Corruption breeds Covid

Corruption breeds Covid

Almost six months after the second wave of the pandemic saw huge cluster transmissions in Samut Sakhon among migrant workers, the country is still plagued with the same problem, with construction camps and factories full of migrants emerging as Covid-19 hotspots. Even more worrying is the spread of new variants of the virus in these places.

Despite ramped-up efforts to suppress migrant labour smuggling, migrants are still slipping through the net across the borders, with Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar. It has not helped that state mechanisms are weak and often riddled with corruption.

Illegal entry by some migrants means they avoided Covid-screening which has contributed to the new outbreak.

Ongoing labour smuggling attests to the fact that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's absolute power, stemming from an order issued early this month granting him authority to take sole charge of most aspects of virus control, means little.

Labour smuggling gangs are proving to be a big challenge for the embattled prime minister.

In January, Gen Prayut set up a special panel to tackle labour smuggling, but it's unclear what the panel has really achieved.

By setting up such a panel, the government hoped to appease critics, by giving the impression something was being done, when in fact the opposite was more accurate. The panel also gives credence to the belief that regular mechanisms are dysfunctional or beset with graft.

A crackdown on a smuggling network on the Myanmar-Thai border in mid-February, with the arrest of Ratree Wechsuwan who made a fortune from the illicit business, was made just days ahead of the last censure debate when the opposition was due to grill the government on illegal migration.

Since then there have been reports of arrests being made periodically but the numbers are small. It must also be noted that the masterminds are hardly ever caught, while state officials helping smugglers in their illicit trade have not been held accountable.

It's an open secret that unscrupulous officials are involved in these activities. Crackdowns on labour smuggling in the South between 2016-2020 revealed officials were profiting. Six officials were slapped with criminal charges, 49 faced disciplinary action. Meanwhile, several police were found to have helped smugglers in Kanchanaburi several months ago.

Also in Kanchanaburi, police on Tuesday nabbed Hasim Jirakitbamrungkul, who it was claimed was a key smuggling boss and who confessed to bringing in migrants from Myanmar.

The perpetrator has not named any accomplices, including among officialdom, but it is unlikely he was operating a one-man show.

It seems clear that Gen Prayut, by establishing special panels to suppress illegal activities like smuggling and gambling, has little, if any, trust in existing law enforcement mechanisms or authorities.

But what he has created for political reasons cannot solve the real problem dogging this country -- corruption.

If Gen Prayut really wants to end graft which is undermining his anti-Covid efforts, he must learn to do more than pay lip service to the problem.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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