for student placements.
Some other scandals since swept under the rug involve the relations of Gen Prayut, especially his younger brother Gen Preecha, the former permanent secretary of defence.
Gen Preecha, who now serves as a member of the coupinstalled National Legislative Assembly, is believed to have pulled strings to land his son a job at the Defence Ministry without him having to take a recruitment test.
Meanwhile, another of his sons managed to acquire lucrative construction projects for the 3rd Region Army, which Gen Preecha once commanded.
Even the escape of Red Bull scion-turned-internationalfug it iv eV orayu th“Boss” Yoovidhya inr elation to a fatal hitand-run case dating back to 2014 has fueled public concern that wealthy families rule the roost and possibly bribe the authorities to look the other way and drag their heels while justice is not served.
In the “Boss” case, most of the charges against the suspect have expired as he continues to live a life of luxury overseas.
As such, the Prayut regime should prepare to see Thailand receive an even lower score when the TI churns out its next ratings. The list will include an extra section called Varieties of Democracy (VDEM) following a World Bank study on the need to promote democracy, which does not bode well for how the kingdom will score.
The excessive use of Section 116, also known as the sedition law, in curbing freedom of expression has already put the regime in a bad light. Other cases suggest abuses of power and attempts to muzzle newshounds and critics — meaning Thailand looks fated to crash and burn in the VDEM category.
The latest case involved an Isara reporter who faced prosecution for probing the concealed wealth of a well-connected National Legislative Assembly (NLA) member.
So it will be another red face for Gen Prayut. Except this time he won’t have the luxury of blaming his predecessors.