Use law to fix tainted image
The derogatory comment by Gambian minister Hamat Bah, who referred to Thailand as a sex tourism destination, really is a national embarrassment.
Three cabinet ministers -- Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai, Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, and Culture Minister Veera Rojpojchanarat -- spoke out condemn the comment which appeared on Saturday in eTurboNews, a global travel industry online news outlet.
In the report, Mr Bah said Western tourists planning to travel to Gambia in search of sex should stay away from his country. "We are not a sex destination. If you want a sex destination, you go to Thailand."
The Foreign Ministry immediately summoned a Gambian diplomat to voice Thailand's objection to the remark, which by any standard was a diplomatic faux pas.
Mr Don, while saying that he did not believe the Gambian minister's remark would be taken seriously by the international community, instructed the Thai embassy in Dakar, Senegal, which also covers Gambia, to lodge an official protest about how the comment could hurt Thailand's image and the Thai tourism industry.
Mr Don, in particular, insisted such a statement was "not in line with the facts".
Culture Minister Veera said the sex industry was "a thing of the past" in Thailand and insisted tourists come to this country to sample the culture.
The spat reminded many Thais of a similar embarrassment the country endured more than two decades ago when Longman's Dictionary of English Language and Culture defined Bangkok as a capital with many prostitutes.
It triggered an outpouring of public outrage with widespread protests. Some bookstores vowed not to order the dictionary for the local market.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has tried to keep a cool head amid the current outrage, saying the country "has to shed its image of being a sex tourism destination".
"We have to accept that some people make a living from this kind of occupation. Therefore, we have to help solve the problems both in the careers and income of these people. More importantly, we have to look into whether these people would be happy to change their occupation or not," he said.
The prime minister also mentioned pointed to Pattaya and other tourism areas that come in for sex-related criticism.
On Monday, Pattaya police rounded up a group of Russians for organising sexual technique training courses in the city.
"When anyone says something bad about us, we have to take stock and use the laws [to solve the problems]. Everything must improve. We have to help make Pattaya and other tourism areas quality tourist destinations and free of this [sex tourism label]," said the prime minister.
It is the prime minister's reference to the use of the law that needs to be underscored.
Despite the country's progressive law on prostitution, news reports of raids on brothels with other businesses as fronts are more than frequent.
Such raids have suggested law violations involving mafia gangs with kickbacks or tea money going to law enforcers.
A case in point was the Victoria's Secret Massage parlour raid by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), which made headlines in January.
The DSI said the parlour, located along Rama IX was legal, but it accused the operator, who has fled, of forced prostitution and human trafficking.
Subsequent reports show a dubious relationship between a former police chief and the fugitive owner.
Pol Gen Somyot Poompunmuang, the former police chief, admitted borrowing 300 million baht from the parlour owner.
While he said the money was returned, suspicions grew that the loan might have played a part in why the parlour owner allegedly broke the law without thinking twice and why local police never detected any wrongdoing at the place.
Putting aside its tainted image, Thailand should place its focus on the rule of law.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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