We can't all be starry eyed in busting graft

We can't all be starry eyed in busting graft

The prime minister sponsors and attends plenty of anti-corruption rallies but runs an opaque government. (PostGraphics)
The prime minister sponsors and attends plenty of anti-corruption rallies but runs an opaque government. (PostGraphics)

Afriend of mine recently posted a message on Facebook asking why a contractor, which had made the lives of Bangkok commuters miserable for years as it repeatedly missed many deadlines in a road tunnel project, had been chosen by the government for another lucrative road construction deal. My answer? We don't know.

Even with the public information law in place, taxpayers have found it hard to find out why and how our government rewards handsome contracts to companies and individuals. The lack of transparency has barred the public from scrutinising shady deals and, as a result, has facilitated corruption, nepotism and inefficiency.

Shouldn't we just let this be the job of graftbusters and public auditors? The problem is that their performance has not convinced us they can be effective and proactive.

The latest series of exposures by foreign governments of several bribery scandals, quietly swept under the marble floors of our five wealthy state enterprises for more than a decade, remind us that there could have been many more stones left unturned by our anti-graft bodies.

Surasak Glahan is deputy oped pages editor, Bangkok Post.

In the Land of Smiles, where the prime minister lives on astrological predictions in believing the latest bribe scandals will be revealed soon, where state agencies just woke up to "join forces" to investigate the decades-old scandals, and where a deputy director-general allegedly stole paintings from a hotel in Japan, we have no reason to smile about the taxes we pay. What we probably want to do is take the matter into our own hands, monitoring and probing shady deals -- but only if the state cooperates!

As an ordinary citizen, I just tried to find out about large-scale procurement deals on the websites of a few ministries. I am disappointed by the fact that there's no detailed information on why particular contractors are rewarded certain projects.

Take a look at a procurement outcome notice of a ministry and you will only find a name and an address of a company published, without detailed justification as to why it was chosen for a multi-billion-baht project.

Try asking for information from a government agency in charge, and you will be disappointed.

For example, online news agency Thai Publica repeatedly asked for information from the Defence Ministry on projects and contracted parties involved in building the Rajabhakti Park project in Prachuap Khiri Khan.

The media house needed clarification on allegations about kickbacks demanded as commission fees from contractors. Sadly, its request was either rejected or delayed until our No.1 graft crusader, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, cleared the project of all the allegations to the surprise of many.

Our governments have failed us in ensuring state expenditure is accountable and efficient, and forced us to live in a not-so-transparent state.

First of all, we are constantly caught off-guard by unexpected announcements of state go-aheads for megaprojects, wondering why they were needed.

For instance, two weeks ago, the government announced that it had slated 110 billion baht for domestic economic development projects. More recently, the navy just secured 13.5 billion baht to buy a Chinese-made submarine even though doubts over the necessity of having this and another two submarines still linger.

Then, we are usually kept in the dark about how projects, or as they sometimes are ironically referred to as "cakes", are speedily allocated to contractors and why.

The speed drops when the implementation phase arrives. Expect delays. If we are lucky, the state will reward us with quality infrastructure and services, for instance.

The government should stop holding public events to superficially raise awareness about corruption, instead making it the norm for state offices to fully disclose information to the public. Information on whatever forms the basis of their decisions to approve projects and award contracts should be made available to the public, with clear justification for their decision-making.

Actually, all minutes of meetings of the cabinet and other government bodies should be disclosed to the public. I am more than confident that the media and web-based or social media investigators could lend a hand in probing irregularities in government processes.

More importantly, transparency should not just be a legal requirement but a person's sense of what is right or wrong.

Surasak Glahan

Deputy Op-ed Editor

Surasak Glahan is deputy op-ed pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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