PSPD l People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy
Thailand : Fight against Corruption
- 2001.01.31 (00:00:00)
Thailand: Fight against Corruption
Corruption has been the serious problem in Thailand for many years. It has been widespread, deeply rooted, well-organized and tolerated. However, during the past five years, there was a clear attempt to fight against corruption. The paper aims to examine changes in environment through the political reform to combat corruption, review perception and experience of private sector on the issue of corruption in the public sector, and analyze the role and impact of social movement on the fight against corruption.
II. Political Reform
An attempt to reform the politics through the constitutional movement has occurred clearly since 1991. In the past, there were 15 constitutions in Thailand during 1932-1997. The draft of present constitution has passed by the parliament in October 1997. There are several key challenges to the new constitution.
2.1 New Constitution.
The new version of constitution was called people"s charter because this is the first constitution that people could participate during the process of drafting. This made the 16th constitution completely different from the previous constitutions, which most Thai constitutions have been drafted by those close to the military juntas. The new constitution concerns the essence of the so-called social contract between the state and the people. In 1996 a Constitution Drafting Assembly, consisting 99 members, was formed, one member was elected in each province, totally 76 members. Another 33 members were appointed from politicians and academics. Essential substance of the new charter lies in the promotion and protection of rights and liberties of the people, provision of public participation in the governance and inspecting the exercise of State power as well as improving a political structure to achieve more efficiency and stability. This provides new instruments for people to get control over the state.
The Constitutional Drafting Assembly took nearly 1 year to draft and to conduct the public hearing all around the country. It has been argued that the process of consultation with the public through the Constitution drafting was at least as important as the resulting document.
Because the process of making the new constitution encourages people to participate to determine and protect their rights and liberties. In addition, the movement increase people"s knowledge on the constitution, therefore, the constitution is not only the law that had been employed by the Parliament like in the past, but also the people can make use of the law too.
As noted in the statement of the former Prime Minister, Anand Panyarachun at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on August 27, 1997: This is the first time in the 65-year history of Thailand"s democracy that the draft is being drawn up, not by the elite, not by the people in power, but it"s being drawn up by layman such a diverse groupsuch different conceptions and background
The new constitution creates the new way to "checks and balances the system". This is achieved through a decentralisation of power from the central government to independent institutions of state. This, in turn, creates significant opportunities for public participation. It strengthens people"s power in getting control over the state. These new independent institutions are:
1. Election Commission (EC). The Election Commission will control, arrange and organize the election of members of Parliament House, senators, members of local administrations and local assemblies. The institution aims to ensure a fair and clean public referendum. The commission is empowered to order re-counts of votes, annual election results, and call new elections. The election of senators during March June 2000, in which some provinces have 4 senator elections due to electoral cheating.
2. The National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC). The NCCC has replaced the former Counter Corruption Commission (CCC) with more powerful and different duties. The CCC was founded in 1976 to investigate the government official"s corruption and was under supervision of the prime minister"s office. But the main duty of NCCC is mainly to investigate the corruption problems against the MPs, senators, cabinet members, and high government officials, including those of independent government bodies and law courts. The Commissioners were appointed by the Senate. The office will have a free hand in its staffing, budgeting, and other aspects of its management permitted by law. As the NCCC is very important in dealing with the corruption directly, the NCCC will be discussed in details in other sub-section.
3. Parliamentary Ombudsmen (PO). The PO will consider and investigate people"s complaints against government officials and employees of government organisations, state enterprises and local administrations.
4. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The NHRC was set up to investigate and report acts or ommissions which have led to violations of human rights. This will help to promote human rights, according to the international treaties to which Thailand is a signatory, and compile an annual report.
5. The Administrative Court (AC). The AC will try cases arising from disputes among government agencies, local administrations and official involving the performance of a duty or failure to perform a duty. Ordinary citizens have the right to sue government agencies through the regular courts.
6. The Constitutional Court (CC). The CC will work on complains involving actions or law contradict provisions of the Constitution and on disputes regarding the power or duties of state organisations under the Constitution.
