Anti-graft drive 'making little progress'

Anti-graft drive 'making little progress'

Fighting corruption is one of the Yingluck Shinawatra government's priorities but it appears the anti-graft drive is making little progress.

The Anti-Corruption Network representing private companies released a report in July saying under-the-table payments account for 50% of the costs of all government concessions.

Earlier, Prime Minister Yingluck ordered all agencies involved _ the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) and the Office of Public Sector Commission Development Commission (OPDC) _ to devise strategies to deal with graft.

In May, the government's anti-corruption war room centre was inaugurated with a 1206 hotline installed to receive graft complaints.

PACC secretary-general Dussadee Arayawuth was put in charge of the unit.

The anti-corruption war room is designed as a "one-stop service centre" integrating the operations of the three agencies.

It receives complaints, scrutinises them, and works out how to prevent and combat graft.

However, the centre appears to have made little progress so far.

The hotline has taken fewer complaints than expected. Most of the complaints involve problems of parents making under-the-table payments to prestigious schools in return for the promise of school seats.

The government assigned the DSI to play a central role in dealing with corruption at the policy level.

However, the government's own rice mortgage pledging scheme has been criticised as being vulnerable to corruption.

A research team set up by the National Anti-Corruption Commission revealed rice programmes have been plagued with corruption involving state officials.

These officials could face prosecution for malfeasance, the research team said.

It said the programme's benefits barely reach farmers and suggested the programme be scrapped.

Democrat Party MP for Phitsanulok Warong Dejkitwikrom, who has monitored the rice pledging programme, said farmers in several provinces sold their paddy to rice mills and received only bai pratuan _ a document which farmers present at the state-owned Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives for payment. So far they have not been able to cash the document, Mr Warong said. He said more than 100 farmers in Phetchabun recently decided to hand a letter to the prime minister to ask her to look into the matter.

The DSI recently exposed a raft of fraudulent tricks used by rice mill operators to defraud the government's rice pledging scheme.

They include rigging weight scales and moisture-measuring scales when evaluating farmers' paddy, issuing fake bai pratuan documents, and issuing fake weight measurement certificates.

Thanin Prempree, deputy chief of the DSI's Office of Special Criminal Cases 2, said spending on disaster relief by local bodies is also rife with corruption.

The declaration of a disaster area is a precondition for the disbursement of up to 50 million baht of relief money from the government.

''We have found that in some provinces suffering from natural catastrophes such as a cold spell or flood, governors declared disaster areas in stages rather than declaring the whole province as a disaster area,'' he said.

They declared disaster areas in stages to obtain more relief money.

He said corruption among local bodies is a serious concern.

Procurement projects approved by local councils are thought to be riddled with graft.

The DSI and the PACC have worked together to tackle encroachment on forest reserves, state land and coastal areas, but rival politicians from the government and the opposition often exploit these issues for political gains.

Investigators working on these suspected encroachment cases often hit stumbling blocks when they discover that politicians, particularly from the government, may themselves be involved.

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