Minnows cop it hard as big       fish prosper
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Minnows cop it hard as big       fish prosper

No, it was not a mistake. It was a farce. And for a country long burdened by a corruption-plagued police force, it is definitely a tragedy.

I am talking about the police bigwigs' anger with the online post on the Sakhon Nakhon police's Facebook page for exposing how poorly-paid junior policemen are treated like dirt in the police system while their bosses are making money big time from underground businesses.

It quickly went viral last week because it is the truth from the horse's mouth.

In case you missed it, here's a rough translation:

"Half our salaries go on vehicles for police work, the petrol, the police uniforms, the computers, the printers, the paper, the ink, all for work, lunches during work assignments, the guns, the desks, the chairs, computer repairs and whatnot.

"The rest goes on our the families, the rent, the children's tuition fees, the fridges, the fans, the electricity, the running water and so many other things.

"Our question: Are our meagre salaries enough to support our families? The answer is no. We have to borrow money and get trapped in debt.

"So what about the phuyai? Are they in debt too? Definitely not. They are rich. Why? Because at the end of every month, money from gambling dens, entertainment venues, the sex trade, human trafficking, drugs and whatnot are routinely sent to them. 

"We want the anti-corruption agency to investigate their assets, from the superintendent level up to the very top of the police force, to find out if they are unusually rich or unusually poor like us low-ranking policemen. Indebted junior policemen are fired. Are police bigwigs who are unusually rich fired too?

"We are asking for justice. If you want to reform the police, start here."

Powerful stuff, isn't it?

No wonder the police chief was mad as hell. The post was immediately deleted. Then the page was deleted altogether. The supervisor of the junior policeman in charge of the page said it was all a technical mistake; someone had hacked into the page to write the message to taint the image of the police force.

Whether the hacking explanation is true or not, the message about police corruption, the rigid class divide in the police system, and the desperate situation of low-ranking policemen is an open secret. It also reflects the raw bitterness of junior policemen. 

It's farcical to say that the Sakhon Nakhon police online post damages the police force's reputation. Most polls already say the police are the most corrupt state agency. But people don't need polls to confirm their belief about police corruption; it is what they experience in everyday life.

Since military governments always cite corruption as the reason to seize power, police reform is a top of the agenda item. All efforts in the past began with conferences to identify the problems. Decentralisation of the police force and better salaries and welfare are the recommended solutions every time. And every time, too, top policemen would come out in full force to attack the reform move. Then things return to business as usual.

Will this military government make a difference? The signs are not good.

A few months ago, the government organised a conference on police reform to identify problems and solutions. Then Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha started talking about the need to make crime investigators independent of the police force. A former police chief threatened to expose systemic corruption in the military, from making money from mandatory drafting to huge commissions in arms purchases. We don't know what went on behind the scenes. But the PM finally announced police reform would happen in the next government.

The bigwigs' fierce resistance is understandable. Money from underground businesses makes up at least 20% of the official economy. A big chunk of it goes to pay protection money to the police. It is also common knowledge that the rich can pay their way out when in trouble with the law. 

Interestingly, many junior policemen I talked to are not against police reform if it brings them much-needed decent pay and welfare and a transparent system based on merit, not nepotism. All are bitter about the feudal police system that makes graduates from the police cadet academy forever the lords over low-level policemen.

The bigwigs are not listening. The decision to silence small policemen's plight shows police reform remains a far-fetched hope. So does our hope for justice and the rule of law.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post. She writes on human rights, gender, and Thai Buddhism.

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