Thailand is in turmoil. Anti-government whistle-blowers are still on the streets of the capital, the general elections of February 2nd were peacefully disrupted. In many parts of Bangkok and in southern Thailand, where I live, the elections did not happen at all. I scoured this island for a polling station yet found nothing but a few defaced posters of PM Yingluck Shinawatra. The voting in south Thailand never happened because Post Office workers refused to release the ballot papers in time for voting.
Tourism numbers are officially down although all guest-houses on this island appear to be full. Foreign governments are issuing travel warnings to would be tourists. Few have issued a travel ban as yet, but it appears the medical tourists are steering clear, opting to put up with un-botoxed brows until the rallies stop. Even the once-loyal rice farmers have moved on Bangkok to express their anger at not receiving promised subsidies for their crops.
Anti-corruption civil sparks
The protests were sparked in November by a mass public action and social media campaign to stop the passing of an Amnesty Bill, which would have been a green light for exiled politicians – with Thaksin Shinawatra at their helm – to return to Thailand without fear of prosecution for electoral fraud. Thai people want to stop corruption in their country, as do the ex-patriot residents and business owners. Thai people have taken to the streets and to social media sites to do voice their opposition. Anti-bribery sentiment is strong among the foreign community, but uncoordinated and there are few outlets for publicising attempted bribes and blatant corruption. A Facebook group called Corruption and Business in Phuket is providing an excellent stream of news on anti-bribery efforts in the province. This week, Phuket citizens called for a public meeting on bribery and corruption, following a blockade of one of the islands busiest beaches in protest at an alleged TBH20,000 (USD609) paid to three Tourist Police Officers. The funds were allegedly returned to the briber by the officers during a “private meeting.”
Although not well publicised, Thailand has a National Anti-Corruption Commission, staffed by more than 1,000 people dedicated to pursuing bribes made to state officials and government contracts; private bribery is beyond the commission’s remit. Led by Dr Sirilaksana Khoman, the commission is government funded but has autonomy in investigations and prosecutions. In an interview with The Big Chilli ex-pat magazine, Dr Sirilaksana outlines why she believes corruption has changed in Thailand since 1997, (the Asian economic crisis, the concentration of political power under a “charismatic” new leader and numerous allegations of large scale corruption), three “grand”corruption cases she has worked on since 2007 and the pre-emptive work NACC carries out by scrutinising the accounts of major infrastructure and technology projects as they happen.
The NACC does accept reports of bribery and corruption from the public, which must be signed by the complainant. The NACC uses a system to anonymise the letters once received, by cutting the names/signatures off and placing them in an envelope kept in a heavily guarded safe. It gave no figures on how many letters it receives annually. From the outside, this system looks less than appealling to anyone who has just been stopped by a traffic cop and asked for a bribe to avoid getting a ticket. Accessibility and anonymity are two fundamentals of any whistle-blower scheme and, reporting on a state employee who has just tried to extort funds from you is blowing the whistle.
I am a huge fan and supporter of the Janaagraha led I Paid A Bribe initiative, set up in 2010 initially to estimate the total amount paid in bribes each year in India. In India, as in Thailand, there are fixed bribery rates for certain services. For example, getting your passport processed, getting the stamp on the deeds of your house, getting the electricity company to turn on the supply are all covered by a recognised and regularised extra payment directly to the civil servant. The I Paid A Bribe portal collects information on bribes paid, bribes requested by not paid and incidents of meeting an “honest officer.” Those submitting stories can remain anonymous or publicise their names.
The IPAB intitiative has grown beyong india, and now has sites operating for 11 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, with plans for portals in North and South America. Regrettably, Thailand is not yet part of the IPAB plans for Asia but this country could really benefit from this service.
This is a shout out to IPAB and anyone in Thailand, via Corruption and Business in Phuket, Eyes of Thailand and to Dr Sirilaksana herself to support the launch of Ipaidabribe.com in Thailand. Let’s get this started.
- Did you pay a bribe today ? (consumerresources.in)
- THAILAND: The National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) today: Yingluck richer, Suthep poorer (democracyforburma.wordpress.com)
- Thai PM probed over ‘corrupt scheme’ (bbc.co.uk)
- A tale of two Thailands (gulfnews.com)