Corruption in Thailand

10 Bangkok officers had been arrested. /image: Takeaway

10 Bangkok officers had been arrested. /image: Takeaway

Experts believe Thailand’s corruption problem is reaching a critical level

Article: Dietrich Neu – Contributor

A Thai-based anti-corruption group is warning that corruption in all levels of the country’s political system is reaching an all-time high.

The Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) Chairman, Pramon Sutivong, believes that the problem is at a near-critical level, and said it has steadily rose over the past three years.

Corruption in politics is a common phenomenon in Thailand, and has been for several decades. Over that time numerous groups have emerged to help raise awareness about the issue, but have done little to slow the surge of alleged political rent-seeking, position-buying, police bribery and rigged elections.

The most recent incident occurred Monday, Sep. 30, when 10 Bangkok police officers were each handed decade-long prison sentences after authorities learned that they had captured four members of the Thailand Narcotics Suppression Bureau and extorted the men into giving false confessions to drug crimes. The 10 officers also demanded a ransom of nearly $70,000 from the victims’ families for their safe return.

Mr. Sutivong of the ACT has blasted Thailand’s parliament for not taking the issue seriously enough. Although Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has vowed to crack down on the problem, her government has produced few results and continues to be at the centre of major controversies such as the rice-pledging scheme that knocked the country off its seat as the world’s number-one rice exporter.

Last year, Thailand’s rice exports took a major blow after the government attempted to manipulate the world market demand for rice by banning all exports in an attempt to choke the world’s rice supply and drive up prices. The scheme was a massive failure as other countries like India and Vietnam picked up the slack. The Thais were left watching their expensive rice fall through their fingers as world prices dropped and buyers went elsewhere.

Supa Piyajitti, Thailand’s deputy finance permanent secretary, criticized the project further, telling state media that the scheme was rife with corruption, and susceptible to it at every level. Piyajitti cited an inflated number of registered farmers, incorrectly reported rice stocks, and over $7 billion in losses as evidence that the project’s corruption was widespread.

It is a problem that appears to be getting under the people’s skin.

Earlier this month, thousands of Thais lined the streets all over the country to protest what they believe is an endemic problem at the foundation of the country’s political system.

Mr. Sutivong said the media are to blame as well, but noted that a chilling effect has swept the industry after several journalists have been hit with libel lawsuits for attempting to bring awareness to the issue. Some of Thailand’s major corporations are almost trigger-happy when it comes to making defamation claims. Last week, Telecom’s Thailand division hit a popular TV anchor, Nattha Komolvadhin, with a massive libel suit for simply being in the same room as an academic, Duenden Nikomborirak, during a discussion about the national implications of one of the company’s business deals. Komolvadhin asked Nikomborirak about the deal, Nikomborirak criticized it: they both got sued.

The culture does appear to be changing.

Several large corporations have made public commitments towards honest business practices, and the government has teamed up with the ACT to develop strategies to combat corruption. However, the processes are only in the early stages and it is unclear how much time, or how much effort, will be required to stop a corruption problem that appears to be getting out of hand.

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