Person of the Year
The fight has begun
A fledgling anti-corruption network gives hope to the nationLoosely formed in 2010, the Anti-Corruption Network this year has become a key organisation that has shed unprecedented light on corruption in the country. This group, comprising entities from the public and private sectors, is pushing hard in its campaign against corruption at the corporate and national levels, with the ultimate goal of ensuring fairness to all Thais and lifting the country's image globally.
The group's actions are still far from "ultimate success" and a lot more needs to be done. But the network has been successful in sparking hope, and its real and daring actions earn all the members our vote as "Person of the Year".
At a glance, Thailand is not the worst nation in terms of corruption, ranked 88th in 2012 among 176 countries in the Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.
However, the perceived level of public-sector corruption puts the Kingdom on the same level as Malawi, Morocco, Suriname, Swaziland and Zambia. Worse, in the past 10 years, Thailand's ranking has been sliding, with its chances of ever catching up with the top 20 slim at best, let alone reaching the top spot alongside Finland.
Corruption is a serious and systemic problem in Thailand. A recent Abac Poll reported that most (63.4 per cent) Thai people believe that corruption in government is acceptable provided it is beneficial to them personally - a view that is also shared by many young people. This explains why corrupt politicians keep returning, sparking grave concerns about the country's political and economic sustainability.
Among the most concerned is a group of businessmen, which was previously led by the late Dusit Nontanakorn. In his capacity as chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Dusit started steering the alliance of public and private sectors towards seriously combating corruption in 2010. His words: "Corruption is common and acceptable in Thai values. If this continues, Thailand will see its demise" became the slogan of the Anti-Corruption Network (ACN), which was officially launched on June 1, 2011.
Under the leadership of his successor, Pramon Sutivong, the network has doubled the number of members, rising from 23 organisations at the start to 46 at present. It is a major private-sector group led by a consortium of Thai businesspeople and more than 30 industry associations, which include the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers' Association, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Stock Exchange of Thailand. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) became the first international member.
The network won huge support when it pressured BEC World, the public-listed operator of television Channel 3, to take action against its media personality Sorrayuth Suthassanachinda, who faces legal action by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for alleged embezzlement. At the national level, the ACN is pushing for transparency in government-procurement processes, particularly in relation to bidding for the Bt350-billion water-management project.
This followed a nationwide rally in September 2011, which gathered support from the public and private sectors, youth and actors. The ACN has also launched a number of projects to raise public awareness on good governance among individuals and institutional members of society. The White Organisation Awards were presented for the first time this year in recognition of organisations with good governance. Members have been urged not to offer bribes in exchange for government projects. Every six months, in cooperation with the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce, the country's Corruption Situation Index is revealed to provide latest updates on the state of corruption, public perception and efficiency in tackling graft. A Hotline Centre has been put in place in a move to gather tips from individuals.
These projects were launched under ACN's promise to play three major roles - collaborator (with public organisations like the NACC, in order to establish transparent procurement process), watchdog (through supports from volunteers), and change agent (to raise awareness among all societal groups).
Also, thanks to the efforts of private companies, the Thai capital market is in third place behind Singapore and Hong Kong, according to CG Watch 2012 - a survey on corporate governance of 11 Asian capital markets conducted by the Asian Corporate Governance Association and CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. The Kingdom had a score of 58 per cent this year, up from 55 per cent in 2010 and 47 per cent in 2007. The Thai Institute of Directors also promised to join forces with leading private organisations in fostering the CG culture in the capital market through ACN. All members are providing support, doing what they are best at.
"The matter that is of most urgency is to make a serious collective effort to fight corruption in the public and private sectors," said Vorapol Socatiyanurak, secretary-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is a key member of the coalition. In an interview, Pramon admitted that the ACN would have to step up its work in the years ahead, when it will be expanded as extensively as possible.
"I'm satisfied with the progress to some extent as our awareness campaign has won substantial support. The government has agreed to keep the procurement process transparent, with a promise to reveal median prices of new projects. Yet, there is no change at all regarding Sorrayuth's case. We have observed public support, but we're still far from achieving what we expect."
Nevertheless, Pramon sees a silver lining, following Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's insistence to appoint Chadchart Sittipunt as transport minister despite pressure from other Pheu Thai leaders.
"In the next five years, the Transport Ministry will win the biggest chunk of funding. Chadchart should be a main force in lifting the ministry's work standards. We have high hopes and look forward to working with him," Pramon said.
To strengthen its efforts, the network will next year establish itself as a national organisation - the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT). Its legal position should smoothen its operation and facilitate future cooperation with other local and international agencies. Also, its partnership with UNDP aims to promote regular dialogue and strategy on fighting corruption, developing public-advocacy campaigns as well as sharing knowledge in raising public awareness and building the capacity of organisations within the expanded network.
The new partnership complements UNDP's ongoing Anti-Corruption Initiative, which seeks to bring together ministries and commissions, such as the NACC, civil society and the private sector to fight systemic corruption in local society.
"The combination of resources from the private sector, the enforcement power of NACC and the raw energy of young people is a powerful force - one we hope will break corruption's hold on Thailand," said Yuxue Xue, UNDP deputy resident representative in Thailand.
After UNDP, the alliance seeks to forge cooperation with the Transparency International Index as well as the World Bank. According to Pramon, ACN has received positive feedback from international communities, as many organisations are fostering global campaigns against corruption. These foreign organisations stand ready to share expertise and knowledge. On financial support, it will be on a case-by-case basis. The ACN hopes that through a larger collaboration, it can launch tougher action in the years ahead to achieve its goal in urging Thai society to seriously join anti-corruption efforts to gain tangible results.
Members of the coalition realise that success depends on all parties and, hence, every organisation counts. Thailand does not belong to any one particular person. Corruption harms both the rich and the poor, not to mention the reputation, trustworthiness and pride of the nation. Together, we must share the responsibility of fighting corruption, using our individual and group knowledge and capabilities.
"Our ultimate goal is to make all parties realise that corruption is unacceptable and they should make their voices heard against it. This will push the government and all politicians towards something that will 'change' Thailand," Pramon said.