7. The Public Finance Audit Commission (PFAC). The PFAC has replaced the office of Auditor, which was under the supervision of the office of Prime Minister.
The commissioners were appointed by the Senate. These independent organisations have been founded to place these bodies beyond the control or influence of politicians or political parties. The nomination of members of the bodies will be made by neutral and well qualified selection committee and forwarded to the Senate for approval. This system allows to monitor the State"s power. Said Anand Punyarachun:
In the past, politicians could sin, commit wrong-doings, and they would go scot-free. We introduced a system of monitoring, a system of impeachment. We strengthened all the existing institutions and we created new ones, to make them more independent not subservient to the government, but responsible to the Parliament..We have converted the Senate from a rather ineffective law-making body, into a monitoring institution. Senators will not have the power to initiate legislationbut they will have much more power to monitor the performance of the government and the performance of the elected members of the House of Representaives.
The Constitution also increases civil rights and civil liberties through the introduction of people"s participation. There are several measures that allow people to have direct participation to the process of decision making of the State. In the past, the participation of people has only done through the election of the representative. These measures include:
1. Right to know. The people are entitled to access to information concerning the records of government agencies except when disclosure of such information will jeopardise national security, public safety, or interests protected by the law of any individual. However, this right was defined in detail by the Information Act, passed by the Parliament almost the same time as the approval of the Constitution. Under Section 59, individuals are entitled to receive information, explanations and reasons from government agencies, state enterprises or local administrative organisations before approving or carrying out projects or any activity which could affect the environment, health, quality of life or benefits of individuals and their communities.
The law is said to be a revolution of the bureaucratic culture. As most government officials consider that it is their duty to protect state information. According to the law, bureaucrats will have to change the long-entrenched attitude to make them think that it"s honorable, not degrading, to serve up the information to the public.
However, as the Information Act was drafted and passed independently from the Constitution. The new Information Office was set up and under supervision of the Office of the Prime Minister that may allow the interference from the politicians.
Details of the law and its practice during the past 2 years are discussed separately in other sub-section.
2. The Removal from Office. Member of the Houses of Representatives of not less than one-fourth of the total member of the existing members of the Houses or voters of not less than fifty-thousand in number have the right to lodge with the President of the Senate a complaint in order to request the Senate to remove the persons from office. Such persons are the prime minister, a cabinet members, an MP, a senator, a chief justice, or a ranking bureaucrat for corrupt conduct in office or for an unjustifiable increase in wealth.
3. Freedom of the Press. The government may not impose a ban on printing, newspaper publishing, radio or television broadcasting, except when it is imposed by a court judge corresponding to law or during the time when the country is in the state of war or armed conflict. There shall be an independent State agency having the duty to distribute the frequencies and supervise radio and television broadcasting.
Such agency will be appointed by the Senate. In addition, officials or employees of media organisations, including those of state owned organisations, shall enjoy their liberties to present news and express their opinions under the constitutional restrictions without the mandate of any government agency, State agency, State enterprises or the owner of such businesses, providing that it is not contrary to their professional ethics.
After the May 1992 incident, the public demanded for radio and television reform. This was a result of the struggle of reliable information during the protest against the unelected Prime Minister in May 1992. On the other hand, the print media that had been more freedom has earned a greater degree of people"s acceptance from its defiant role during the crisis to function as a more reliable social "mirror" and has become a more independent channel for two-way communication. The government has begun to release the control over the media since the May 1992. The media reform is expected to increase the role of the media in policy advocacy. Thailand"s first independent television channel began transmission on 1 July 1996.
In addition, the new Constitution also promotes the decentralisation policy. The Constitution focuses clearly on control and monitoring on the local administration by the local people. Empowerment of the people can be done through several measures, including:
A requirement for mechanisms to be enacted to ensure true independence for local administrations in terms of power, function, finance and taxing ability. The proportion of local budget in national budget is clearly stated in the new constitution. For example, in the fiscal year 2001 the local budget must account for, at least, 20 per cent of the national budget; the proportion must increase to 35 per cent in fiscal year 2006. This encourages the central government to reform and transfer "activity, money and official" to the local government.
