Ethics body should at least be given a try

Ethics body should at least be given a try

The National Reform Council’s panel on ethics, morality and good governance created quite a buzz last week when they announced plans to set up a National Ethics Assembly. This new body — which will draft a code of ethics — is supposed to monitor the behaviour of politicians, civil servants and private companies doing business with the state.

The assembly would have the power to investigate state officials who could be disciplined if they fail to abide by the ethics and morality code. If politicians are found guilty of impropriety and the assembly thinks they should be impeached, their names would be sent to the Election Commission. The EC would put their names to a vote, letting the public decide in the next election whether voters should ban them from politics for five years.

Since our overall track record on ethics, morality and good governance leaves much to be desired, this new move provoked a positive public response. It certainly has people thinking. But then reports emerged that about 70 members of the National Legislative Assembly have put immediate family members — wives and children — on the payroll serving as personal assistants, personal experts or personal specialists.

Talk about bad timing. Not surprisingly, public criticism against this example of nepotism was swift and widespread, especially on social media. But sadly, the responses by the prime minister and some NRC leaders and members were limp to say the least.

The responses ranged from, “it’s not quite right and generally improper but if these assistants are capable and qualified for the job then it’s acceptable”, to “the appointments should be considered on a case-by-case basis”.

Some NLA members actually came out defending the appointments, saying no laws were broken and, by the way, it’s difficult to find people they could trust who were qualified and who would work for such a low salary.

These are lame excuses. And besides, not all members of the NLA appointed individuals from their families to these positions. I wonder why?

Aside from the nepotism issue, there are those who question the effectiveness of setting up such an assembly. People will wonder, for example, about whether members of the assembly are just, moral and ethical individuals. No one is lily white, the argument goes, and the selection of the assembly itself will prompt debate and controversy.

There’s also the possibility that the work and decisions of the assembly could be easily politicised with accusations flying thick and fast from opposing political factions. And another key question is: who will judge the judges? In a nutshell, those who question this move are asking how it’s possible to legislate on ethical behaviour.

In the private sector, in professions and institutions, there are codes of conduct and methods of monitoring conduct. However, ensuring ethical behaviour among members is never easy. Such codes are not set in stone and need to be reviewed. In the end, proper and ethical behaviour depends on the individual.

But the fact that public response to the instances of nepotism by certain NLA members this week was so strong clearly shows that citizens expect more from their public servants, elected or appointed. Unlike in other countries where public servants voluntarily resign as a result of a scandal, ours remain thick-faced and refuse to stand aside unless it’s proven that they have broken the law. And even then legal processes can take years before a verdict is delivered.

We have a long way to go as far as ethical behaviour, transparency and good governance are concerned among our public servants. So despite the reservations and concerns about the effectiveness of an ethics assembly, we should give it a go. It is better than doing nothing.


Pichai Chuensuksawadi is editor-in-chief of Post Publishing. Contact him at pichai@bangkokpost.co.th.

Pichai Chuensuksawadi

Editor-in-Chief & Bangkok Post Editor

He is an Editor-in-Chief at Post Publishing Public. He also served as Editor at The Post Publishing Plc from 1994 to 2002 and Special Assistant to the ASEAN Secretary General Dato'Ajit Singh from 1993 to 1994. He serves as the Chairman of The Bangkok Post Provident Fund. He is Chairman of The Bangkok Post Foundation and Phud Hong Leper Foundation. He is a Member of The Press Council of Thailand. He is a Board Member of IFRA. He is Chairman of the Organising Committee, IFRA Asia Pacific. He has BA in Journalism from Queensland University, Australia in 1979 and BA. Political Science from James Cook University of North Queensland University, Australia in 1976.

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