The biggest ally of graft is a lack of will

The biggest ally of graft is a lack of will

For a hint of how the current 'investigations' of corruption will go, consider another case of corruption that took eight years just to reach top of the pile - Juthamas Siriwan and the corrupt film festivals. (File photo)
For a hint of how the current 'investigations' of corruption will go, consider another case of corruption that took eight years just to reach top of the pile - Juthamas Siriwan and the corrupt film festivals. (File photo)

So, death for corrupt people. This most severe of punishments for bribery under Thai law should go to show how we hate corruption here and how much we want to weed it out of our society.

There is just a tiny snag, alas. Nobody has been executed. In fact, no big cheaters have been caught and prosecuted.

And if findings by other countries which led to settlements and prosecutions of their own companies and citizens for taking part in corruption can be trusted, graft seems so deep-rooted it appears to have become part of doing business in Thailand.

Despite its outrageous details, how more than a billion baht could be pocketed by a few individuals, the scandal in which Britain's engineering firm Rolls-Royce admitted to bribing Thai officials and employees of Thai Airways to secure orders for its engines is no longer raging.

The public's attention was conveniently diverted Monday by the Miss Universe pageant in which the Thai contestant, Chalita "Namtan" Suansane, managed to reach the semi-finals, the highest placing for a Miss Thailand in many years. People have become more keen on what a positive image of the country the beautiful Miss Thailand could project on the international stage.

It should come as no surprise people do not appear shocked at a subsequent accusation that Rolls-Royce also bribed the country's energy giant PTT.

They seem utterly uninterested in a separate announcement by the United States Department of Justice that it has taken action against a Kentucky-based cable company for allegedly paying bribes to three state enterprises here -- the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA), the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) and TOT Plc.

As news reports about the alleged billions of baht in bribes at Thai Airways and other enterprises are giving way to the theft of 4,000-baht paintings by a senior official at the Commerce Ministry, few people will be holding their breath waiting for results of the probes into the Rolls-Royce scandal.

A handful of agencies, including the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) and the Public Service Anti-Corruption Commission have vowed to investigate the allegations. The national carrier Thai Airways itself has asked for one month to look into the matter.

The probes do not seem to have inspired high hopes among the public. Indeed, the statement of facts prepared by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) which took four years to investigate Rolls-Royce's bribery, was very clear in details about the alleged corrupt practices.

The document also described circumstances in which the payments were demanded and paid off in such specific ways that it should take little effort for concerned authorities here to identify who the officials and airline employees allegedly involved were. For some reason, most people do not expect such a revelation to take place. They also presume that the probes will drag on and likely end up as exercises in futility.

Remember another big corruption case? Former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Juthamas Siriwan was accused by the United States Department of Justice of taking an estimated 60-million-baht bribe from an American couple in exchange for contracts to run the Bangkok Film Festival from 2003 to 2006.

The US arrested the American couple the next year in 2007. The two were convicted and sentenced to six months in prison three years later in 2010.

Guess how long its taken Thailand, a country that seems to take corruption very seriously, to process the case?

It took about eight years for the NACC to prepare the case and for the Office of the Attorney-General to indict Ms Juthamas and her daughter in 2015.

This was despite the US probe having almost every detail about the kickbacks including a meeting between the "governor" and the American couple at a hotel as observed by undercover FBI agents.

It seems the only thing Thai agencies had to work on was to identify who the "governor" was during the specified periods and verify the accusations. Well, it took them almost eight years.

The Rolls-Royce document is no less lucid than the one that nailed Ms Juthamas. It's even scarier as it describes how the alleged corruption was undertaken by what appeared to be an established network of recipients from political office holders to smaller fish who were pacified by a sum of about US$100,000.

Will we learn who the "intermediaries" were who bilked more than a billion baht from the THAI-Rolls-Royce deals? Don't hold your breath.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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