Election of members of local councils;
The power of local residents to remove chief executives and members of local councils; and The power of local residents to propose a local ordinance, signed by 50 per cent of a local administrative region"s residents, to be deliberated in the local legislative body.
2.2 Vote buying and dirty politics.
Money politics was argued to be the main root of corruption in Thailand. Under the new Constitution, the electoral system has aimed to reduce money politics, particularly vote-buying and the seeking of cabinet positions through money. The Secretary of the Constitution Drafting Assembly"s drafting committee, Borwornsak Uwanno said during the period of drafting that We have to know why politicians invest in electionsThai law is not like American Law, which has details that constrain the discretion of officials. But under Thai laws, full discretion has been given to cabinet ministers. So, that is the main cause of corruption. Politicians foresee that if they invest, for example, only 30 million baht in an election, they can get back more, even one billion baht (through investment). So they invest. The constitution attempts to combat vote buying through stronger monitoring and through the newly-instituted powers of the Election Commission to pronounce immediately on election fraud.
Although, we know that the vote-buying will result in unqualified politician gaining seat in the House of Representatives and thus the cabinet, the issues of vote-buying are complex because they tie to rural poverty, the patronage system, and the feudal attitudes. The vote-buying creates the so-called "political paradox" in Thailand.
The issue of the political paradox in Thailand is that a democratic system allows the rural majority to choose the government while the middle class who has less influenced on the composition of the house and cabinet, has more power to form an alliance to oust an elected government. Therefore, those who put the government into and those who end its life are not the same people. Moreover, these groups hold incompatible views of democracy.
For rural people, democracy is a mean to bring greater benefits and official attention to themselves and their villages. Voting in rural areas is not guided by political principles, policy issues, or what is perceived as the national interests mentioned above. Besides, voting decisions in rural Thailand have been conditioned initially by the relationships between patrons and clients.
But for educated middle class, democracy is a form of legitimate rule to recruit honest and capable persons, of course, this is the western concept of democracy. Often, the government in favor of the middle class, has been named as "the government for the rich not for the poor".
The political dilemma is, indeed, the mirror of the economic dilemma in Thai society. This leads to an increase in difficulty to reform the state as political stability is needed under the process of the reform.
Although the middle class has always voiced for more freedom and more democratic, they have never learnt how to solve the real problem of political paradox. The middle class should understand that democracy cannot survive as long as the huge socioeconomic gap between urban and rural areas or between the rich and the poor persists.
In sum, in the march towards political reform through the Thai Constitution reform, it has increased not only the degree of democratization, but also the degree of decentralization as well as the degree of participation of people on a democratic process. This gives right to more equitable distribution of political as well as economic power among the people.
2.3 Information Act.
Although it has been stated clearly in the constitution about the right to know, the movement to receive such right has begun since 1991. The information act was approved by the Parliament one month ahead of the 1997 constitution. The law has been contributed to democratic administration in the following aspects: According to the Official Information Act (OIA), information and state agency have been defined as follows:
information means a material which communicates matters, facts data or anything, whether such communication is made by the nature of such material itself or through any means whatsoever and whether it is arrange in a form of a document, file, book, diagramme, map, drawing, photograph, film, visual or sound recording, or recording by a computer or any other method which can be displayed; official information means an information in possession or control of a State agency, whether it is the information relating to the operation of the State or the information relating to a private individual; State agency means a central administration, provincial administration, local administration, State enterprise, Government agency attached to the National Assembly, Court only in respect of the affair unassociated with the trial and adjudication of cases, professional supervisory organisation, independent agency of the State and such other agency as prescribed in the Ministerial Regulation; (OIA, 2540: section 4).
The main purposes of the OIA are transparency, public participation accountability and fairness.
Transparency. It entitles the people to get access to the fact about the government"s current affair. Participation. The public can monitor the way the government works, at both national and local levels.
