Fixing corruption in our govt system must be a top priority

opinion February 11, 2014 00:00

By Special to The Nation

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If Thailand is to compete with China and its rivals in Asia and elsewhere, fixing the corruption within our government system must be the priority.

For political reform in Thailand, we offer the following suggestions:
6 Consequences for election fraud and vote buying
Any politician found to be involved in election fraud and vote-buying (including giving “gift” money to community leaders to hold meetings, or as wedding/birthday gifts, etc) will be handed a mandatory jail term and fine and be banned for life from politics (retroactive effect, and no statute of limitations).
Political debates and/or public hearings must be a requirement prior to the election of the PM or other high-level politicians in government.
7 Minimum qualifications for ministerial appointees
Ministers, deputy ministers and ministerial advisers must be selected (and vetted) on the principle of the “best-qualified person for the job” and not by political quota. Nominated candidates and their advisers must be the best-qualified choices, possessing the best technical background and professional experience in the relevant field.  
Such positions play critical roles in advancing the national interest and are thus not to be handed to unskilled and inexperienced individuals or unqualified publicly elected representatives.
Thus, all such senior appointees must be vetted and approved by an independent panel of experts from the relevant professional societies or associations. 
For example, the nominated candidate for Justice Minister must receive confirmation from a panel formed by the Bar Association. Likewise, the candidate for Commerce Minister must receive the green light from a panel formed by the Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
8 MPs are not eligible for any ministerial post
At present politicians fight for ministerial posts, eager to get their hands on the large budgets and their attendant kickbacks. Ministries with smaller budgets are generally considered “second-rate” and less desirable among senior politicians. 
To minimise the chance of corruption, all future elected MPs are ineligible for ministerial positions. 
Instead, their role is to set the national agenda and serve as watchdogs, ensuring that government officials and ministries perform as stated in their policy, ending the practice of buying votes, which inevitably leads to corruption in office.
9 Check and balance
At present we have no effective means to prosecute corrupt law-enforcement officers, district attorneys, judicial staff and ministers. Existing ones are often lengthy, clumsy and next to useless. 
These corrupt individuals can lie in public or behave in unethical ways to support corrupt officials without fear of legal consequences. This is because there are few checks and balances in our judicial system. So how can we bring such individuals to book?   
One suggestion is via a special prosecuting unit attached to the high court, with the authority and resources to expedite arrests without requiring approval for warrants from officials who could be corrupt. Recall that the Chinese government has prosecuted more than 209,000 national and civic officials in the past five years.
10 Public authority to remove elected MPs and senior government officials
Thailand has 500 elected MPs and a handful of senior government officials in key critical positions that are vital to our national interests. With the population at 67 million, each MP represents 134,000 Thais.  
At present, elected MPs with a record of corruption can only be impeached by their peers – a process that will never be initiated, since these MPs are well protected by their political parties.  
Reforms must give citizens the authority to remove any elected or appointed government official or senior official via a mass petition. For example: 
 Removing an MP would require 500,000 signatures of eligible voters;
Removing a minister or senior government official (such as the chief of police), 1 million signatures;
Removing the prime minister, 1.5 million signatures.
11 Education on election and fraud
This should start as early as possible (in elementary school) to a cultivate strong sense of civic duty from an early age.
The Election Commission should routinely run courses at all levels of education on individuals’ electoral rights and responsibilities.
All candidates for Parliament must sign a public oath against all forms of corruption and election fraud, as well as publicly denouncing election fraud and vote buying.  
All ballot booths and polling stations must post lists of all forms of election fraud, corrupt acts, and the legal consequences of such violations.  
 Each voter must read, sign and take home a one-page contract stating that he/she has not engaged in any form of electoral fraud – taking bribes or any form of compensation from any candidates – with the penalties for doing so clearly stated.
12 Disclosure of all forms of gifts
Since corruption has plagued Thai politics and government system for so long, one way to begin the clean-up process is to require that all public officials publicly disclose all forms of gifts and monetary contributions received while in office.  
In the State of New Jersey, a major corruption case at a university led to just such a requirement of state employees. Failure to report, or giving false information, is considered professional misconduct and thus risks dismissal.
Each New Jersey state university has set up an ethics office to force staff, annually, to turn in any presents they receive from students and others. The collected presents are then donated to charities and hospitals.
13 Nepotism laws
Major corporations in the US rarely allow family members to work in the same place due to conflict of interests. Likewise, in Thailand we need better regulations against politicians appointing relatives to key positions in the government.
14 Reforms for sustainable growth and long-term prosperity
Educational system: True democracy is not just about rights, but also about responsibilities and good citizenship. The majority of the Thai populace only understand and demands the first half of the definition – their rights. No one, especially not the government, cares about individual responsibilities and good citizenship. In addition to poverty (and wealth inequality), failures in our education system are deemed the major culprit for this ignorance. One key to the success of mature democracies is the level of education of their citizens. 
Their populations are educated well enough to know what true democracy is and what their individual responsibilities are to make it work. If Thailand is serious about having true democracy underpin its social order, then major education reforms, particularly at pre-college level, must be carefully planned, developed and implemented. 
The two-sides of the coin of true democracy must be instilled in our children from the earliest possible age. The same goes for campaigns against corruption and materialism. Subjects related to civic and religious duties, social ethics and morals, and history must be brought back with strong commitment and support to ensure their effective delivery.
This is the second instalment of a three-part article to be concluded tomorrow.