A high-profile scandal involving kickback payments for overloaded lorries is just the tip of the corruption iceberg.
The scandal was raised by the Move Forward Party (MFP), which alerted the public to the special stickers used by trucks featuring a colourful smiling sun next to a traditional number. The stickers, signalling "already paid", were used as a pass for overloaded lorries so that they were exempt from highway regulations. Other images, such as rabbits or pandas, were also placed on vehicles for the same purpose.
The Land Transport Federation of Thailand said it had lodged a series of complaints regarding the kickback stickers over the last decade, yet no action had been taken. It said 20% of the 1.5 million trucks in the country had paid off the authorities by purchasing the stickers, which likely generated a large sum of ill-gotten gains, worth billions of baht a month, for state authorities.
The Central Investigation Bureau on May 30 transferred Pol Maj Gen Ekkaraj Limsangkat -- chief of the Highway Police Division -- to an inactive post pending a probe. The Highways Department, the core agency in charge of regulating the weight of lorries, has yet to respond to allegations. The government must investigate further.
Overloaded lorries are to blame for destroying roads -- an opportune reason for some bad officials to gain some benefits from the road repair budget.
Reports say the kickback stickers are used by other vehicles in a similar fashion, including school vans. The stickers have enabled school van owners to breach safety regulations.
The sticker scandal speaks volumes about the Prayut Chan-o-cha government's inability -- and lack of willpower -- to uproot corruption.
This is a major disappointment. When Gen Prayut staged a coup in 2014 and overthrew a civilian government, he said the graft problem was top of his agenda, raising high hopes of change for the better.
Over nine years later, corruption still haunts the country. Public hope has evaporated as anti-graft agencies have been found to have no fangs. Corrupt officers have developed new tactics to cash in on the loopholes in anti-graft regulations.
Bidding collusion among contractors is a known method, and the "no-gift policy" is just laughable. It's quite certain that asset declaration rules no longer work now that more than a few corrupt officers have turned to cash methods to obscure money trails.
Take the example of the former chief of the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Department, who was caught red-handed accepting large sums of cash in envelopes from his subordinates.
The sticker scandal is clearly not a standalone case. It might have something to do with position-buying -- something rampant among state agencies.
The current anti-graft mechanisms have done little to stop greedy officers from making ill-gotten gains. And there is a lack of an efficient mechanism to stop corruption-oriented policies draining state budgets.
Over the years, the country's image regarding graft has been poor. This is evident in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) which for several years has shown Thailand lags shamefully behind its neighbours, namely Singapore.
Much needs to be done by the new government to tighten up anti-graft regulations so there is an efficient mechanism to rid bad apples from state agencies.