No crookery today, thank you very much

No crookery today, thank you very much

Today, believe it or not, Thailand celebrates National Anti-Corruption Day. For 24 hours, no one will be on the fiddle, or at least seen to be on the fiddle.

That’s not all. To mark this auspicious day a National Museum of Political Corruption is being launched. I am not making this up.

Even by Amazing Thailand standards this museum would be quite amazing. It is said to be the first of its kind in the world, and one suspects, the last.

According to Pramon Suthiwong, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, the museum will highlight 10 of the most prominent cases of corruption in recent years, including the rice subsidy scheme, the Bangkok Film Festival farce and those expensive school futsal pitches which fell to bits. There’s even a scandal involving the tasty Thai fruit, longan.  

However, seeing that many of the court cases are still awaiting a verdict, it would seem a bit premature for the museum to actually name who they think are the bad guys (or girls). Or are we going to see a lot of “Mr X” and “Mrs Y” and a host of pixilated faces?

Also of interest are the number of well-known corruption cases that are NOT on the list. It’s a bit like that annual announcement showing who pays the most taxes — it’s the names that are missing that are of the most interest.

To learn more about the unique museum, there’s a big anti-corruption gathering today from 7.30am-4pm on the 22nd floor of the Centara Grand, Central World, Ratchaprasong.

Is nothing sacred?

Corruption scandals are nothing new, of course. When I was first in Thailand, the big talking point was something called “The Black Matpe Bean Scandal”. I didn’t even know what a black matpe bean was in those days. Come to think of it, I still don’t.

It would be nice to get through a week without reading in the Bangkok Post some sort of news item concerning “misappropriation of funds”. On an almost daily basis you are treated to breakfast-time tales about double-dealing, duplicity, embezzlement, fraud and simple crookery. Nothing is sacred — airport security devices, school milk, fire trucks, forests, kindergarten toys, illegal onions, parliamentary clocks and even garbage disposal. It’s almost as if it’s a national sport.

No red faces

One of the first things any new Thai government announces is that it will crack down on corruption, with that trendy word “transparency” appearing in every other sentence. Such news is usually greeted at best by stifled yawns. Even if a case is pursued it will probably end up in the long queue at the Ministry For Sweeping Things Under the Carpet. Thanks to collective amnesia, few culprits end up actually doing “porridge”. At the very worst, an odd inactive post might beckon.

Of course, bribery and corruption have been in existence throughout the world for centuries. One of the more famous cases involved English statesman Francis Bacon, who was in charge of the country’s financial affairs for a period in the 17th century. Bacon was accused of taking bribes and even spent four days in the dreaded Tower of London.

Writer Edmund Clerihew Bentley eloquently described Bacon’s demeanour in parliament  when he was undergoing interrogation concerning his financial misadventures:

"When their lordships asked Bacon; How many bribes he had taken; He at least had the grace; To go red in the face."

Regrettably in Thailand we don’t even see anybody go red in the face … unless they have consumed too much amber liquid.

Tasty pastry

One of the more intriguing attempts at bribery in Bangkok about six years ago became known as “Pastrygate”. It featured an innocent pastry lunch box intended for a judge presiding over an important case. The box happened to be inspected by a court official who found it stuffed with two million baht in banknotes, covered by a few stale pastries.

The “pastry” delivery man was a lawyer’s clerk whose boss was representing an influential figure under indictment. The clerk explained it was nothing more than an “honest mistake”.

He claimed he was carrying two lunch boxes and accidentally handed over the wrong one. A reasonable enough explanation, although it was still unclear why one of his lunch boxes was stuffed with millions of baht. Perhaps he was going shopping … these malls are getting a bit expensive these days.

Anyway, the court was not entirely convinced by his “absent-minded” defence and he and two other members of the legal team actually did six months in the slammer. Hooray!

Moos in the news

It will come as no surprise that Isan farmers are often on the wrong end of corruption scams. In the early 2000s we were treated to the Great Compost Scandal, which raised a considerable stink in the Department of Manure.

It seems compost delivered to farmers was not actually compost at all, but third-rate soil mixed with bits of sugarcane.

Shortly afterwards, a large number of cows that were supposed to reach poor Isan farmers never made it to their destination.

The splendidly-worded official explanation was that the cows were distributed though a “special method”. I think we all have a rough idea what that means.

It went on to admit the distribution of the cows was “99% problematic”.  To look on the bright side, 1% was not problematic. Maybe there is hope after all.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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