Our war against graft requires action
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Our war against graft requires action


A truck at a vehicle weigh station at Highway 347 in Ayutthaya province in June after the authorities intensified its monitoring of truck weighing following reports of truck drivers paying bribes to violate weight carrying limits. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
A truck at a vehicle weigh station at Highway 347 in Ayutthaya province in June after the authorities intensified its monitoring of truck weighing following reports of truck drivers paying bribes to violate weight carrying limits. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

The controversial cop killing at a house party in Nakhon Pathom province hosted by Praween "Kamnan Nok" Chankhlai has spotlighted the unholy collaboration between local mafias and policemen.

In this partner-in-crime relationship, bribery has been the currency that greases the wheel of corruption, from rigged procurement to bribes for overweight trucks.

As such, the Kamnan Nok case serves as a glaring reminder of the systemic corruption that plagues Thailand.

Consequently, this scenario challenges society to scrutinise the efficacy of Thailand's historical and current anti-corruption policies.

Thailand has a troubled history with corruption, and promises to root it out have long echoed through its political chambers. The second Prayut government allocated a significant 15-billion-baht budget towards anti-corruption measures from 2020 to 2023.

Yet, the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) paints a discouraging picture: Thailand's rank fell from 96 out of 180 countries in 2017 to 101 in 2022. This downturn is an irrefutable indication that the allocated funds have not translated into meaningful change on the ground.

It would be unfair, however, to suggest that there have been no attempts at reform. The second Prayut government introduced procurement reforms to enhance transparency and launched a "Regulatory Guillotine" initiative to streamline bureaucratic processes that often serve as fertile ground for corruption.

The Integrity Pact was met with optimism and, in collaboration with civil society and business sectors, expanded to cover high-value public procurement projects, adding 66 projects with a total budget of 416 billion baht.

Praween Chankhlai, alias Kamnan Nok, left, undergoes questioning by police from the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok on Aug 8.

Studies from the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) indicate that projects under this enhanced monitoring experienced a 7.5% difference between the reference price and the winning bid, compared to a mere 0.5% in other high-value construction projects. This demonstrates the tangible impact that policy changes can bring about.

Meanwhile, the Regulatory Guillotine task force, established in 2019, reviewed an astonishing 1,100 administrative procedures for licenses and proposed eliminating or revising 82% of them. Almost half of these recommendations were implemented when the second Prayut government concluded its term.

However, the second Prayut government faltered significantly in reforming the police and military. Police reform moved at a glacial pace and went nowhere, taking nearly two years for drafts of the new Police Act to be reviewed. In the end, only the National Police Act was passed, and even that came late in 2022.

The lack of effective oversight mechanisms for the police, coupled with scandals such as "elephant tickets" for purchasing top police positions, "truck stickers" for bribing overweight trucks, and involvement in online gambling networks, further erodes public trust.

Contrary to promises of police reform, the second Prayut government made no significant efforts toward military reform despite a public outcry for more transparency and accountability. Instead, some military spending has raised troubling issues, further undermining public trust.

For example, the military has opted out of participating in Integrity Pacts for weapons procurement projects. Reports of embezzlement of soldiers' allowances and harassment of soldiers who expose corruption add another layer of urgency to this issue.

So, what should the new Srettha government do to combat corruption effectively?

First, they should expand the scope of the Integrity Pact to cover a wider range of procurement and contracting projects, particularly those with high value and high risk of corruption, such as infrastructure construction, weapons acquisition, and medical supplies.

The government should also allocate a larger budget to the Comptroller General's Department for effective monitoring.

Second, the government must move beyond mere commitments and enact substantive regulatory reforms. These should focus on streamlining bureaucratic procedures historically prone to bribery.

These reforms are already outlined in the Srettha government's recent cabinet policy statement to Parliament. However, for these reforms to be impactful, the Srettha government should concentrate on high-value licences, such as building construction permits.

The TDRI's 2022 survey found that 43% of public service users dealing with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) still faced informal fees for "ease of doing business", a euphemism for bribes.

In addition to BMA's online submission portal, more rigorous reforms should be considered to open optional tracks for people to hire private inspectors to verify documents and construction drawings, thereby creating a greater impact.

Lastly, the Srettha government should urgently address unresolved issues from the prior administration, including police and military budget management. This will require strong political courage, as the current government will inevitably face resistance from powerful generals.

It is high time we transition from rhetoric to action, from promises to measurable outcomes. The Kamnan Nok case is not an isolated incident but is indicative of the systemic corruption that pervades every facet of Thai society.

The government must not just sweep this issue under the rug but eliminate it entirely.

Tippatrai Saelawong

TDRI Senior Researcher

Tippatrai Saelawong is a senior researcher at Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

Email : tippatrai@tdri.or.th

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