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Friday, October 16, 2009
Corrupt police are 'major problem'
When overwhelmed by a barrage of entangled problems, we often let ourselves sink into hopelessness simply because we just don't know where to start.
Thailand's money politics, for example. Where to start to undo it?
Heavy punishment for vote-buying? But the canvasser system is not working only on the basis of money. It is also capitalising on the longstanding patron-client relationship which thrives on inequity and the people's lack of access to resources to protect themselves.
How to empower the people, then? Many believe the Constitution will do the trick. But the community rights clauses in the 1997 charter ended up impotent due to fierce resistance from the bureaucracy and big business.
When the locals took to the streets in Bangkok to demand community rights, they were lambasted as anti-development. When they use the laws to protect their communities - as the Map Ta Phut villagers are now doing - they are accused of destroying jobs and foreign investors' confidence.
How to change the pro-industry bias when the education system glorifies wealth and embraces the cultural values that perpetuate social hierarchies and authoritarianism while looking down on the poor?
What about the southern strife? Many believe political decentralisation which respects the southern Muslims' way of life is the answer. But the violence stems from both ultra-Thai and Malay nationalism. Whoever the winners are, the locals will not get any better if their elite remain authoritarian at heart while believing that bleeding nature for money is the key for development.
As for the Yellow-Red clashes, any solutions are deemed to fail in the face of political immaturity and lack of tolerance which is fanned by political ideologies, malice and power-clinging from all sides.
Indeed, where to start when we are drowning in so many problems that are intertwined into one big, entangled mess.
Thanks to my neighbour's driver Sawat, I don't have to bury myself in pessimism very long. "Corrupt police are the people's biggest problem," he said, sighing, when he dropped by our house the other day with his worries.
His nephew, he said, had been shot dead by a teenage gang in his home village in Si Sa Ket province. Believing it to be a straight-forward criminal case, the parents of the deceased were confident that the killer would be sent to jail and justice would be done.
But then the criminal got bail easily, and word has spread that the family has offered a huge sum to the police to change witness testimony and to close the case. "We need justice not out of vengeance," he said. "Justice is necessary to prevent the cycle of revenge. If my nephew's angry friends see that the killer can escape punishment, they will take things into their own hands. Senseless killings on both sides will continue. Our community cannot go on this way."
Nor can our country.
While Sawat blames the culture of impunity which breeds violence on police corruption and negligence in his home village, isn't the same thing happening in the restive South? Isn't the spiralling violence there caused by the locals' angry bitterness against the failure of justice that begins with police corruption?
"Now people in rural communities carry arms when they go places," added Sawat. "They have to fend for themselves because they cannot rely on the police or the law anymore."
Isn't it this lack of rule of law that forces people to seek help from the patrons with political connections? Isn't it why the canvasser system and vote-buying are alive and well?
Indeed, we cannot hope to undo the various forms of injustice in our society when the justice system itself fails the people, when the police are criminally corrupt.
When the prime minister cannot even appoint the police chief, it is naive to believe that police reform will be easy. But at least we know where to start to trigger a fundamental change to propel other justice to materialise.
And when there is a goal ahead, there is no room for hopelessness.
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