Graft panel an oddity
Last week, as the Senate rolled out an anti-corruption mission, its appointment of a panel to handle the task appeared to be somewhat of an anti-climax.
Among 23 senators who applied to serve on the Senate's 19-member committee on corruption scrutiny and good governance, four were rejected for the job. And three of the four appeared to be the most qualified candidates who were recognised for their previous crucial roles in tackling corruption particularly in state projects and government policies.
The trio are Panthep Klanarongran, former chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), Pramon Sutivong, former chairman at the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), and Adm Pachun Tampratheep, formerly a close aide to late Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda and chairman of the now-defunct National Reform Council's anti-corruption subcommittee.
The exclusion of the trio has sparked criticism and scepticism about the Senate's selection process and determination to tackle graft. This could be a setback for the Upper House's role in scrutinising the Prayut Chan-o-cha government. The administration is comprised of as many as 18 coalition parties and so is seen as prone to corruption.
But lax scrutiny could be a favour for the government. Do not forget that all the 250 senators were handpicked by Gen Prayut. They earlier unanimously voted for him to be prime minister.
While the most qualified candidates were excluded, the selection of one candidate, Adm Sitthawatchara Wongsuwon, to serve on the panel is eye-raising. Adm Sitthawatchara is a younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon. Gen Prawit was embattled by a wealth concealment allegation involving a luxury watch scandal. Despite the NACC clearing him of the allegation, its ruling was unconvincing for many people.
While it would not be fair to jump the gun here and assume the committee will fail its mission, it is still legitimate to ask why the most qualified candidates have failed to win the Senate's selection.
In Transparency International's 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, Thailand fell one point from its 2017 score. It ranked 99th, together with the Philippines, out of 180 countries and territories. Singapore ranked 3rd, Malaysia 61st, Indonesia 89th, Vietnam 117th, Myanmar 132nd and Cambodia 161st.
Last week, a representative of the United Nations Development Programme pointed out the Thai state could have lost 100 billion baht in revenue to corruption related to public procurements.
It sheds light on the need for public procurement projects to be subject to efficient and independent inspection. During the past five years, there has been progress in this area. The Comptroller-General's Department has teamed up with the ACT to promote the integrity pact (IP) and the construction sector transparency (CoST) initiatives. IP is a public-private joint agreement to include a third party in the bidding process of any procurement project worth one billion baht and more. CoST is a process that lets the public and private sectors monitor state construction projects worth less than one billion baht.
The department estimated that the two mechanisms helped cut possible corruption by more than 83 billion baht.
While progress in this area offers hope for Thailand becoming less corrupt, the Senate's appointment of its anti-graft committee, on the other hand, does not seem geared towards that goal.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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