Narcotics and illegal logging - the similarities

opinion August 10, 2014 01:00

By The Nation

Will our enforcement officers ever have the courage and integrity to go after the big fish?

In a country where narcotics is a very serious problem, what happened to an innocent young girl recently was hard to believe. But then again, Thailand is a country where crackdown on crimes are often showcases rather than policies. It’s not just narcotic drugs that have been subjected to on-and-off campaigns by the authorities. Illegal logging, gambling, forced prostitution and human trafficking all are treated more or less the same way.
The 21-year-old university student had her car surrounded by gun-waving plain-clothed officers. She drove her car into a nearby vehicle, hoping the “accident” would create a scene and thus lead to her “rescue”. The officers fired shots, not at her, but the tyres in a bid to stop her. By the time it was clear that the tip-off was a bad one, she was extremely terrified and the police department had its face red in extreme embarrassment.
We can only wish our narcotics officers were as active where it really matters. Everyone knows that the narcotics trade involves influential people or even some politicians but “drug busts” so far have only put away peddlers or those manning factories. And we don’t know how many innocent suspects have suffered in the process.
The incident involving the girl, while potentially tragic, could have been understandable but for the reputation of the Thai police. If Thailand’s law enforcement and the justice system as a whole have left no stone unturned in their war on drugs, shooting at the tyres of an innocent person’s car may not have been such a big embarrassment. 
Instead, this kind of incident only confirms that our people in charge always get it all wrong. A few years ago, numerous extra-judicial killings were sanctioned by the political powers-that-be. Nobody knows how many involved wrong leads, but what happened to the university girl did not fill us with optimism.
Like deforestation, fighting the narcotics trade requires drastic measures. The problem is, those in charge in Thailand take “drastic” the wrong way. Much of the drastic action that is truly effective takes place behind the scenes. It involves uncompromising decisions to go all the way and get the big guys, no matter how wealthy or influential they are or how big the bribes they are ready to pay. “Drastic” means relentless investigation that makes the maximum use of human and financial resources.
We have full-moon parties and still stories like one involving a farang arrested in a sting operation for smoking weed in his apartment. On narcotics, Thailand has a death penalty, but the corrupt practices make it so unpredictable when the authorities would get serious, tempting potential criminals and confusing others.
Since the coup, seizure of illegal logs has increased dramatically. We wonder who will finally get punished and whether even the soldiers with near-summary power will crack under deep-rooted corruption. As importantly, it remains to be seen what happens once the soldiers leave the scene and the police and ordinary politicians resume full control. 
Thailand is a few places on earth where people will start to question the police’s motives when the officers get serious about certain crimes. Gambling, prostitution and drugs are often treated by the police as “seasonal” vices, despite the fact that they are always there, under their noses.
The girl will get a new car and speak at police gatherings to relate the “cautionary tale”. It’s all the police can do to save whatever is left of their image. But the nature of Thai crimes doesn’t need yelling officers waving guns amid Bangkok traffic as much as it requires integrity and courage to get to the big fish and never let them off the hook.