Tuesday, August 04, 2020

A start, at least, to reining in dark influences

Mar 16. 2016
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By The Nation

There’s no denying public pessimism over ending authorities’ abuse of power, but for once the effort is being made
A fresh crackdown on influential  figures profiting from criminal and underground activities offers a glimmer of hope for law-abiding citizens.
These lawbreakers in high places have for far too long been permitted to wield their status and power to loot the country’s natural resources and economy with immunity, while contributing little in return. A government-backed move against them is long overdue.
The crackdown targets 16 underground “industries”, such as the smuggling of contraband, illegal money-lending, gambling, prostitution, protection racketeering, debt collection, gunmen for hire and trafficking in drugs and people.
The effort to put those involved behind bars and curb their vast, deep-rooted illegal activities is almost entirely laudable. The only problem is that the dragnet now being cast out cannot possibly be big enough to catch them all. And loopholes will inevitably appear, considering that many of the targeted “dark figures of influence” will have a hand in casting that net.
Among the 6,000 suspects on the military’s hit list are more than 200 police officers. National police chief General Chakthip Chaijinda said yesterday that around 100 officers suspected of involvement in illegal activities have been transferred to other posts and are under investigation. We can be certain that, had the police prepared the list, it would have looked very different.
 So who exactly belongs to this sprawling “mafia”, as the media invariably refer to the dark figures? The term mainly alludes to local crime syndicates around the country, but it’s common knowledge that state officials and men in uniform are also involved in criminal activities. Underground businesses benefit from poor enforcement of the law, guaranteed to be poor because they pay off the law enforcers. There are military as well as police officers directly involved in illegal activities, like dealing drugs and running protection rackets.
It’s to be hoped that the target list of law-breaking influential figures is as comprehensive as possible under the circumstances and that no suspects are excluded for any reason, particularly because of their connections to other people in positions of authority.
A recent opinion survey backed the government’s ambition to quell mafia-type activity, even if many of the respondents doubted the clampdown would succeed. Almost 75 per cent of the people interviewed by Suan Dusit Poll agreed that the effort should at least be made. More than 71 per cent believe it would be “very difficult” to rid Thailand of this scourge. At best, the problem would only be partly solved, they said.
It would of course be naive to think the crackdown could end this evil activity altogether. Any such optimism is crushed beneath the fact that, even under dictatorial military rule, it’s been business as usual for influential figures running underground businesses. The criminal endeavours continue partially because more than a few military figures are “mafiosi” themselves, running their own underground operations or earning fortunes by demanding protection money from those operated by others.
Nor is it any secret that police officers receive regular payments from illegal businesses owned by authority figures. These businesses thrive because everyone’s turning a blind eye.
The pursuit of underground crime bosses and reforming the police force are two objectives that are perhaps best tackled together to ensure success in both efforts. At the same time, the generals in government must not hold back for fear of treading on the delicate toes of friends, colleagues or former schoolmates. The crackdown should hit all groups of influential figures, regardless of background or position. And, finally, it should not become a tool to weaken enemies or critics of the government. 

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