Only the facts can cure the ills
Driving along Srinakarin Road last week, I had a good view of a red Lamborghini. The first thing that came to my mind was that in a city notorious for traffic jams, there are still people who want to buy supercars, just to get stuck in traffic!
One of my travelling companions said a rich politician must have bought it for his young son. She was right: sitting behind the wheel was guy who looked to be in his early 20s. Another said the car could be worth less than Bt10 million, if it was imported in parts and assembled later; many influential people have done that. Then, our conversation went on, focusing on politicians and the huge sums involved in elections.
Last weekend when Thai Airways International's ground service staff went on strike, demanding a higher bonus and a pay hike, my friend in a LINE group chat wondered how THAI could register a net profit last year when many other airlines show losses. Clearly oblivious to the existence of generally-accepted accounting standards, or rating companies, she suspected that THAI must have hidden something in its accounts. She also suspected that the strike took place because people in high places still enjoy handsome benefits, at the cost of employees.
To me, the two conversations lead to one conclusion: Thais love guessing, and have only a slight urge to find evidence to support their guesswork. They guess according to their perception of the issues. And once words slip from their mouths, few are willing to welcome others' opinions that contradict their thinking. Soon, they forget, and move on to another subject.
Matter-of-factly, this is also the case among Thai news reporters. It is thus not surprising that, in reporting, they depend mainly on people's word, not fact-finding missions. It explains why there have been few reports on the dubious wealth of politicians. An argument is that investigating such things is time-consuming. I guess another argument is how many Thais would spend time reading such thorough investigative reports.
Each year, newspapers want to win awards for investigative reporting. But there should be a survey to find out how many Thais actually read award-winning pieces and how the pieces can reshape Thai society. Indeed, Twitter and Facebook seem to play a bigger role in influencing society, though account owners are not professional journalists. More people want to be part of the social media, to speak their mind via new gadgets.
Because they can choose who to follow, this helps explain why the social division keeps getting worse. Most Thais are willing to dwell on some issue that takes their interest, but totally ignore other issues they consider irrelevant to their lives. I'm convinced that if a poll was conducted now to gauge public perception on former transport permanent secretary Supodh Suplom's corruption case, many would ask, "Who is Supodh?" Likewise, they may remember that Sorrayuth Suthassanachinda was charged with corruption, but few would know the root of the charge.
To Pramon Sutivong, chief of the Anti-Corruption Network, this must be disheartening. Many Thais may have joined the network's course, but the majority is still oblivious to rampant corruption.
There are other efforts to reign in corruption. Recently, a TV commercial appeared on Thai PBS, featuring a high-school boy promising to give friends Bt100 each if they vote for him the class leader. Finding this out, his mother scolded him: "You start bribing this young, you know how this will affect the nation?" The commercial could have been more interesting, if the mother's reasoning was made more understandable to her son.
But importantly, if corruption is to wither away, one Thai value must be changed. Thais need to be more aware of facts, rely less on guessing, and strive for greater social responsibility. This can be achieved, if we truly understand the meaning of rights and duties.
The Pheu Thai Party deserves criticism for many policies, chiefly the rice-pledging scheme. Criticism heightens as it insists on continuing with the corruption-plagued scheme. The issue here is how the party will plug the loopholes: to ensure that farmers really enjoy the benefits and the chain of corruption is broken - if the party truly believes that this is the best way to allocate national resources. The party needs to realise that it has the right to the resource allocation, but the general public also has rights and duties to scrutinise its means. Pheu Thai supporters should embrace fact-based comments.
Likewise, the Democrats also have to take responsibility if Bangkok governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra is eventually convicted of a corruption case linked to the skytrain contract. If Sukhumbhand is certain that his means to extend the contract 17 years before the concession ends (as opposed to three years in New York) is righteous, he has to defend himself vigorously, as the general public also has the right and duty to scrutinise. Democrat supporters should stop saying that the Department of Special Investigation, which is pursuing the case, is being used as a political tool, if the DSI's charge is based on fact.
Is it time to put prejudice aside and pay more attention to facts? Yes, the Lamborghini driver may have got the car through unscrupulous means, but just guessing won't validate wicked thoughts about him.