Accountability. With information about the state"s jurisdiction, the public will be able to analyse and decide for themselves whether the state"s undertakings are appropriate. The transparency of the government will prevent corruption and the state"s abuse of power from taking place.
Fairness. Knowing the scope of the state"s jurisdiction will ensure the public of what to expect, therefore, they can protect their rights and liberties when dealing with the state.
Until August 2000, the 368 cases have been appealed. Most of the case concentrated in the group of society, public administration and law enforcement. Approximately 90 per cent of the appeal cases were desired to open up the information. However, it was taken 4-5 months on average for the process.
2.4 National Counter Corruption Commission.
Thailand has had a Counter Corruption Commission since the early 1970s. However, with limited investigatory authority, no prosecutorial power, and under supervision of the Office of the Prime Minister, the CCC had been named as "paper tiger". It has never succeeded with "big fish" case. Most of their works contributed to investigate the problems of bureaucrats" petty corruption. However, under the 1997 Constitution, the organization has been reformed and empowered. The organization is independent from the elected politician and the cabinet.
Commissioners were appointed by the Senate. Scrutiny of politicians and officials by the NCCC can be initiated through one of four channels to obtain legal proof of corrupt behavior and unaccounted-for wealth:
1. A motion by the opposition for a no-confidence debate against the prime minister and cabinet members for corrupt behavior or unaccounted-for wealth which automatically requires an NCCC investigation.
2. A demand made by one quarter of the total MPs,
3. A demand made by 50,000 eligible voters.
4. Demands made by persons sustaining damage as a consequence of corruption..
In addition, the 1997 Constitution determines the anti-corruption measures to monitor the use of power of the politician. They include Codes of ethics for political office holders and bureaucrats; and codes of ethics for MPs, senators, and members of House committees be compiled;
MPs, senators and cabinet members forego access to concessions or contracts monopolistic in nature awarded by the government the private interests of office holders and the interests of the state must not conflict during or beyond their terms in the office; and Public office holders and ranking bureaucrats declare their assets and liabilities, as well as, those belonging to their children, prior to assuming office, and after leaving office, by means of official audits.
III Perception and experiences of business sector and household
3.1 Business sector
Faculty of Economics, Thai Chamber of Commerce University conducted the business environment and governance survey, aiming mainly to find constrains to business development, as well as the quality of public governance and services relating to corruption. The results of the survey, especially connecting to the perception and experience of business sector on corruption in the public sector, are summarized as follows:
1. Time spent in dealing with government officials. The results of the survey confirm that business enterprises in Thailand have experienced inefficiencies related from Thai bureaucratic red tape. Dealing with government officials about the application and interpretation of laws and regulations in Thailand is time consuming. From the survey results, on average senior managers have to spend 14 per cent of their management"s time a year dealing with the issues. Regarding to the size of firms, it seems that the smaller sized the firm is, the more time it has to spend. Small sized firms on average spend 15 per cent, medium sized spend 13 per cent and large sized spend 12 per cent of the management time. While firms in other sectors such as construction, commerce and manufacturing spend their time less orderly. Foreign owned firms tend to spend more of their management"s time than domestic owned firms (Table 1)
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2. Additional payments to public officials. Facing with bureaucratic inefficient, firms try to ease their obstacles by paying some extra money to get things done on time. This becomes common and appears to be customary. The survey results support this argument.
Table 2 shows that by about 79 per cent of the interviewed firms saying that it was always, mostly and frequently common for them to pay some additional payment. Besides, 74 per cent also said that they knew in advance about how much to pay. After the additional payment has been paid, the service is usually delivered as agreed.
Paying additional payments to government officials to get things done also gives consequential effect. That is when a firm pays additional payment to a particular government official, another government official will subsequently require an additional payment for the same service. This is always, mostly and frequently true for 67 per cent of the firms.
Besides, when a government agent acts against the rules, only 13 per cent said that they could always and mostly go to another official or to his superior and get the correct treatment without recourse to unofficial payments. However, 39 per cent said that they never and seldom could.
