Yingluck must set an anti-graft example

opinion March 03, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Pheu Thai's attitude toward corruption charges linked to the rice scheme is deplorable Let's get this straight: The Pheu Thai Party, or what it used to be, has not been picked on by the constitutional anti-corruption mechanism. Before Thaksin Shinawatra

It’s the resistance to what the anti-graft mechanism has tried to do that has amplified the woes of Pheu Thai, as well as the People Power and Thai Rak Thai parties. Of course, what happened to the late Samak Sundaravej may seem suspicious. But his cooking show on TV made him lose the prime minister’s post at a time when the fight against corruption had become highly politicised, with politicians in power only to blame.

“Two wrongs can’t make a right” or so they say. That’s probably true, but one wrong in a nation’s fight against corruption is enough to send everything down the slippery slope. When one big fish is let off the hook, or allowed to abuse power to defend himself or herself illogically, the whole anti-graft system is weakened; an agency is at risk of becoming exploited, politicised and in danger of losing all credibility.

There were no anti-government crowds on the streets after Thaksin Shinawatra was acquitted by the Constitution Court. When he was convicted by the Supreme Court’s political division of illegally endorsing his former wife’s purchase of a block of state land, he fled and decried a

“judicial conspiracy”. Thailand’s

anti-corruption campaign has been in deep trouble.

The Pheu Thai Party’s attitude toward the National Anti-Corruption Commission’s attempt to probe the controversial rice-pledging scheme is deplorable. The ruling camp has asked why the NACC has moved so quickly on this issue while seemingly ignorant of cases involving others. That might be a sound political question, but it’s an absolutely poor ethical stance. You don’t defend yourself by saying others may have done the same thing and got away with it. As far of corruption is concerned, you defend yourself by proving, in a fair and transparent manner, that you did not do it.

The rice-pledging scheme is controversial on a grand scale. Among those who have warned that the programme would court massive corruption are respected figures, some of who even worked for the Yingluck government. If the fact that the government shrugged off the warnings and went ahead with such a highly-suspect policy has been portrayed by Pheu Thai as political courage, those responsible for the policy should also be brave enough to face public scrutiny.

There are several reasons why a war on corruption succeeds or fails. The most important factor, however, is political will. If the politicians in power do not respect the rules on corruption, all hell can break loose. And the PM only has herself to blame on why her pledge to defend “democratic rules” to the bitter end has met with contempt.

Last week, Yingluck only sent a legal team to meet the National Anti-Corruption Commission over the rice scheme charges. But whether she will defend herself according to the rules and whether she will accept the final verdict remain key questions.

It would be far easier for Thailand if politicians – whether from Pheu Thai or the Democrats – were ashamed of graft, and even the mere hint of it. But that may be just a wishful thinking, as corruption has become so intertwined with politics and democracy as a whole. They call it a slippery slope because it’s virtually impossible to get back up, and, considering present attitudes, we are probably only half way down.