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perspective

Instilling right values critical to ending patronage system


A report by an NLA committee states the obvious, but it’s still a wake-up call for our society

A 367-page report with detailed recommendations on how to end the long-standing patronage system among the 
country’s bureaucrats was recently presented by a committee tasked with the responsibility by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
The report did not tell us anything we did not already know about this deeply entrenched system that comes at the expense of the country’s growth and prosperity. 
Admiral Saksit Cherdboon-muang, in his capacity as chairman of the NLA ad-hoc committee on ending the patronage system, told reporters that too many government officials were accustomed to a culture that encouraged selective treatment and nepotism.
“The patronage system causes damage in various dimensions. 
For example, it discourages many talented people from working in 
the government sector,” he said, adding such a system encourages nepotism and may even lead to corruption. 
While Saksit is not saying anything we don’t already know, nevertheless, it is good to be reminded of the problem that many of us tend to take for granted and turn a blind eye to because it doesn’t affect us directly.
Many of us, instead of speaking out against it, tend to seek ways to exploit it for personal benefit.
“They think they just can’t go through normal channels of service delivery. They think they need to find personal connections to get good services,” he said. 
“Who you know”, as opposed to “know-how”, has been encouraging civil servants to prioritise personal relationships over a merit-based system. 
“It encourages junior officials to kow-tow to senior officials, who in turn bow to political-office holders so as to maintain beneficial relationships. In this cycle, business-people have also lobbied government officials and political-office holders,” he said. 
Saksit’s committee has compiled guidelines on how to stop the patronage culture from damaging the bureaucracy. 
“We can achieve this goal by promoting the right values, improving laws, overhauling the bureaucracy and engaging the civil sector in our efforts,” he said. 
In real terms, this could mean an end to free gifts and feasts for government officials. And if we are bold enough, we can go as far as banning government officials from playing golf with people when there is a risk of conflict of interest.
Another proposed measure suggested that government retirees refrain from serving as advisers to firms that have contracts with their previous agency for at least two years after retirement. 
If and when there is a complaint, we need to come up with measures so that charges of nepotism and abuse of authority be addressed in a timely manner to ensure the public does not lose faith in the bureaucracy. 
Ending such a culture is not a one-way street, however. The public will have to do its part as well. This is not a free ride. Social pressure, said NLA member Klanarong Chanthick, could be a powerful way to discourage wrongdoing. “So, it is important we inculcate the right values and attitudes among people,” he said. 
But people need to be driven by the belief that they are doing the right thing, not doing it because of the fear of being humiliated. This goes back to the daunting task of instilling the correct values among the general public and we need to do this in every sector and at every level of our society.
It’s is not uncommon in our society to hear people boast about their connections, which got them to where they are in life or career, whether in the government or the public sector. 
In an ideal society, one should be ashamed of not being able to reach a high position through one’s own efforts. The fact that there are people who have no qualms about achieving certain levels because of personal connections reflects poorly on our society as a whole. 

Published : December 24, 2016

By : The Nation