First shot fired in battle against border corruption

opinion September 10, 2015 01:00

By The Nation

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Immigration police have been given a warning but there's plenty more to do if we want to secure the gates of the country

National police chief General Somyot Poompanmuang has made a surprise move worthy of praise barely three weeks before his mandatory retirement at the end of this month.
Speaking to a group of 250 senior immigration officers from around the country on Monday, he presented them with a damning report outlining six major misdeeds committed by members of their ranks. The police chief also warned the immigration police commissioner he would be punished if he failed to rein in his men, many of whom are suspected of being involved in illegal activities deemed a national threat.
Somyot’s report, which is based on evidence collected over the past year, details how immigration officers have helped illegal migrants to enter and remain in Thailand without the necessary documentation in exchange for bribes. They were also accused of demanding under-the-table fees from tourists applying for visas on arrival at Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports in the capital.
The national police chief also ordered immigration police to intensify screening of foreigners at border checkpoints following news that suspects in last month’s deadly bomb attack entered the country through a border point in Sa Kaew province. Somyot, who has ordered the transfers of Sa Kaew’s senior immigration officers, said human traffickers and criminals were exploiting border-security loopholes to enter the country.
Foreign tourists and expatriates have long complained of inconsistent treatment at the hands of Thai immigration police. A frequently heard grumble concerns constant rule changes at border checkpoints – which are often resolved by the offer of a small bribe.  
Immigration police serve as “sentries” at the gates to the country. Their core task is to secure those gateways against anyone who may pose a threat to national security if allowed to enter. If they can be persuaded by a bribe to look the other way, the country is placed in peril.
As such, corrupt immigration officers in effect pose a security threat, helping facilitate the passage of criminals or even terrorists into the country.
Fortunately, the bombing of Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine last month was an anomaly – Thailand has rarely been a target for foreign terrorists. However, security experts say that international terrorists have entered Thailand repeatedly in past years, but they consider the Kingdom a safe haven rather than a target.
A number of terrorist suspects wanted abroad have been arrested here and extradited. These include al-Qaeda-linked terrorist leader Riduan Isamuddin, better known by his nom de guerre, “Hambali”, who was suspected of masterminding the fatal 2002 Bali bombing. He was arrested in Ayutthaya province in 2003 and later extradited to the United States.
The national police chief has done the right thing in rebuking immigration officials and warning their commander over problems of corruption and inefficiency. However, with less than a month left of his term in office, Somyot doesn’t have enough time to tackle the serious level of corruption that seems to have infected the border guards.
His successor, Police General Jakthip Chaijinda, will have to take up the task when he is sworn in as national police chief on October 1. Jakthip’s challenge is a tough one – to change a work culture that has been far too tolerant of corruption in the Immigration service and other police agencies.