Over the past few years the economic and political news from both Western nations and Thailand has been generally negative and riven with missed opportunities to roll back corruption, in both the financial and political arenas.
So when I was contacted by a member of the Royal Thai Police requesting a donation of some “tea money” to smooth the process of my application for citizenship of the Kingdom of Thailand, it didn’t come as a surprise.
The request was made via a telephone call to my wife, a Thai national, by a female police officer from the department that had been dealing with my application. A figure of Bt40,000 was requested as an initial “sweetener” to begin the application process.
As a long-term resident of this country, who understands how “donations” of “tea money” can speed up the bureaucratic process, my initial reaction was to agree to pay the sum. My wife’s reaction, I was surprised to find, was against it!
She said that, for Thailand to change its culture of endemic corruption, it had to start at the level of the individual. She said she would contact her sister for advice. Her sister contacted then-member of Parliament Vilas Chanpitaksa, who presented the case to the Interior Minister with the demand that my application be based on merit alone, and not on the amount of money given to police officials. I wish to state that I had never met or had communication with Vilas prior to this point.
Fortunately, my wife had taped the conversation she had with the police official, and when this was presented as evidence to the Interior Minister, it was clear that my application was the subject of a money-making scheme by this officer.
Under the direction of Vilas, my case was investigated, and higher-ranking police officers were made aware of the allegations. Subsequent investigations by Vilas revealed that more than 100 other applications for Thai citizenship had been held up pending payment of “tea money”.
My case and these other cases were brought up in Parliament, where Vilas stated that, through the actions of Interior Ministry, this corrupt practice had been uncovered and dealt with.
When foreigners and some Thais judge this country negatively and cynically state that things will never change here, I would like them to remember this case as clear evidence to the contrary.