Corruption has, once again, become the main discussion point in Thai society following the publication of two corruption indexes: Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce's 2015 Corruption Situation Index (CSI).
Transparency International's CPI does not reveal a big change to the situation in Thailand. However, the CSI shows an improvement in tackling corruption in Thailand; this despite several corruption scandals last year.
The two reports shed some light on the current situation in Thailand and point to some positive changes that should be encouraging to agencies fighting corruption.
However, these improvements will not be sustainable without real structural reform, resolute law enforcement, and the will to implement change.
Regarding structural reform, the so-called “anti-corruption” draft charter, released on Jan 29, dedicates at least 28 sections to imposing stronger anti-corruption measures. There are two key points that deserve attention.
First, it emphasises the principle of transparency in the use of public funds and public policy implementation. Second, it tries to create more synergy among “independent agencies” monitoring the government.
The State Audit Commission (SAC), which acts as the public accounts auditor, can collaborate with the Election Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) when investigating irregularities in government projects and report back to parliament, the cabinet and the public.
This charter may show the drafters’ intention to close loopholes that have resulted in criticism of the government for lack of transparency. A good example are the mega-projects in which taxpayers were not provided with detailed information and public hearings were poorly organised. On the other hand, independent watchdog agencies have long been criticised for their lack of collaboration and coordination, particularly as their roles seem to overlap, thus rendering the fight against corruption costly and ineffective.
While structural reform is still ongoing, implementation shows more progress. The NACC has provided information of several cases to the media, showing that it is more accountable to the public. The SAC, for its part, is increasingly proactive in exposing financial scandals.
On the matter of transparency there have been some notable changes. The Electronic Government Agency (EGA) has recently launched the “Thailand Government Spending” website that displays records of public spending, allowing visitors to track all records of government procurement projects, including details about winning bidders. This is a major step forward in engaging the average citizen in anti-corruption efforts.
But what is still amiss is the push for a stronger public information disclosure regime. Citizens should be able to access not only procurement records, but also draft laws to be tabled at cabinet meetings which remain highly confidential at the moment in Thailand, timely audit reports of state-owned enterprises, documents supporting decisions of independent watch-dog organisations (in particular the NACC), etc. Access to public information is the key to the fight against corruption as it will expose graft to the scrutiny of 65 million pairs of eyes.
Deunden Nikomborirak, PhD, is research director for economic governance and Tippatrai Saelawong is a researcher at Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.