Anti-graft mission failing

Anti-graft mission failing

Thailand's slide down the Corruption Perception Index ranking from 99 to 101, while a disappointment, comes as no surprise.

The 2019 ranking, which saw Thailand's score unchanged from the previous year at 36 out of 100, was released by Berlin-based Transparency International last Thursday. Denmark and New Zealand were ranked as the least corrupt with a score of 87, followed by Finland at 86, then Singapore, Switzerland and Sweden tied on 85. Singapore was ranked the least corrupt country in Asean and in Asia. Thailand ranked a lowly sixth in Asean, behind Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam which scored 47, 38 and 37 respectively.

Out of 180 countries, the three lowest scorers were Syria, South Sudan and Somalia on 13, 12 and 9.

Although Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha declared combating corruption was a priority when he staged a coup as army chief in 2014, graft is still a major problem for the country. The prime minister and those in power have over the past five years "talked a good fight" against graft, but failed to match it with effective blows. That failure naturally triggered questions about transparency, or the lack thereof. Agencies tasked with combating graft, including the National Anti-Corruption Commission, have failed to meet public expectations, while the PM and other leading figures show indifference to a system riddled with nepotism, abuse of power and double standards.

Among the most notorious cases is the luxury watch scandal involving Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who in 2017 inadvertently flashed a very expensive timepiece during a group photo of the cabinet. It soon emerged that Gen Prawit had worn nearly two dozen separate luxury watches over the previous months. He had failed to register them as assets with the anti-graft watchdog -- though it turned out to be toothless in the face of the scandal. Its ineffectual response was blamed on the "close relationship" between the deputy PM and the NACC's chief, who stood by as the former made excuses that stretched credibility to the limit. The truth has still not been revealed.

When Gen Prayut forged a coalition last year after long-delayed elections, several of his cabinet picks were met with public dismay due to their shady pasts.

A number of landowning politicians in the coalition camp are now accused of encroaching on state land. However, there appears no serious intention to bring them to justice. Ratchaburi MP Pareena Kraikupt, who illegally possesses a large plot designated for landless farmers, has so far escaped legal action in what appears a brazen case of double standards.

Addressing the Federation of Thai Industries yesterday, the PM admitted there are corrupt officials in the system. He even pleaded with the private sector to help the government weed out these "bad apples". The plea seems laughable given his indifference to a series of scandals involving those close to him, despite his own commitment to eradicate graft.

Obviously, Gen Prayut's seemingly soft spot for those in the wrong has substantially eroded public faith, with questions arising over his leadership and sincerity in tackling the country's most serious problem. Restoring that faith will take tough action, not more talk.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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