Failing the graft battle

Failing the graft battle

From all evidence, corruption is flourishing at high levels, and for the corrupt, their crime pays, even when it is exposed. The country's top two graftbusters raised questions recently whether they deserve the description. The official anti-corruption agency operating under the constitution for 20 years admitted it is poorly organised. The unofficial but respected agency funded by Big Business displayed appalling lack of awareness.

Begin with the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Authorised under the "people's constitution" of 1997, it was to be one of several independent bodies, isolated from all political control. There was wide national support and expectations the NACC would finally bring results to the corrupted field of anti-corruption investigation.

The president, eight commissioners and secretary-general of the NACC all are political appointees of the junta. Some of their recent decisions have been criticised as lacking transparency, proper investigative methods and public accounting. These decisions all have unfortunately favoured National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) chief Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his administration. The decisions include dismissal of suspicion over building Rajabhakti Park, and a series of cases mentioning the prime minister's brother, Gen Preecha.

But the real failure of the NACC in recent days has been its treatment of the Rolls-Royce scandal. It seems unquestionable that officials of the British firm bribed their way in sales of aircraft engines to Thai Airways International. Rolls-Royce also has admitted to British authorities it paid bribes in sales to another state-owned giant, PTT Plc. These cases are packed with prepared details of background including dates and products.

The NACC's actions have been timorous and ineffective. Its decision to reorganise to fight "transnational graft cases" only raised memories of the NACC ignoring or shelving important corruption cases. These include the Rolls-Royce bribery case, but also the 2011 equally documented case of bribery by the British liquor importer Diageo, and a second recent case involving known bribery at the Public Health Ministry in purchases from Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc of California.

In all these cases -- in all cases except those involving the military in recent months -- the NACC has come up with excuses instead of aggressive investigation. The commission complains other state agencies are "interfering" by launching their own probes. The NACC, however, has clearly decided once again that shelving investigations is preferable to pursuing clear and documented corruption at fairly high levels.

Similar disappointment surrounds the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, or ACT. Founded by Big Business to battle what is labels "the culture of corruption", ACT talks often, but fails to follow up.

Its "Museum of Thai Corruption" at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre hints at the reason. All 10 of the featured notorious acts of graft involve government. None touch the military or business.

Of course corruption always involves a minimum of two parties, and the ACT had serious problems last week addressing this fact. Faced with evidence that salesmen of Rolls-Royce gave bribes and Thai officials tied to PTT Plc took them, the ACT broke down.

At an anti-corruption meeting sponsored by the ACT, PTT chairman and CEO Tevin Vongvanich said the company hasn't been able to find anyone "who allegedly took bribes". No ACT official was outraged or even outwardly incredulous.

Without corruption investigation and justice, there is no anti-corruption programme under way. This government, like those of the past, is complicit. But the hopelessness of defeating graft is shown by the lack of action by those directly charged with fighting the battle.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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