The bombshell that recently hit the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) has cast a much-needed spotlight on the agency.
The arrest of Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, DNP director-general, has shocked a society that presumed the agency was focused on its guardianship of forest and wildlife. Yet for conservationists who have worked with the DNP, this alleged malfeasance is not a surprise but is a symptom of a long-standing problem.
Despite the glaring evidence -- 98,000 baht of fresh banknotes in an envelope and another five million baht in a safe in Mr Rutchada's office -- the government will need to go beyond this case. Among the measures that are needed is in-depth auditing of the department's budget spending and procurement contracts.
Mr Rutchada says the former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, conspired against him.
He devised a plan with police to offer Rutchada a bribe. The accusations against Mr Rutchada are taking bribes and demanding bribes from subordinates in exchange for position transfers.
He is also accused of collecting 18% from project budgets and pocketing 30% from budgets given towards forest fire-fighting.
Mr Chaiwat -- who is himself a criminal suspect with four other DNP officials in the murder of a Karen activist -- told the media that officials had to offer bribes to protect their families from having to relocate to far-off areas.
No matter what the reasons are, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) must find out the motives behind the bribes that might involve hundreds of department staff.
The DNP has to monitor and handle many illicit tasks, such as poaching, wildlife trafficking, and launching crackdowns on land trespassing. The department also receives budgets for buying saplings to plant, purchasing fire fighting equipment, and hiring personnel to patrol forests.
Varawut Silpa-archa, the Natural Resources and the Environment Minister, must be on the ball more if he is to deal with corruption in the DNP.
It was Mr Varawut who replaced the former head at the DNP -- who had held the position for six-plus years -- with Mr Rutchada, in what was reportedly an attempt to clean up the department. Apparently, the apple he chose was rotten.
The big question is whether there is only one rotten apple or whether this is a symptom of systematic corruption that has been entrenched in this agency. On Tuesday, Mr Varawut appointed a permanent secretary to conduct an internal probe for graft.
But is an internal probe the correct way to manage the issue, especially given the suspected levels of corruption? There is enough reason to doubt the credibility of the DNP's internal auditing system.
Surprisingly though, the DNP was listed as Grade A in the government's Integrity and Transparency Assessment (ITA) this year.
It achieved 87.85% above the 85% mean and earned a 100% score in terms of fighting corruption. Fifty percent of this glowing appraisal was carried out by DNP officials, while the rest was done by public and outside experts.
It is hoped the NACC, society, and the media will not be content with only a few culprits being caught. It's not enough to just get rid of one or two bad apples and then hope the whole orchard will be disease-free.