PM's words ring hollow over scandals

PM's words ring hollow over scandals

Scandals involving gambling dens and migrant labour smuggling, which have been blamed for the latest coronavirus outbreak, are a test of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's leadership.

People are watching anxiously to see whether the PM has the guts to take action against the state officers who made ill-gotten gains from those shenanigans. It took some time before Gen Prayut could pressure the Royal Thai Police into transferring officers from Rayong, even though it was inevitable after local media exposed the link between senior figures in the local force and influential gambling owners in the area. Such links are no secret in Thai society.

These high-profile scandals once again highlight a deep-rooted problem in this country: corruption and bribery involving our men in uniform.

The transfer of police officers does not mean the problem will be solved, however. As we have seen before, their replacements will be walking the same rotten beats and be subject to the same temptations as their predecessors. Following the Rayong conundrum, police raided several venues, yet only a handful of gamblers were rounded up, and not a single owner was arrested.

At the same time, a number of state officials managed to make a fortune by colluding with migrant labour smuggling rings and some factory owners.

Like the gambling scandal, the investigation into people smuggling following the Samut Sakhon Covid-19 outbreak proceded at a snail's place. Calls for action seemed not to be heard until an activist lawyer put pressure on the state by exposing details of collusion in Kanchanaburi which forced the RTP to take action.

According to Deputy Police Chief Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas, the RTP is to investigate 33 police officers and state officials suspected of negligence, and aiding and abetting illegal labour smuggling along the Thai-Myanmar border in Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district. Among them, more than 20 police ranging from non-commissioned and commissioned officers to deputy commanders, he said, adding that the rest were officials from other state agencies.

The deputy police chief said some had been negligent over the smuggling of migrants while others were involved in the crime themselves. This is just in Kanchanaburi alone. No action has been taken in the other border provinces, namely Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Tak, where the rings are also known to operate.

The prime minister ordered the formation of two panels to investigate the gambling dens and labour smuggling mainly due to their links to a worsening Covid-19 infection rate more than anything else. Few believe that these panels will come up with anything concrete, or that anyone will be punished. Probes and panels are just part of a ritual of drawing out the process, so that when the outbreak is over and public attention has moved on to something else, things will quietly return to the way they were before.

Just look at the panel tasked with the notorious hit-and-run case involving Vorayuth Yoovidhya, with former graftbuster Vicha Mahakhun unmasking all the wrongdoers -- police, public prosecutors, and politicians -- who interfered to help the young scion escape from the hands of law.

Gen Prayut sent the findings to all agencies involved and there has not been a peep from any of them since.

In fact, the very need to form these panels hints at a broken system where due process of law alone is not enough to see the culprits of serious crimes held to account and prosecuted and sentenced accordingly.

Suspicion justifiably remains that there will be further behind-the-scenes skulduggery in the Vorayuth case. Money talks, at least until the public gets angry again and the government feels the heat. What a shame.

Regarding the gambling case, Gen Prayut has made some odd comments. He said the government alone could never succeed in getting rid of the illegal activity, and pleaded for public cooperation.

"No one succeeds alone. And even if Thailand has a hundred prime ministers at the same time, they would never succeed in this [tackling gambling and illegal migrant smuggling] without everyone joining hands," he said.

After such a defeatist statement, our despair can only escalate.

The government is not capable of weeding out gambling, as the grey businesses which feeds the men in uniform are above the law. Yet law abiding citizens, who work hard to earn a living, continue to toil in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The prime minister knows only too well who the bad guys are but chooses not to do anything.

He is quick to punish those who violate the law among the pro-reform movement, but does not take action against the wrongdoers in his own circle. Is that not a double standard?

If our leader cannot exercise impartial judgement, and ensure that everyone is subject to the same laws, why do we need him?

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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