Critics have questioned why so much corruption and irregularities within government agencies have been detected nationwide despite the fact that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) announced after it seized power that it regarded graft eradication as its top priority.
“When the NCPO came to power, corruption surveys found a clear drop in occurrences, but then the index rose again in subsequent years though the corruption level is still lower than before the NCPO arrived,” Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand secretary-general Mana Nimitmongkol said.
“We analysed and believe the networks of cheaters gradually found loopholes or believed the NCPO’s anti-graft mechanisms could not do anything to them,” he said. “Moreover, high-ranking officials over the past two years have not continuously and effectively followed up on corruption as they have paid more attention to other areas of work.”
Mr Mana highlighted that the credit for the recent exposure of corruption cases must go to the public and civil society, as the only recent case exposed by internal auditing agencies is the alleged malfeasance involving the Sema Phatthana Chiwit Fund of the Education Ministry.
Thailand Development Research Institute researcher Tippatrai Saelawong, who studies corruption in Thailand, agrees on the role of the individual and civil societies. He said, however, despite the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) being very active over the past year, it has yet to show its effectiveness.
“The PACC found evidence of corruption in welfare funds in dozens of provinces, but it has just appointed probe committees for about 10 provinces and I don’t know how many people in how many cases will be prosecuted eventually,” he said, adding that it was time for the government to tackle the issue seriously and prosecute wrongdoers.
“If the government is serious in fighting corruption, government agencies should constantly update people on the progress of graft probes so that they have no doubts about whether the agencies are trying to prolong the cases or are being lenient or not,” he said.
“While high-ranking officials, such as those at ministry permanent secretary level, are allegedly involved in scandals, the government must be transparent in its investigations and to ensure penalties for wrongdoers. Otherwise, the people will lose confidence,” Mr Tippatrai added.
PACC secretary-general Kornthip Daroj, meanwhile, said corruption is a persistent problem in Thailand. However, after the NCPO seized power, checks have intensified and more people are willing to provide information, he added.
“People are more confident about giving information to the PACC as they are confident in the government,” Lt Col Kornthip said.
“Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has given the green light to investigations and he requires the PACC to update him weekly on our work.”
He also gave credit to whistle-blower Panida Yotpanya, a Mahasarakham University student, who exposed suspected corruption at a welfare centre in Khon Kaen that led to probes into cheating at other funds.
“In many places that we go to investigate, we have found that villagers do not give in to graft any more. In cases where corrupt government officials paid them to change their testimony, they recorded and exposed the misconduct,” he said.
The graftbuster said government officials have a lot of money at their disposal and, unless they are mentally strong enough, they can fall prey to greed. As well as a good system to directly hand money to eligible people, government offices have to work harder to promote the rights of the people.
Mr Mana said that as the NCPO stepped up measures and set up agencies to fight corruption, some progress has been made. He welcomed legal tools such as laws on the facilitation of government services, the law on state procurement and the establishment of a court for corruption cases.
However, he said he wanted to see more achievements by state investigation agencies.
“People in these [internal auditing] agencies are normally not promoted and not empowered,” he said. “Many of them have nothing to do. And many times when they report graft suspicions to the agency head, the issues have been covered up or downplayed.”
Mr Tippatrai said he also wanted to see more active work from the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Office of the Auditor-General.
He also raised concerns that some people who work with the National Anti-Corruption Board, chaired by Gen Prayut, have doubts about the body as one of its prominent members is Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who is being investigated over the scandal related to his collection of luxury watches.
Thailand scored 37 in the Corruption Perceptions Index for 2017 released by Transparency International, compared to 35 in 2016. However, the global average score was 43.
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