When additional payments are required, more than half of the firm (52%) said that it is known beforehand how to pay and how much to pay. In some cases, the government agent indicates or asks for a payment (25%). However, 23 per cent admitted that the enterprise also offer a payment. Therefore, the additional payment is regarded as being common and customary.
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3. Number of contacts, frequency and amount of extra payment. The survey also asked firms about their interactions with various public organizations. The questions include the frequency of contacts, frequency of unofficial payments, and amount of payments (Table 3).
Firms tend to pay the largest amount of extra payment to customs officials, followed by government procurement agents and tax agency inspectors. The public services where enterprises contact with most frequently are customs, tax agencies and traffic/other polices.
The frequencies of these contacts are consistent with the amount of payments, except traffic and other polices which less amount of payment is required. The public services that enterprises are most frequently requested for extra payments once if there is contact with them are: government procurement agents (57%), politicians influencing policies affecting enterprises (44%), and traffic and other polices (39%).
However, the amounts of extra payments vary, depending on the size and sector of firm. For small firms, the largest amount is paid to government procurement agents, followed by tax agency/inspectors and electricity power agents. For medium firms, the largest amount is paid to customs agents, followed by government procurement agents and tax agency/inspectors. Finally for large firms, the largest amount is paid to trade licensing and customs agents, followed by tax agency/inspectors and electricity power agents. The sector of business that seems to bear the highest payments is construction followed by manufacturing, agriculture and commerce. The sectors of manufacturing and services pay the largest amount to customs officials, while the sectors of commerce and construction pay the largest amounts to government procurement. Agricultural sector pays the largest amount to electricity services. For all sectors tax agents/inspectors come in the second place.
4. Corruption when doing business with the government. Corruption occurs not only when firms want to ease out the official rules or speed up the official process, as discussed earlier, but also when some firms seek opportunities to do government project, even in the bidding process. The surveys ask firms to rate degree of problems confronting them in the bidding process and how much they have to pay extra payment to secure the contract. The results show that the requirement of unofficial payments is rated as having major problems in the bidding process. Besides, 29 per cent of responding firms pay extra payment up to 10 per cent of contract value; about 8 per cent of firms pay between 11 to 20 per cent for extra payment. Difficulties of business in dealing with government officials have not been improved since the last three years.
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5. Cost of corruption. Approximately 29 per cent of firms report that the unofficial payments to public officials is less than 2 per cent of their total revenue per year; 17 per cent say that the cost of corruption account for 2-10 per cent of their total revenue; while about 9 per cent pay approximately 10-12 per cent of their total revenue (Table 4). To eliminate the corruption problem, firms are willing to pay average additional taxes 12.5 per cent of their revenues. Among three problems: corruption, crime and excessive regulations, firms feel that corruption is the most serious one, followed by excessive regulations. Therefore, they are willing to pay to eliminate the problems on corruption in the highest proportion compare with the other two problems (Table 5).
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3.2 Perception and Experience of Households
The national survey on perception and experience of household on corruption in the public
sector was conducted during October-December 1999. The results show that:
1. Perceptions of corruption as a national problem. Corruption in the public sector is perceived as the third worst national problem. About 40 per cent are willing to pay to eliminate the problem they identify as worst (Table 6). On average they will pay 3.8 per cent of annual household or 5,676 baht, yielding a national total of 35 billion baht.
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To eliminate the corruption in public sector, households, who identified corruption in the public sector as the worst problem, will pay 4.5 per cent of their annual income or 9,275 baht, yielding a national total of 5 billion baht (fifty times of the budget allocate to the NCCC in fiscal year 2001). However, when all households were asked directly what they would pay to eliminate corruption, one third would pay. Each is willing to pay 3.3 per cent of annual household income or 5,088 baht, yielding a national total of 26 billion, equivalent to almost 3 per cent of the 2001 government"s budget.
2. Bribe solicitation at public offices. The office where visitors are most likely to be asked for a bribe is the land office (Table 7). Almost 12 per cent of household visiting a land office in the past year had been asked for a bribe on at least one occasion. Other offices where bribe solicitation is common are the customs (10 per cent of visitors), police (9 per cent) and driving/auto licence issuers (8 per cent).
