25%+ is too high a price to pay

Twenty-five plus is the average percentage of under-the-table fees - or gao jia (dog eats) as the Chinese call it - that businessmen are made to pay to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in order to secure a concession, procurement or construction contract from government agencies these days.

The above is the outcome of a survey conducted by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce among businessmen who have to deal with the crooks who have a say in awarding contracts to anyone who offers the sweetest deals.

The survey showed that 78% of the businessmen admitted that they had to pay gao jia fees, which they said appeared to have been increasing in recent years.

In other words, they were willing to dig into their pockets to make the payments while grumbling bitterly about it. Meanwhile, the minority of businessmen who practise good governance or who despise corruption will mostly lose out.

The rice-pledging scheme was also named in the survey as one of the most corrupt state programmes, scoring 9.2 out of 10 points.

A kickback of 25% or more is a substantial amount and this is quite a conservative estimate. Some businessmen have claimed that the rate charged by the greedier crooks for lucrative contracts can go up to 40%.

Just imagine if a megaproject is worth 350 billion baht, the gao jia fees will cost about 87.5 billion – not to the unscrupulous businessmen who won the contract but to the taxpayers who in the end will shoulder the burden.

Because of the outrageous scale of the corruption and the seemingly insatiable greed of all the crooks involved, green groups and government critics won't let the government get away with a quick walkover for approval of its megaprojects.

After all, the costs to taxpayers could be staggering, given the spending the government has in mind: 350 billion baht for water management and 2.2 trillion for infrastructure development, including four high-speed train routes which are believed to be rife with corruption. And we haven't even started talking about the lack of transparency in the way the projects are being handled.

The 2.2 trillion baht megaprojects are not just about high-speed trains. They are about the future of Thailand. So said Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt. I couldn't agree more. The megaprojects are about the future of Thailand, about its competitiveness and about its dreamed-of status as the economic hub of the region, among others.

But if that is to be achieved at the cost of massive corruption, about 500 billion baht based on the 25% rate, which will end up in the pockets of the crooks among the politicians and bureaucrats, the question is whether the megaprojects are worth undertaking.

They may not be, unless the government is deadly serious about getting rid of corruption.

Sadly though, there has not been any sign that the government will do anything beyond photo opportunities. You may recall a recent event at which Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was seen holding hands with her ministers and making a vow to tackle the graft problem.

Behind the scenes, other hands were in our pockets, as usual.

Related search: Thailand, megaprojects, corruption, kickbacks

About the author

columnist
Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor