Four ministries first to face 'integrity pact'
Purchases, activities to be scrutinisedProcurement and other activities by four key ministries - Agriculture and Cooperatives, Public Health, Education, and Transport - will be the first to come under a joint public-private initiative to fight graft if the Cabinet approves what is known as the "Integrity Pact".
The Transport Ministry has already agreed to take part in the pact.
Pramon Sutivong, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), said in an interview that the other three ministries were involved with huge public spending and it was therefore right that their activities should also be placed under scrutiny to prevent corruption.
"If the Cabinet approves the Integrity Pact, it will be a crucial turning point for the Kingdom, since the pact's adoption among all government agencies will clearly show that Thailand is serious about [tackling] the corruption problem. This will be a good example to show other private and civil-society sectors that they should also refuse to give or take bribes," he said.
Details of the pact are being considered by the Finance Ministry, before its expected submission for Cabinet approval in the next couple of weeks.
The ACT has high hopes that the Cabinet will promptly approve the pact to show the government's sincerity about fighting corruption.
The initiative is aimed at diminishing fraudulent and unfair systems in the government, private and civil sectors. It is expected to enhance Thailand's overall development, since graft continues to result in huge losses for the Kingdom, Pramon said.
However, he said he personally had doubts about the government's sincerity in this area, given that the pact would require the revelation of transactions that could challenge influential people and many government agencies operating in the "grey" area.
The pact would require a pledge from any agency or organisation signing up that it would demonstrate transparency in regard to its procurement.
Terms of reference, prices, names of bidders and other details would have to be published on the organisation's website. The participating organisation should also treat all participants equally and inform the responsible agencies to punish unscrupulous persons or committees immediately if any corruption were found.
The Agriculture, Public Health, Education, and Transport ministries are the primary targets of the ACT, which is a grouping of public and private organisations that consider that without corruption, Thailand's economic potential would improve.
The Education Ministry has won the biggest slice of the government's Bt2.4-trillion expenditure for the 2013 fiscal year, at Bt460.07 billion. The Public Health Ministry has been allocated Bt254.94 billion, while the Transport Ministry received Bt96.27 billion.
Although the Agriculture Ministry's slice is only Bt73 billion, it is involved in several crop-subsidy programmes.
"These ministries control a big slice of the government's budget. If they came under the Integrity Pact, it would be a very good start in demonstrating transparency and eliminating corruption," Pramon said.
The ACT would also like to see more progress in the prevention of corruption in the rice-pledging scheme. Pramon said the project contained many loopholes facilitating corruption by all parties involved, from farmers, millers and rice exporters to government officials and politicians.
While it is hard to see prosecution of corrupt individuals as things stand, the prevention procedure proposed under the pact would offer better alternatives for ridding the country of graft, he said.
If as it expects the government accepts the Integrity Pact, the ACT hopes that a sincere and concerted attempt to battle corruption will result in Thailand receiving a better ranking in the International Transparency Index, as well as gaining a better position within Asean as a leading nation in the war on fraud, he added.
Thailand's image in terms of tackling corruption is quite low compared with other Asean countries, mainly Singapore and Malaysia, and even Indonesia, said the association chief.
Pramon said that although the country's international standing on corruption had not improved over the nearly two years the ACT had been in existence, at least there was now more action by private and government agencies than in previous years.
The ACT comprises 47 member bodies that are firmly opposed to any corruption and support anti-graft activities.
As part of the wider effort, a network including 56 state universities nationwide will soon launch a campaign to promote anti-corruption activity every month.
The ACT has also cooperated with Bangkok schools to encourage young students to "say no" to all kind of cheating under a "Grow up, don't cheat" project, he said.
Pramon said that although the organisation had no authority to investigate corruption or punish wrongdoers, it would continue to strive to persuade all involved sectors to fight against graft, and its stepped-up campaigns should make life difficult for those who want to act dishonestly to gain an advantage.
According to a study by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, corruption can cost 10 per cent of the government's annual budget.
Shares of the government's Bt2.4-trillion expenditure in the 2013 fiscal year.
(Unit: Bt bn)
Source: The Nation