The average bribe solicited is highest at the police 9,588 baht, followed by the customs (8,428 baht), tax offices (6,287) and land offices (3,179 baht). Bribes solicited from offices supplying are significantly lower. As total amount of bribes solicited depend on frequency of visiting the office, the highest total amount of bribes solicited over the past year is at the land offices (5.1 billion baht), followed by the police at 4.8 billion and the tax offices at 3.5 billion. The amount of bribes solicited last year at the land offices, police and tax offices account for 34 per cent, 31 per cent and 23 per cent of the total amount bribes solicited respectively. The three offices account for approximately 87 per cent of the total amount of 15.4 billion solicited in bribes by the public offices in the survey (Table 7).
The driving/auto offices, customs, district and government schools each account for over 100 million baht in bribes solicited each year. However, the amount solicited by public services including electricity, water supply, public telephone postal, public hospital and trash collection are minimal.
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Besides, the frequency of soliciting bribes by the government offices is adversely related to the quality of the services provided by the government offices. For example, the customs, police and land offices have the highest frequency of soliciting bribes and the lowest ratings for service quality (Table 7).
On average, every household is solicited bribes of 970 baht per year from various offices. Approximately 10 per cent of all households were solicited for bribe over the past year. Among those households that were solicited, each pay almost 10,000 baht for bribe solicitation, mostly at the police, customs, tax and land offices.
In short, bribe solicitation is not the major factor in the delivery of normal household services, such as electricity supply, water supply, post offices and public telephone.
In general, households satisfy with these services with a few exceptions. Bribe solicitation is a major factor in any government office involved with transactions concerning money or property.
3. Mechanics of corruption. Most people are uncertain about the method to negotiate a bribe with an official. Only just over half could specify what happens in the majority of cases (Table 8). About 60 per cent of household, who were able to specify method, replied that they felt a need to pay without being requested, but were uncertain of the amount.
However, they noted that situations in which the official asked or hinted, or where the procedure (and amount) was generally known, were also quite common. About 54 per cent and 43 per cent were specified for the official requests and the method and amount was known beforehand respectively. For those households solicited bribe, about 62 per cent replied that the official was likely to request or hint for the bribe. However, nearly 50 per cent of those households solicited bribe indicated that they felt a need to pay and they knew how and what to pay.
Generally people are relatively certain that payment will increase the chance that a problem with an official would be resolved speedily and effectively. On a 7 point scale, the mean was 4.7 for all households who answered this question. The mean increased to 5.4 for all households who were solicited for bribe.
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4. Corruption in the judicial system. In general, both judges and public prosecutors are perceived as being honest. Nearly Eight per cent of households had made a court appearance in the past two year. Among those who have had experience of the judicial system, 31 per cent were asked for a bribe to secure a favorable court decision over the past year (Table 9). However, it should be noted that the bribe was conducted through the agents who claimed that they would distribute the money to judge, public prosecutor, court secretary, court clerk, police, and others. Among households who replied that a bribe was requested, only 56 per cent indicated the amount required. Among households who indicated an amount paid for a bribe in the judicial system, believed that, on average, public prosecutors received 30 per cent of the bribe, followed by judge (11%), court clerk (10%), court secretary (9%) and police (8%). The average amount of bribe per case in the judicial system is 34,531 baht slightly higher than average court expenses (32,003 baht). In half of the cases that a bribe amount was indicated, the court case had some economic value, such as property. In these cases, the average economic value of the case just over half a million baht, and the bribe indicted averaged 3.5 per cent of this value.
Those who had been asked for the bribes over the court case were uncertain whether payment made the outcome more certain. Forty-three per cent felt bribe did make the outcome more certain, but 33 per cent disagree and 24 per cent were neutral.
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5.Vote buying. The survey asked the question on whether the respondents were offered some money in exchange for their vote from the last elections: both general and local. The results show that almost one-third of households had been offered vote-buying at the general election in November 1996 (Table 10). Approximately one-fifth of those with the right to vote had been offered vote-buying at elections for municipalities and sanitary district councils over the past two years. However, the percentages of vote-buying for provincial council elections and for sub-district council elections were less than 10.
