ROOTING OUT corruption is among the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)'s priorities. Shortly after the coup, the NCPO issued order No. 69 to line up measures against corruption and aim them at corrupt civil servants and government officers.
The NCPO placed significant weight on disciplinary action, which has hardly been seriously implemented by the heads of public offices, and gave power to the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) to follow up cases.
Late last year, a new anti-corruption centre was established to drive all concerned agencies to work together. The PACC acts as its secretary and has come up with two lists of officers allegedly involved in corruption or malfeasance that contain 46 and 71 names.
The NCPO has transferred the officers to make way for the investigation. With almost three million public officers working for the country, malfeasance and corruption in public administrations is seen by observers as a plague on the country. The Nation talked to PACC secretary general Prayong Preeyachitt about this latest effort by government agencies to tackle corruption under the absolute power of the NCPO.
Q: How successful have the past governments been in tackling corruption? Why is it still rampant, especially involving government agencies?
A: I must say that tackling corruption is very hard because the problem is deep-rooted and widespread. Corruption involves a big chunk of money that often undermines strengths of our society, political structures, and especially legal enforcement bodies like bureaucrats.
Think about the massive number of government officers, about 2.7 million now, and you can see the scale of the problem that may arise. Corruption in public offices is really about the chance to commit it. Without stringent supervision, the problem can be widespread. And this is a critical reason why the problem is still rampant.
To tackle corruption, we need both prevention and suppression. Bureaucratic corruption, as such, must actually be tackled within the offices first before reaching us. But so far, corruption prevention in public offices seems not to work well, while suppression mechanisms like us are still far weaker than we are supposed to be.
Q: What problems do the public offices have, and what are your agency’s problems?
A: In any public offices, there actually is disciplinary action against malfeasance or corruption among government officers. The administrative power is well addressed in the Civil Servants Act BE 2551.
But what happens is that office heads often fail to enforce the law against their subordinates, but pass on the burden to anti-corruption bodies like us. Since the PACC was established in 2008, we have had around 19,000 cases in hand.
We have completed initial investigations for 9,000 (of them) – 1,500 of these have been under our committee’s scrutiny, 200 have been pinpointed as involving malfeasance or corruption, but only four cases so far have been sent to court because of the lengthy judicial process. My officers have been working non-stop, but with only four cases sent to court, you can see that it hardly affects or changes anything for the better.
Q: Is that the reason why we have seen this government trying to enforce administrative power against corruption in public offices?
A: Today the situation is better because we now see the point and are trying to correct or improve it. The government has set up a new National Anti-Corruption Centre which acts as a central platform where concerned agencies come and work together. Their work is more integrated under its (the body’s) directive.
We have around 5,000 public offices, ranging from ministries down to local administrative bodies, and they are now supervised under this body’s directive.
We have come to the conclusion together that the current situation is beyond our authority to deal with it. So that is the reason why the centre was set up to back us.
The NCPO also issued Order No. 69, which gives the PACC power to follow up the cases from them. From now on, if office heads are negligent in taking action against their subordinates, they will have to deal with us and face disciplinary action too.
The challenge is that these measures are still temporary. So, the government is now pushing a new law to enforce more disciplinary action as we consider that it is the first and foremost measure against corruption.
In the meantime, suppression mechanisms will be strengthened, with criminal cases sped up. And a court department has also been set up to be directly responsible for corruption cases. So, we have closed all the loopholes.
Q: What about your office – have any enhancements been made?
A: Three main issues need to be resolved. You must know that we are under the Justice Ministry and being under a bureaucrat office compromises our independence.
To suppress corruption, you cannot avoid investigating big names above you. And in the past, I accept that it was hard for us in some cases to pursue because politics did not allow us to.
The PACC has been running for six years now and I am its eighth secretary general. The PACC is expected to be under the Prime Minister’s Office and that would help maintain our independence.
To ensure its independence, its secretary general will be picked by the NACC’s selection panel, with our committee proposed by the Cabinet, the NACC and the Office of Auditing General.
Secondly, we currently have limited authority. To conduct an investigation, we need to ask for cooperation from concerned agencies. But with the ongoing law amendments, we will be able to enforce the law to get information from them.
The investigation process will also be shortened so the cases can be sped up via the secretary general’s increased power to make an order for scrutiny. And definitely, we will be authorised to follow up disciplinary examinations to speed up disciplinary actions.
Q: By leveraging all of these improvements, do you think the problem will be eradicated?
A: I cannot say that we will get rid of the problem completely. I will say that it will be more difficult to commit corruption.
But once done, a case will be sped up. In the past, some sectors just sat back and took no action. But from now on they will be forced to act.
Bureaucrat corruption occurs in public offices, so it is the offices’ duty and the duty of their heads to do something. If that is beyond their authority, we will get in and help.
Look at Hong Kong’ lesson. They have everything they need to tackle corruption – a political will, good laws, government and public supports, effective measures, public awareness, and cooperation. Now we have almost everything like them now. It is just a matter of levelling all these up to the point that we can tackle corruption more effectively.
And once we can contain corruption, our society will be strong enough. A new election is then expected to be more clean and transparent, our politics will be full of governance, and we will then be able to move on firmly.