Fight against corruption not for the faint-hearted

opinion January 09, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

2,298 Viewed

Self-seeking voters must change their ways if Thailand is to move forward

Anti-corruption campaigns have been filling our TV screens lately, in a move obviously aimed at countering a worsening problem.

The latest calls for citizens to reject any graft by public officials. The ad suggests that the isolated actions of individuals are not enough. Instead, widespread social sanction is needed to prevent unscrupulous people from milking public projects and taxpayers’ money for their own gain.

In the ad, several citizens confront a corrupt official (who has the word “corrupt” helpfully written across his forehead). He hits back by challenging their ability to have him punished. He surrenders only when others in the room have the courage to rise up and denounce corruption.

While there’s no doubt that most of us want to see Thailand’s systemic graft stamped out, simply having people stand up against corrupt officials and politicians will not achieve this aim. In real life the situation is more complex. The culture of corruption in public life has become deeply rooted. It is no longer confined to requests from minor officials for bribes or kickbacks. Government policy and laws have been adopted or amended to facilitate large-scale corruption in national schemes.

Some of us shrug off the issue and accept that every government is corrupt and that “some corruption” by politicians from our favourite party is okay. Surveys have even shown that many find graft acceptable as long as they too benefit from it. Such findings perhaps help explain why so many corrupt politicians get re-elected. Many of us seem to prioritise private gain over national interest, especially when it comes to voting.

The benefit obtained from voting for these politicians is more obvious and concrete than that gained from keeping crooks out of politics.

Can we be surprised, then, when we get a new government that is just as corrupt as the one before?

When it comes to tackling government graft, the five-point proposal of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand should serve as a guideline. It calls for the law to be amended to make corruption a serious crime and threat to national security, with correspondingly severe punishment. It also wants a national campaign to promote ethical governance, and school curriculum reformed to instil moral repugnance for corruption among children. The proposal calls for better funding for watchdogs, such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission, and the introduction of transparency measures in line with the 2003 United Nations Convention against Corruption.

There is little doubt that such measures are urgently required to solve a problem that has taken root so deeply. Corrupt politicians are reportedly able to cheat the taxpayer of up to 30 per cent of a large project’s worth, which can mean billions of baht. Corruption on this scale is something Thailand simply cannot afford.

The momentum for change is gathering fast. There is growing agreement that reforms are needed. We need the will, conviction and courage to stamp out the culture of corruption. But that will only be come to the fore in citizens who put their country’s interests above their own. Self-seeking voters and so-called democracy lovers who see no immediate threat in corruption must change their ways if Thailand is to progress.