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At the last general election, the average amount offered per household was 678 baht. The amount offered was significantly higher in Bangkok area (1,142 baht) than in the rural area (554 baht). The total amount involved nationwide was around 3 billion baht, with around half offered in the rural area. For local elections, although the proportion of households offered money is less than in the general elections, the amounts tend to be higher. The average per household is in the range of 700 1,000 baht. In sum, the total amount offered in all elections amounted to 4.7 billion baht.
6.Combating corruption. The results from the survey indicate that people generally believe that official should be dealt with more harshly than common citizen over the corruption problems. Also Government should definitely make the fight against corruption one of its priorities. For the question of effective organization in combating corruption, the results show that people believe that media are the most effective institute, followed by the Counter Corruption Commission and academics/teachers. The least effective indicated from the survey are police and MPs.
For the mechanism to report the cases of corruption, only thirty per cent of households know how to report. Of these, 61 per cent believe it should be reported to the Counter Corruption Commission, and 57 per cent to the police (Table 11). Generally households are not sure about the effectiveness of corruption reporting process, but for those who know how to report a case of corruption are slightly more confident about the effectiveness. However, about 20 per cent of respondents had witnessed a case of corruption. Of those witnessed, only 5 per cent reported the case. Fifty-six per cent of witnessed a case thought, but did not report. Thirty-nine per cent of witness did not think to report. The main reasons for "not report a case" are fear of reprisals and doubt that anyone will be punished.
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Pasuk Phongpsichit et al. (2000) state the conclusion from their study as follows:
On the evidence of this survey, Thailand is not badly afflicted by the sort of low-level corruption characterised by the petty payments solicited regularly from ordinary people for the pursuit of normal public services. There is some of this, but not much. Despite frequent contact with government offices, 90 per cent of households claim not to be affected and a further 6 per cent are solicited for rather small sums (less than 1,000 baht annually).
Even so, public sector corruption remains a major problem, and is perceived as such. This problem falls into two parts. First, there is bribe solicitation, often on a large scale, confined to a few offices which have authority over transactions of money and property namely the customs, land and tax, offices plus the police. This practice also affected the judicial system to some extent, even though the judiciary in general is perceived as being less afflicted by corruption than the administrative bureaucracy and politicians.
Second, there is a major problem of corruption in the political system. This does not affect households directly and hence is not fully captured in this survey. It affects households indirectly in the number of politicians prepared to offer money for their votes. And it is something which households are aware of. People believe it is a problem which is bad and getting worse. Whereas a few years ago, they saw bureaucratic and political corruption as equally problematic, now there is no doubt that political corruption looms as the more serious problem.
At present people have little knowledge of or faith in mechanisms to combat these two forms of corruption. They are unlikely to use complaint procedures because they doubt they will be effective. They do not believe there is currently a strong political will for reform. They place some hope in the Counter Corruption Commission and in civil society (media, academics, teachers).
But they do not believe that combating corruption is yet a serious part of the national agenda.
IV. Social Movement against Corruption
To fight against, especially in the country with weak law enforcement, civil or social movement plays an important role. The case of making the 1997 Constitution in Thailand is a good example of social movement. The 1997 Constitution is totally different from other Constitutions that had been adopted in Thailand. One of the main essences of the new constitution is to monitor the use of power relating to corruption. To understand the role of social movement under the 1997 Constitution, the case of Public Health"s drug procurement scandal is discussed.
On June 15, 1998 the chairperson of the Rural Doctor Society (RDS) sent letters to the association members warning them to be watchful of the public health ministry"s allocation of budget for welfare services to the low-income people, which appeared to be dubious. This information was published in the newspaper. From then on, an influx of information on the corruption issue in the public health ministry started to come out continuously for several months.
