Corruption crusaders want pacts

ACT set to scrutinise infrastructure projects

Business leaders yesterday pledged to monitor closely the government's 2.2-trillion-baht infrastructure investment programme and called on authorities to compel participants to sign "integrity pacts" committing to good governance and transparency.

ACT chairman Pramon Sutivong (centre), vice-chairwoman Khunying Jada Wattanasiritham (left) and vice-chairman Sompol Kiatphaibool attend yesterday’s briefing to announce their plan to fight corruption. SOMCHAI POOMLARD

The Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), a private sector initiative launched in 2011, said participating companies bidding for contracts from infrastructure megaprojects should be compelled to sign pacts.

ACT comprises members of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers Association and the Federation of Capital Market Organisations. The organisation's goal is to raise public awareness and antipathy against corruption through education, suppression and transparency.

Pramon Sutivong, the ACT chairman, said the organisation would propose the idea to Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong.

"If the ideas are approved by the cabinet, we can begin with contractors participating in the water management and flood prevention schemes," Mr Pramon said.

He criticised the Yingluck Shinawatra government for being slow to address the problems of corruption in the public sector.

"The public sector anti-corruption committee, which is chaired by the finance minister, had its first meeting met at the end of 2011 and its second meeting at the end of 2012. One full year passed between meetings," he said.

"But ACT will continue to campaign on this issue."

Sompol Kiatphaibool, an ACT director and the chairman of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, said ACT would also focus on other state programmes.

"We also will look closely at the rice pledging scheme. While the government insists that the programme is beneficial to the country, it's clear that loopholes exist for fraud and corruption in many forms," Mr Sompol said.

"Are losses from corruption worth the potential benefits from the policy?"

The scheme, which offers farmers guaranteed prices of 15,000 baht per tonne for white rice paddy and 20,000 baht for jasmine Hom Mali paddy, has made the government the sole purchaser of rice in the country.

While policymakers insist that the programme has helped boost rural income, critics say the programme is ill-designed, rife with fraud and has failed in its goal of boosting global rice prices.

The government hopes to pass a law authorising 2.2 trillion baht in new debt to finance new infrastructure investments over the next seven years. Most projects will be used to improve railways, including the construction of new high-speed train routes across the country and new mass-transit light-rail systems in Bangkok.

ACT says it will look closely at procurement procedures used for water management. The government last year approved new borrowing of up to 350 billion baht to finance flood prevention and water management schemes.

Mr Sompol said ACT wanted the government to commit to clear disclosure of project specifications and auction processes, audits of the work, winning bidders and project deliverables and open transparency for investments.

Mr Sompol said an independent monitoring group would also be established to evaluate project specifications to ensure that they are to maximum public benefit, rather than tailored to suit any individual company or party.

"The monitoring group will also look at issues such as contract awards and benchmark prices. The potential for corruption in procurement is naturally high, whether it be through fixing specifications or in setting bid prices," Mr Sompol said.

Khunying Jada Wattanasiritham, another ACT director, said the integrity pact concept would help Thailand move closer towards international best practices of transparency and governance.

"If we are successful, it would help Thailand change completely," she said.

ACT directors also announced the creation of a foundation to help push forward the anti-corruption agenda.

About the author

Writer: Darana Chudasri
Position: Business Reporter