Regime fails on corruption

Regime fails on corruption

Thailand has dropped another point further down the scale of corrupt countries. Arguably the only thing worse than this national humiliation was the prime minister's attempt to wave it away. His attempt to dismiss the importance of the year-long scandal over his deputy prime minister's watch collection was not credible. Neither did his complaint that the global report on graft ignored the successes of his regime's anti-corruption campaigns gain sympathy.

The listing at the centre of this controversy is the annual Corruption Perceptions Index. It is compiled from extensive surveys by the Germany-based Transparency International (TI). To be clear, it is not a measurement of actual corruption. Much more realistically, the index lists countries as they are seen and scored by citizens and outsiders. Of course a country seen as corrupt by public consensus is probably suffering from actual corruption, and that seems the case with regard to Thailand.

The country scored 36 out of 100 points on honesty. Last year it scored 37. Both scores rate an "F" in any test, as surely as this year's lower score indicates that failure is growing worse. Without doubt, TI's test is difficult. The country judged the least corrupt is Norway, which scored 88. Our region's honesty champ, Singapore, had 85. Out of 180 countries, territories and special zones, the median score was 38 -- so Thailand's place at No.99 was just barely in the bottom half. But the bottom half is also failure. The need for an effective anti-corruption battle was one of the top three reasons Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gave for seizing power nearly five years ago. No matter what his excuses and justifications, the bottom line is right in the universal ranking by TI. The world judges Thailand poorly on the vital subject of corruption.

TI's reports are known for their brevity, but Thailand got a specific mention. Transparency issued a sidebar on a logical progression. "Corruption weakens democracy", it noted, and lack of progress in fighting democracy is a key indicator of weak or non-existent democracy. "Erosion of democratic foundations is stifling anti-corruption efforts across the region, including in Cambodia and Thailand."

Just so. This explains why business and foreign investors are eager for elections. They know the alleged stability of strongman regimes is actually less reliable than the vagaries and accountable shifts of a pro-democracy government. Gen Prayut said the poor ranking of Thailand must be accepted. But he also complained about TI's analysis. The prime minister insisted it was only a "perceived undemocratic status". In fact, Thailand has been clearly and unarguably without democracy since May of 2014.

Gen Prayut believes the million-dollar watch scandal of Gen Prawit Wongsuwon is "trivial". Under his regime, Gen Prayut's "brother" was cursorily investigated but not indicted. Nor did any charges result from the scandalous Rajabhakti Park saga. Multiple incidents of torture and homicide by the army have been overlooked. These have brought, exactly as TI says, a perception that Thailand is corrupt and becoming worse. A democratic regime probably will do a better job, but for better or for worse, it will be held accountable.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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