According to an interview of one of the television broadcaster, the director of a provincial hospital has mentioned that:
Two months ago I was told by the provincial health chief that this year the hospital would get a 1 million baht budget for drug purchases, a substantial increase from the initial amount of 600,000 baht. But I was also told that we had to place orders with companies named by the senior persons in the Public Health Ministry, for example the Siam green Cross Supply (Nation, 2/9/98).
In the purchase process, doctors who were approached were not informed about exact price of drug and medical equipment. They were told that the provincial administration was also informed of the prices, which turned out to be two or three times higher than what they were supposed to be. For example, a glove which should have cost 110 baht was sold at 220 baht, and a syring cost 160 baht instead of 80 baht.
The Rural Doctor Society called on district hospital directors nationwide not to accept the budget provided for purchasing drugs and medical supplies and return the money to government coffers after learning that the budget has been abused. The society also urged doctors to send it irregular purchasing documents for submission to the Counter Corruption Commission (CCC) and the office of the Auditor-General for investigation. The society"s decision came after a series of complaints from several hospitals that the 1.4 billion baht allocated by the Rural Health Division (RHD) and the Provincial Hospitals Division, had been abused. According to the complaints, The district hospital were told to buy products from specific companies with the price list, quoting products at prices two or three times higher than normal (Nation 15/8/1998).
Public Health Minister insisted that there were no irregularities concerning the use of this budget and also refused to set up a committee to investigate the case as demanded by the society because he did not want to be blamed for prosecuting the permanent officials.
However, a group of 67 Thammasat University lecturers signed on an open letter calling for an independent investigation into the medical supplies scandal. An independent committee led by the retired senior public health official was appointed to find out what was going on in September 1998. At the same time, the Permanent Secretary has spoken that the movement of the RDS caused by the loss of 10 per cent commission fee from drug and medical supplies purchases. This led to a protest by the RDS members and the medium to high ranking public health officials.
In September 1998, about 30 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) stepped up the pressure on the government over the public health ministry"s alleged drug scandal, calling for the resignation of the minister, his two deputies and other top health officials, including permanent secretary. The group announced they would gather the 50,000 signatures necessary to request a Senate dismissal of the minister if they refused to resign within a week. The NGOs also called on the government to protect the doctors and pharmacists who had already made the purchases at inflated prices and to spare them as witness so they would not become scapegoats.
With the pressure from the public, Public Health Minister, finally, resigned from the post while his deputy from the same party refused to do so. The media, including televisions, radios and newspapers were opened up the corruption in several public hospitals. The case showed the similar story that the senior officials have ordered the public hospitals to buy medicines and medical supplies from some companies with the high prices.
In the late September, The fact-finding committee concluded that certain politicians had collaborated with top permanent officials to force state hospitals to abuse the 1.4 billion baht budget for purchasing medicines and medical equipment. The investigation report was sent to the Prime Minister, who forwarded it to the Counter Corruption Commission. Then the government set up a disciplinary committee to investigate implicated officials. The Permanent Secretary was transferred out of the Ministry and never returned.
NGOs had collected the some of fifty thousand signatures, according to the new constitution, and demanded to investigate the politicians and senior permanent officials. This was the first case after the new constitution came into effect. Since then there have been several cases practicing the new constitution of public participation. NGOs and media also made use of Information Acts to request the investigating report from the government and continue the issue if there was an attempt to protect the officials and politician involved in the corruption.
Finally, the case was concluded by the Counter Corruption Commission and a disciplinary committee that two senior public health officials were charged with corruption. Although, currently, the investigating result cannot link to the top officials both politicians and permanent bureaucrat, this might be the first case that the people organised the movement against corruption in Thai society.
Faculty of Economics, The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. Thailand: Business Environment and Governance Survey (TBEGS). 2000.
John Laird. 2000. Money Politics, Globalisation and Crisis: The Case of Thailand Graham Brash Pte Ltd. Singapore.
Pasuk Phongpaichit, Nualnoi Treerat, Yongyuth Chaiyapong and Chris Baker. 2000.
Corruption in the Public Sector in Thailand: Perception and Experience of Households.
Political Economy Center, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.
Thai Development Newsletter, No. 36 January-June 1999:22.