Corruption runs much deeper than a few bad MPs
Thailand's international corruption ranking will never improve as long as people in the national anti-corruption body, and the elite, maintain their narrow perspective on corruption by simply pointing the fingers at politicians.
Thailand has dropped further in the international corruption index compiled by Transparency International (TI), falling eight places from last year to 88th on the 176-country list for 2012.
It’s easy to say, as national anti-graft commissioner Wicha Mahakun put it, that corrupt politicians have brought the country down – but such an assessment will never lead to any good solution.
Wicha’s analysis of the root cause of corruption in Thailand is very shallow as he blames only politicians for the corruption. Politicians sought power in the administration in order to have a chance to exploit the national budget for their own benefit, he said. And politicians who intervene in the reshuffle of senior officials merely want to create a patron-client network within the bureaucracy for their own interest and that of their associates.
National Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Panthep Klanarongran shared the same idea, saying: “Politicians might not have a good image [regarding] corruption, but they have to accept reality and cooperate on fighting corruption.”
The Thai elite, who feel uncomfortable with electoral democracy, tend to blame politicians for all that is wrong with this country.
They have managed to have former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra shown as a bad guy in this political discourse. Any politicians associated with Thaksin and his camp would never be good or clean. Many people in this country try to make themselves look good simply by criticising Thaksin.
The elite, who subscribe to this perception, often imagine Thailand would be clear and clean from corruption if it had no politicians. The country and administration must be run by good people from the bureaucracy, in particular the military, which usually holds moral authority.
The Thai elite – mostly well-educated persons in the capital – tend to consider elected provincial politicians, whom money or modern day populist policies can often buy, corrupt. They invest a lot to get power, so they want a return when they manage to achieve that power.
Of course, it’s difficult to deny there is corruption among politicians, but they are not involved in corruption as a single group. Corruption indeed has deep roots and has spread throughout this country for a long time, perhaps from before its formation centuries ago.
The bureaucracy, the military, the police, the legislature, the courts – even the anti-corruption commission office itself – have never been free of corruption. Those who have good memories should not forget the scandal in the office of the auditor-general or the case of raising the salaries of anti-graft members in 2005.
Bribe-taking is common in many bureaucratic agencies and is perhaps established in the culture of this society. Motorists are willing to pay Bt100-Bt200 to Traffic Police for traffic infringements during commuting, rather than take tickets and pay the costly charges.
Project developers at all levels, with or without the involvement of politicians, need to pay between 15-35 per cent of construction costs to “responsible and authorised persons” as commission fees. Those who call for transparency or do not want to pay, will never get the job.
The patron-client system, which Wicha blamed politicians for creating, has been a part of Thai culture since ancient times, long before the formation of the modern state. Frankly speaking, the patron-client system was created by the elite. Politicians who came later just adapted and applied it for their political benefit.
Corruption has been implanted and embedded in the culture for centuries. Pointing a finger at any particular group does not make anybody in this country look good and cannot solve the problem.