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Public Ethics and Corruption in Thailand 91

However, since its inception, the DSI has not yet lived up to its full expectations. Not entirely its own fault, the DSI was alleged and believed to be influenced and pressured by political actor(s) some of the time, which unfortunately cast a cloud of suspicion on its leadership and its attempted effort to gain public trust and prestige.21 The DSI’s future performances will hopefully improve. The DSI’s investigations would sometime lead to allegations of corruption, collusion, or malfeasance of some public officials with their partners in the other sectors.

The Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) is another state agency under the Ministry of Justice that touches on corruption cases. The AMLO is specially designed to counter money laundering, especially from illegal businesses, such as the drug trade, trafficking in human beings, and illegal lottery. The tracing and chasing of money trails would often reveal that corruption by public officials helps facilitate money-laundering schemes. Illegal activities or business could not thrive if public officials directly tasked with curbing and combating them were completely honest, competent, and vigilant in carrying out their tasks. Hence, the AMLO in essence needs to cooperate and collaborate with the NACC because their work complements each other’s work.22

From the above brief description and discussion of existing mechanisms to deal with ethics and corruption, we cannot deny that there is no shortage of designated institutions in the Thai public system to engender ethics or to fight and curb corruption and malfeasance. In fact, the Thai public administration system continuously adapts and changes in an attempt to find better structural arrangements to cope with existing problems and conditions. The critical questions to ask would be: What went wrong with the system? Why has corruption not lessened? Why can these agencies not function fully as mandated?

4.4.2 Constraints and Limitations of Public Agencies

What went wrong in Thailand where multi-agencies tasked with combating corruption are in place and yet corruption is still rampant? Some of the following points will attest to some other constraints and limitations that public sector agencies, described earlier, confront:

(1)“Independent” agencies and other newly created agencies do not start out with a clean slate. They often inherit staff members from previously existing agencies with entrenched bureaucratic culture, mind-set and practices. In other words, new tasks and new mandates are mainly carried out by many bureaucrats accustomed to working in their former manner. Although the pay in most new agencies is higher than in their previous agencies, the difference in general is not significant enough to motivate or incentivize most staff members to be proactive or to think “out of the box.” The sense of urgency and priority in handling assigned tasks may be lacking. Everything is done in the fashion of “business as usual.”

(2)At times, by taking a highly legalistic approach, as Thai public agencies tend to do, they are strapped by inflexible rules, regulations, and procedures that very few people are willing or courageous enough to interpret liberally to make things flexible for implementation. The delay in processing cases by the NACC as a result of needing a commissioner to head an investigative sub-committee is such a case in point.

21This conclusion was drawn by the National Legislative Assembly’s Committee on Governance and AntiCorruption (2007–2008) as it conducted hearings on the roles of various public agencies, their role and performance vis-à-vis good governance and anti-corruption.

22The conclusion and analysis here is also drawn from the same National Legislative Assembly’s Committee as it examined public agencies and their roles and performance regarding good governance and anti-corruption.

©2011 by Taylor and Francis Group, LLC

92Public Administration in Southeast Asia

(3)There is on-going political interference and influence with investigations on corruption because the stakes involved are high. At times, some corruption fighters may even be delayed, derailed, intimidated, or even co-opted.

(4)Strong political will or leadership from the top could set the tone and temper of corruption fighting either positively or negatively. In Thailand, strong, continuous, pro-active support and endorsement for fighting corruption by the top leadership is far and few in-between. The current prime minister has thrown his support behind the NACC’s initiative and effort to host the 2010 International Anti-Corruption Conference in Thailand. In the past, verbal support from the top leadership did not correspond with subsequent actions. A general sense of benign neglect appeared to be pervasive among most political actors.

(5)Corruption fighters and their agencies are vulnerable to “backlash” from the people they have investigated. Either political leaders want or like to interfere with the search process for commissioners of agencies or they would threaten from time to time to change the laws to disband some of these agencies. As a matter of fact, allegations against the integrity, honesty, and honor of the commissioners have often been made by supporters of politicians and their cronies when the politicians are under the scrutiny of these agencies. Vulgar and rude behavior by opponents of the NACC have also occurred against it.23

(6)Fragmented and uncoordinated patterns of activity by different agencies reduce the synergy, efficiency, and effectiveness of many tasks that could be better served through sharing of effort, energy, expertise, and resources. Thai bureaucratic culture, not unlike in other countries, stresses agency-based functions and activities. Performance and rewards are measured by what an agency has accomplished singly and not in terms of partnership or collaboration with other agencies. In a sense, it makes inter-agency cooperation difficult because each agency prides itself on its achievements. No agency wishes to share its achievements or rewards with others. Intra-agency lack of cooperation is also evident as each of its sub-units seeks to enhance its own domain and territory. This culture of “to each its own” is carried into national committees and commissions which may fails to obtain the full support from agency officials that participate in them as ex o cio members. Each agency tends to think that only one agency is the official representative or main sponsor or owner of a given national committee, while others are of secondary support status, and many do not consider it their responsibility to push an agenda that is not their own.

4.5 Other Non-State Parties against Corruption

From civil society or the third sector, there are important groups that work hard to fight corruption. Rosana Torsitakul, a prominent non-governmental organization (NGO) leader, was credited with leading a loose coalition of 30 NGOs to fight against a famous case of corruption in the Ministry of Public Health pertaining to medical procurement. Through her tenacious efforts in pursuing this case and with the media’s support, the culprits were convicted and served sentences.

