We are losing the fight against graft

We are losing the fight against graft

Graft-busting agencies are expected to give a vow to identify suspects in bribery allegations implicating several Thai companies and state enterprises in recent revelations by the United Kingdom's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the United States Department of Justice.

A quick assurance from the government that it will get to the bottom of the allegations and deal with the culprits should follow. The public are also desperate to see relevant agencies come up with a comprehensive plan on how to fix what appeared to be serious flaws in the system that allowed such shameful practices to have occurred and a pledge that they will not be allowed to happen again.

The public have apparently been let down.

A four-year investigation by the SFO recently led to British engineering firm Rolls-Royce admitting to paying bribes to agents of the Thai state and employees of Thai Airways to secure billion-baht purchasing orders of its engines during periods from 1991 to 2005.

The firm also admitted to bribing the country's energy giant PTT group.

On the heels of the Rolls-Royce scandal, the US Department of Justice announced it has taken legal action against Kentucky-based General Cable Corporation for allegedly paying bribes to government officials including those in three state enterprises here -- the Metropolitan Electricity Authority, the Provincial Electricity Authority and TOT Plc.

The scandals prompted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to order all corruption-related agencies including the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the Office of the Auditor General and the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission as well as the Transport Ministry to launch probes.

The PM, however, was as quick to point out that all the allegations had occurred in the past and had nothing to do with his cabinet. He also stressed that the press should not accuse his government of doing nothing to curb corruption.

Although Gen Prayut pledged to spare no one found to have been involved in the roaring scandals, his response seems minimal. As leader of the administration that made its way into power on a promise it will clean up the country from corruption, the PM could have made more out of the case than to go on a defensive and say the allegations concerned past governments.

Reaction from the NACC could douse any hope that the latest revelations from overseas, detailed and outrageous as they are, would send the country's graft busters into a high gear. Reports from the SFO and the US Department of Justice about the bribery cases are very well prepared and full of exact details. With such background information, it should not take too much efforts from local authorities to unlock the identity of people alleged of having been involved in the shady deals at all.

Unfortunately, all the public have heard from the NACC so far was excuses. When discussing the Rolls-Royce case on Thursday, the graft-busting agency's secretary-general Sansern Poljeak seemed to have almost gone out of his way to let people know that efforts to look into the allegations will likely end in futility.

As chairman of the working group in charge of the Rolls-Royce bribery scandal, Mr Sansern said his agency has not even received in-depth information from Britain's SFO because too many agencies from Thailand have asked for cooperation that the British agency became confused as to which one is directly responsible.

Among possible obstacles to corruption investigations, this failure by Thai agencies to work together effectively seems to be the most basic and should have been easily overcome a long time ago. It's difficult to understand why such a pathetic excuse can still be cited as a hindrance to a crucial task.

The other factor cited by the NACC as deterring its efforts to obtain more information from Britain is the fact that the new Anti-Corruption Act carries capital punishment as the maximum penalty for bribery cases.

At this point, the NACC's tepid response to the bribery allegation could be more embarrassing than the scandal itself. It's high time for the country's counter-corruption mechanisms to go through a complete overhaul.

If the NACC itself realised that a suppression-heavy approach the country has pursued, which results in the death penalty being stipulated for corruption cases, does not work well, why can't it be changed? Examples from the Rolls-Royce case, in which the firm agreed to volunteer information and pay a heavy fine in exchange of being prosecuted, should remind authorities that as corruption has become complex, efforts to counter it must be upgraded and diversified too.

The task can't wait. Findings from overseas agencies reveal how ingrained and widespread the bribery business was, and that is 10 years ago. Any further delay will cause the country to lose this fight.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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