Congratulations to Chatchai Choi, formerly known as Choi Young-seok, the coach of Thailand's national Taekwando team, for receiving his Thai national ID card.
Born South Korean, Chatchai has worked as the coach for the Thai national team since 2002 and helped steer the country to the upper echelons of the sport. He applied for Thai citizenship in 2015, which was granted in October, almost seven years after.
Mr Chatchai, this week, went to Bang Kapi district office to get his national ID.
"I will use this Thai ID for purchasing land and a home under my name," he was quoted as telling media. "I am really looking forward to casting my vote in the next election in May."
Mr Chatchai's application for Thai nationality put the spotlight on the cumbersome process that foreigners and stateless ethnic hill tribe people have to endure when applying for Thai citizenship with the Ministry of the Interior. Thai law is designed to prevent foreigners from acquiring Thai citizenship easily. Tough conditions and lengthy verification processes are imposed. For instance, foreigners need to forsake other citizenships to become a Thai citizen.
Indeed, Mr Chatchai is considered lucky as he is the coach of a successful national team. Hundred of thousands of stateless people born in Thailand need to wait for years or, in some cases, over a decade. Years of waiting means the loss of opportunities -- be it conducting legal transactions, accessing state welfare, or children benefiting from education welfare.
While law-abiding people have to wait, many lawbreakers have easily obtained Thai ID cards or even Thai citizenship, allowing them to open illicit businesses and buy land.
Blatant examples are cases of "Koo Eiew" or Nitipat Chokchaithanaporn, the Chinese owner of Club One Pattaya, who was arrested early this month on a narcotics-related charge. It was found that he had a Thai ID card illegally obtained by paying local officials in Trat province.
His case was not the first and will not be the last.
The case of Chaiyanat "Tuhao" Kornchayanant, a Chinese-born businessman who received Thai nationality in 2014, also raises questions about the government's decision-making process on granting citizenship to foreigners. Tuhao is entitled to Thai citizenship as he wed a Thai. Yet, he was charged as the mastermind behind the torching of a snake park in Phuket in 2012, which he was acquitted of in 2018 after public prosecutors decided not to send the case to court. The case was notorious because a hired thug severely beat a security guard to the level that he was left paralysed. The question is whether the national committee tasked to approve citizenship knew about this record and, if so, took it into consideration.
Needless to say, the system has loopholes; is inefficient and questionable.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda needs to make it better and, above all, transparent. For example, the ministry needs to upgrade citizenship data, using bio-data and a digital verification process to prevent loopholes and law abuse. It also needs to impose harsh penalties on officials and individuals who collude in selling legal status.
The ministry needs to make it easier for honest people who are entitled to legal status to receive citizenship. The current system is not that way inclined. It keeps good people waiting while leaving loopholes for wrongdoers.