There are other civil society figures, like Veera Somkhamkid, who has exposed case after case of corrupt practices by politicians and public sector entities. His major contribution perhaps is

23As an example, the NACC was surrounded by protesters that barred people for entering or leaving the NACC office. All forms of dirty items were thrown into the NACC compound. Monitor lizards, which symbolize “lowers, crudest and most despicable form of being” in Thai culture, were unleashed into the NACC compound. Culturally, it is one of the worst forms of insult.

©2011 by Taylor and Francis Group, LLC

Public Ethics and Corruption in Thailand 93

in showing society that there are “fearless” people who would serve as self-appointed corruption “watchdogs” for society. The conviction and sentencing of the former minister of public health and his advisor was symbolically an important act, which was hailed as a victory for corruption fighters, particularly as a credit and boon to civil society.

In the past 2 years, a group of citizens have organized themselves as the People’s Commission on Anti-Corruption as a counterpart to the formal NACC. The group has regional representatives and regional chairpersons from different regions of Thailand as well as a national chairperson. Having no legal status, as it is not a registered organization, it does however receive support and attention from some legislators, academics, media, and civil society organizations as well as some public officials. This network had its origin from one of the sub-committees of the National Legislative Assembly’s (NLA) Anti-Corruption Committee (2006–2008). Its development and growth still require ongoing support and nurturance. Consequently, some members of the NLA’s Anti-Corruption Committee felt obligated to assist the anti-corruption effort from the citizens. These NLA members have contributed a sum of money to initiate the founding of the Good Governance and AntiCorruption Foundation (GAF) to help raise funds to support People’s NACC. As of October 2008, the foundation was legally instituted. Its first task was try holding a major fundraising event to help support the activities of the People’s NACC as well as other citizens working against corruption. The fundraising event has yet to happen partly because of the economic downturn in Thailand.

In addition, Transparency Thailand as a chapter of Transparency International has, over the years, put effort and emphasis on corruption prevention. Its main target groups are youth and the average Thai person, particularly from rural areas. Changing values and instilling morality, ethics, a sense of “publicness” (e.g., furthering the public interest), and public responsibility are Transparency Thailand’s main focus. To reach millions and millions of masses, Transparency Thailand’s intervention strategy for value change is through various forms of media program. As a result, it has a regular radio program, “spot messages” on television, infiltrating entertainment programs by infusing messages into the content of situational comedy. Transparency Thailand also writes and disburses children’s storybook, CDs, and DVDs with fun and interesting messages for different audiences, especially youth.24

Although this is a new effort, increasingly there are efforts by the state and civil society working together. The NACC, for instance, has put down in its National Strategy on mobilizing and harnessing civil society, media and private sector cooperation and support in preventing corruption. In concrete terms, this particular strategy is to be carried out by two sub-committees: one on civil society and the media, and another on the private sector. Chairs appointed for both committees are from civil society and the private sector, respectively. Since this attempted synergy is still in its early stage, it remains to be seen if and how far successes will happen.25

4.6 Conclusion

This chapter tries to provide insights into the complex situation of public ethics and corruption in Thailand. While Thailand has a significant number of agencies working directly or indirectly on corruption, it is still an endemic problem in Thailand. There is public awareness that corruption exists and that politicians and public officials are perceived to be the main culprits.

24For more details, see Transparency Thailand’s website, www.transparency-thailand.org.

25In general, Thai state and civil society organizations do not work together harmoniously, although there are exceptions. The notion of partnership cooperation and collaboration are somewhat recognized and accepted. Implementation of partnership still needs fine tuning.

©2011 by Taylor and Francis Group, LLC

94 Public Administration in Southeast Asia

Furthermore, the public does not like or condone grand corruption that siphon off taxpayers’ money from public projects. However, not enough public action is taken against corruption beyond politically motivated protests. In everyday life, people do not condemn, ostracize, or sanction those allegedly involved in corruption. In addition to the many problems inherent in the public administrative structure and practices, the chapter also shows that other sociocultural issues evolving from traditional society and culture may also be responsible for the lack of progress in Thailand’s handling of public ethics and corruption. To conclude, corruption needs to be dealt with in a holistic manner. Good laws, a good, strong, and fair judicial system, a good and pro-active administrative apparatus, committed and strong political will, civil society’s participation and involvement, and especially citizens’ value structure and belief system with zero-tolerance for corruption and commitment to public interest are the important ingredients for the successful fight against corruption and in preventing it.

All told, public ethics is essential and integral to good administrative practices, without which there will be no immunity or any kind of preventive or protective shield against the ever-tempting and ever-persistent threats of corruption.

References

1.Marrer, F. (1992) essay on “Literature and Public Administration Ethics,” The American Review of Public Administration, 22 (2), 111–25.

2.Rizos, J. (1965) “Country Development: The New Ethic of Public Administration,” International Review of Administrative Science, 32, 279–88.

3.Long, N. (1988) “Public Administration, Ethics, and Epistemology”, American Review of Public Administration, 18 (2), 111–18.

© 2011 by Taylor and Francis Group, LLC

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