Statesman's anti-graft wisdom is easier said than done
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Statesman's anti-graft wisdom is easier said than done

Pa Prem: At 95, an ever-stronger voice against corruption and patronage (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Pa Prem: At 95, an ever-stronger voice against corruption and patronage (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Statesman and Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is physically and mentally healthy for a 95-year-old, retired four-star general.

In fact, the older he grows, the more active the nonagenarian is in campaigning against corruption.

Seen as clean, honest and royalist, the former army chief and former prime minister -- as well as the cabinets he led during 1980-1988 -- barely faced any allegations of corruption.

Though his political opponents attempted to launch a censure motion against him and his administration on charges of graft, they were foiled by men in uniform.

Shortly after giving up his premiership, the former cavalry soldier was appointed as privy councillor, and later as president of the Privy Council.

He has remained influential among top military personnel and politicians to this day.

During the festive seasons of New Year, Songkran and his birthday, Gen Prem opens up Baan Si Sao Thewes -- the official residence of the army commander-in-chief that he has occupied for over 30 years -- to well-wishers, who mostly comprise top brass in the three armed forces.

Invited to the receptions are the "children" and "grandchildren" of Pa Prem, an affectionate term he uses for his subordinates, who take advantage of the occasion to show the soft-spoken, kind and fatherly man respect and gratitude for his blessings and support.

On the eve of International Anti-Corruption Day this week, the country's 16th prime minister urged the public to rise up against the "prevalent disease" of corruption, which pervades all levels of society.

He also called on society to eliminate the "disgusting creatures" who perpetuate corruption.

"We must not let the bad guys continue robbing the country every day. We must strive to eradicate these disgusting creatures from our country," said the silver-haired general who always dons bright, colourful Thai silk shirts.

Gen Prem also criticised Thailand's centuries-old, deep-rooted patronage system. His critics see him as a patron for many young, newly-commissioned officers in the armed forces.

"There are many people who say: 'When you are in power, you must adopt the patronage system. If you don't, you are seen as a bad person who doesn't care about your siblings or friends. Optimise your power when you have it. Thais can accept such practices," he told a large crowd of students and civil servants.

"Such a notion is detrimental to our nation. It costs Thailand huge opportunities losses." To tackle the plague of corruption, Pa Prem proposed "The 10 Commandments" for all sectors in society to uphold.

1. Be transparent. Behave yourself to be a role model for your subordinates. Uphold your virtues and ethics; 

2. Stop the patronage system and replace it with a meritocracy. Don't help the cheaters no matter who they are -- your parents, children or relatives;

3. Call those corrupt people and their conspirators traitors, disrespect them, abandon their friendship;

4. Ingrain moral and ethical and corporate governance in young children;

5. The private sector must adopt a clean, honest business approach, based on the notion that an enterprise can prosper without cheating;

6. Don't let cheaters go free. Take drastic legal action against them. Pillory those corrupt individuals or corporations using all means;

7. Support the National Anti-Corruption Commission and other state anti-graft bodies' war on corruption;

8. Organisational chiefs must lead by example, making their agencies clean, complying with laws and regulations and installing an effective audit system;

9. Emphasise the mantra that cheating means robbing the nation, in all forms of media, so that everyone is aware how corruption damages the country;

10. Initiate a drastic and swift process under the law to prosecute "robbers".

Gen Prem's remarks hit the nail on the head, but is it easier said than done in the current political context? Has the government been transparent in the way it has handled the Rajabhakti Park scandal?

Are the ruling generals abandoning subordinates who were allegedly involved in the suspected corruption? How many alleged corrupt officers are on the run? Will they ever be brought to justice?

Is this military-run government taking swift and drastic action against colonels and generals accused of robbing the country?

What mechanisms does Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha have in place to check on cabinet ministers' honesty? If he or she is accused of taking a bribe, will the junta chief fire him or her on the spot rather than transfer the person to an "inactive post"? 

Even in the circles of civil servants and military personnel, one doubts if the selection is based on meritocracy. Is the patronage network the deciding factor? 

It is no wonder that so-called "networking courses" -- short programmes for business owners, senior corporate executives and senior government officials to study and make contacts -- are mushrooming across all professions, from the military to the judicial, the medical and media sectors.

Gen Prayut, as one of Pa Prem's outstanding children and the country's most powerful man for now, should act and prove that I am totally wrong.

Nopporn Wong-Anan is deputy editor of the Bangkok Post.

Nopporn Wong-Anan

Deputy editor

Nopporn Wong-Anan is deputy editor, Bangkok Post.

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