Senators must do the laundry

Just when it seemed safe to get out of the laundry, the Senate has dunked the economy and reputation of the country back in the wash. It seems the members of the Upper House are just terribly busy this month. They are so busy that they simply cannot even schedule consideration of a law to save Thailand from humiliating, punitive repercussions from the United Nations and member governments around the world.

A law on money laundering would prevent this, but it seems senators have put it somewhere near the bottom of their priority list.

As a result, in about five months, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will formally declare Thailand to be a country that enables terrorism and other unpleasant, international crimes like drug and human trafficking. This will have grave impacts on Thai business, and on the image of the country. Trade will become difficult. Many banking transactions will be denied, and most of the other country-to-country deals will be barred.

To put it bluntly, unless there is action before February, Thailand will be placed on a very short list of very objectionable nations. It will be designated as one of the few "Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories" (NCCTs). Here is the complete list of nations currently designated as NCCTs: Iran, North Korea.

Fourteen other nations and Thailand currently reside at the next level down from pariah. As of now, Thailand is on this list of "high-risk and non-cooperative" nations with such stellar countries as Cuba, Myanmar, Pakistan and Syria.

The FATF is a government agency, formed and backed by the G7 and 28 other countries. It seeks to demand standard regulations on banking and international trade to prevent money laundering. International terrorists and criminals need money to operate and profit. The FATF and its members aim to shut down the many avenues which allow criminals to deposit, transfer and withdraw money around the world. Rules require, in a simple example, that banks demand proper identification and proof of legitimate business before accepting large deposits or transferring large amounts of cash.

The regulations are not particularly onerous. Almost all countries have them in law. There are just two reasons today that a country has not adopted the FATF rules for international deals: procrastination or an attempt to bypass global norms. Only Iran and North Korea fall into the last group. Until two years ago, successive governments put off the FATF regulations, pleading internal strife.

The FATF was patient, mindful of Thai needs and reputation. But with the previous Abhisit Vejjajiva government and the early Yingluck Shinawatra administration, excuses ran out. The FATF warned last year that it was "now or never" and gave a February deadline.

To its credit, the government and the Lower House earlier this year wrote and passed the laws necessary to put the FATF regulations into effect. Off went the legislation to the Senate where, as this newspaper revealed on Tuesday, it has disappeared into a long list of bills the senators hope to get to _ but not now.

The business community, Thai and foreign investors alike, is rightly outraged. Others should be as well, and the government should be seeking action.

It is simply not right that the Senate's refusal to alter its work agenda threatens Thai trade and its standing in the world.