Corruption in Thailand? Instead of Going After Thaksin, the Thai People Should Go After the Military

From Wikipedia on Thaksin (source), in 2001, Thailand’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score was 32 (ranked 61), whilst in 2005, the CPI was 38 (ranked 59).

Thailand dropped three positions in the latest corruption index released in January 2019 by a Berlin-based transparency watchdog. Transparency International ranked Thailand 99th out of 180 countries in its annual index, which saw the kingdom fall two points to score 35. Zero represents complete corruption and 100 is complete transparency. The watchdog did not cite specific factors in Thailand’s decline (source).

Corruption in Thailand is a national issue.[1] Thai law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption. Thailand’s 2014 military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), stated that fighting corruption would be one of its main focus points, a common practice for military dictatorships following Thailand’s frequent military coups. Despite the promises, officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and the NCPO engaged in corrupt practices itself.[2][3]

Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks the country 96th place out of 180 countries.[4] The index examines public sector corruption.

“Even though Thailand has the legal framework and a range of institutions to effectively counter corruption, all levels of Thai society continue to suffer from endemic corruption.”[5]

Prayut has taken credit for stamping out corruption and blames the poor economy on his handling of corruption in Thailand: “Today the economy is slowing down because previously everybody had money to spend,” Prayut said on 5 June 2015 in a nationally televised speech. “But now we have a problem,… It’s because some people spend money from illegal businesses and money from fraud. Now the government has come to set things right, causing that money to disappear.”[17]

Many critics asserted that the junta’s rhetoric on corruption was little more than an excuse to hold on to power. “What the army has done…is ramp up on anti-corruption rhetoric, and part of that is to explain away why the economy has been performing below potential….There is little evidence on the policy front that the army government has made much progress in making state enterprises or the civil service more accountable to the public.” said Ambika Ahuja, a London-based analyst at Eurasia Group, a political-risk adviser.[17] Blaming corruption is standard practice for Thailand’s military takeovers, Ambika said. “Every army government uses it as one of the reasons, if not the main reason, for launching a coup. It justifies a takeover.”[17] Ahuja’s views were borne out in November 2015, when a media storm erupted over alleged corruption in the Rajabhakti Park project in Hua Hin.

Critics also argued that the junta’s stance on corruption was used to get rid of political dissent.[15] The most notable case was an alleged corruption charge for the mishandling of a rice subsidy policy brought up against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose democratically elected government was overthrown by the Junta in 2014. Other members of Yingluck’s government were also charged with corruption for the rice policy, with two of Yingluck’s ministers receiving a staggering 42 and 36-year prison sentence for the corruption charges respectively. The legitimacy of the charges has been questioned since their inception, critics pointed to the unusually severe sentences as an indication they were politically motivated.[20]

In January 2017, Thailand’s University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce‘s (UTCC) “Corruption Situation Index” (CSI) claimed that national corruption was on the decline, reaching the lowest level in six years. The UTCC claimed that corruption began to ease in the latter half of 2014 after the military seized power and set up a junta-controlled government. Since then, the UTCC stated that annual losses attributed to corruption have averaged 120 billion baht, down from about 300–400 billion baht in previous years.[21]

However, the international corruption index from Transparency International showed no change in their corruption index for Thailand between 2014 and 2015,[22] and that corruption actually worsened from 2015 to 2016.[23][24] Other corruption agencies also noted a decline in transparency since the 2014 coup d’état, especially in the judicial system and in civil society where the media is restricted and influenced by the military government and criticism of the current regime is heavily suppressed.[25]

At a more grassroots level, citizens disgruntled with seemingly entrenched nature of Thai corruption have pursued other means of expressing their displeasure with the corrupt status quo, including the use of graffiti.[26]

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