Thailand must clean up its act

Thailand must clean up its act

On Wednesday the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha saw a bombshell drop in its lap when Transparency International announced the corruption rankings for 176 countries.

Thailand, whose military leaders promised they would fight corruption as their top priority, slipped 25 places in the rankings after having improved slightly in 2015. It fell to 101st position from 76th in 2015 and 85th in 2014.

The overall explanation from Transparency International was that the military regime has curtailed dissenting voices in the country and that there were no checks and balances to counter moves undertaken by the military government, which seized power in 2014.

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

The announcement of the ranking was just in time as the coup leader's "graft-busting" government had only days before announced an extension to the management of a convention centre without going through proper bidding.

The cabinet of our dear leader had approved an extension of 25 years to the management contract for Queen Sirikit National Convention Center to NCC Management and Development Co, the incumbent managers of the widely used convention centre in the heart of Bangkok.

The decision by the Treasury Department under the Ministry of Finance will see the state receive up to 19 billion baht over the entire 50 years of the contract. It will also include upgrading the 1991-built premises to have 180,000 square metres of space for conventions and other commercial activities including car parking, which would see investment of 6 billion baht over the remainder of the contract life.

This means that on an average the state will be getting 8.5 million baht per month based on the present value of income to be received for the entire 50 years of the contract, a small amount of money compared to the potential and possibly even the current earnings from the venue that is packed with various events each day of the week.

What is more interesting is the fact that the entire deal has been shrouded in secrecy. Not many people knew about it apart from the government and, I guess, NCC and probably NCC's owner, liquor baron Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.

The cabinet approved this deal on Jan 17 but the media got a whiff of it only over the past week.

To make matters worse, our dear leader, when asked by the media what he thought about the lowering of the ranking of Thailand by Transparency International in its annual ratings, said all corruption cases were to be blamed on the previous government.

How could you come out to deflect the problem of falling transparency and possible corruption in your administration to the workings of the previous government?

And a bigger question to ask is where the voices are that supported and cheered the military coup that ousted an elected government on the grounds it was corrupt.

I do not hear their voices coming out to voice their opposition against the rising corruption and lack of transparency in the Prayut regime.

Although the military government has taken steps to clean up some of the corruption mess of the past by transferring some corrupt officials, further progress on such measures to stem corruption have since been missing.

Today, businesses are already complaining that much of the work that needs to be undertaken goes through a "third party".

Until and unless changes are made, the much awaited move to a higher-value economy or the so-called Thailand 4.0 era initiated by this government will not materialise.

Businesses and products under Thailand 4.0 require a cleaner business environment and a stable political climate.

With about another year to go on the roadmap to put Thailand back on a democratic path, the government of Gen Prayut needs to clean up its act and put in place measures that prevent and possibly end what is considered to be the Asian way of doing things, which is to pay commissions or bribery to get things done.

Blaming previous governments for their role in corruption and yet undertaking opaque transactions in which the state could stand to lose out in one way or another will get this government nowhere except to possibly create further divisions and animosity among an already fractured nation.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

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