End graft in public works
About 4,500 people commit suicide each year in Thailand, or about 12 people every day. But the suicide of a 27-year-old engineer last week garnered massive public and media attention, after his three-page farewell note -- in which he wrote about the rampant corruption in his workplace -- was published by the press.
The note was written by Panumes, a civil engineer who graduated from a renowned state university in the Northeast. About six months ago, he started working for the Civil Works Department in Nong Bua Lam Phu municipality, where he was tasked with supervising and ensuring the quality of public works in the area.
In his suicide note, Panumes described the municipal administration as rotten to the core. He said companies must pay kickbacks to officials to win a contract, which led them to use sub-standard materials and reduce work quality to maintain their profit margins. Officials like him had no choice but to go with the flow and approve substandard projects.
Panumes said he was pressured to green light three road projects which he knew weren't done to the required specifications, which prompted him to tender his resignation as he couldn't tolerate the cheating that was going on.
"The system is so corrupt. Engineers like me are just a tool to make money," he wrote.
For reasons unknown to anyone else, he took his own life just a few days before his resignation became effective on Dec 1.
"It is hard for do-gooders to live in this country," he wrote.
While Panumes took things to the extreme, he certainly wasn't the first state official who became disillusioned by the corruption that is so pervasive across all levels of administration.
Many of those who chose to stick to their ideals resigned after witnessing the corruption, inefficiencies and waste behind all that red tape.
The stories of these officials explain Thailand's drop in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, despite the government's public declaration of war against graft within the administration.
Last year, Thailand slipped six places to 110th place, with a score of 35 out of 100. Even before the drop in its rankings, Thailand's score was not encouraging at just 36 out of 100 -- far below the global average of 45 out of 100.
Worse still, Thailand is also lagging behind its Southeast Asian neighbours when it comes to compliance with the rule of law.
In 2021, Thailand slipped two spots, ranking 80th out of 139 countries where rule of law is concerned, according to the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index 2021.
The ranking meant Thailand was way behind Singapore, which was ranked 19th, Malaysia (54th), and Indonesia (68th), but ahead of Vietnam (80th), the Philippines (102nd), Myanmar (128th) and Cambodia, which was second-last on the list, ahead of only Venezuela.
Our society won't grow if the government and its graft-busting agencies continue to let corruption thrive as if the law does not exist.
Officials need to look into all projects which have been approved, not just those that the late engineer was responsible for, in order to restore the public's faith in the administration.
The government needs to know that Panumes did not die alone when he lit a stove in his car last week. Along with his last breath went the public's trust in the government's integrity.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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