I attended the conference at the National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC) on Friday and Saturday and, indeed, gave a paper of my own. The NCCC is a very Thai institution: polite, land of smiles, very pro-establishment, full of very right-wing assumptions and prejudices. These occasionally emerge in what people say (examples: “we all hope this [i.e. Abhisit’s] government lasts for a long time” and “paedophiles are middle-aged men from western countries”).
Well, all countries have institutions like this, of course, although it does seem to be a little stronger here. Corruption has become (or has strengthened) a politicized issue. The dominant view (at least as expressed by the speakers, commentators and so forth that I heard) is that corruption largely arises because of moral deficiency and is much more prevalent among the poor. In addition, it has become common for any government policy with which people disagree to be labelled as ‘corrupt’ and for court proceedings to be taken against those responsible, including the whole cabinet if it passed a policy. Recently, we have had discussions about cases against the Thai Rak Thai and successor cabinets for the policy to buy trees for planting in the north-east of the country – these would help to alleviate problems of flooding, offer cash crop diversification and have other environmental benefits. This has been called ‘corrupt’ on the pretext that it was possible to buy cheaper seedlings (I am simplifying the case overall) – well, it is nearly always possible for any government to buy things more cheaply but price is not the only criterion to be considered. Many people suspect that a political agenda is behind such cases, especially as they only ever seem to be brought against one political party and other cases which might equally well be investigated, for example some of the military procurement deals during General Surayud’s junta which have been questioned, are swept under the carpet.
I offered an alternative view that corruption was generally the result of systemic reasons rather than the malevolence of individuals but it was not, as I suspected, very popular. Blaming individuals and identifying them as ill-willed is, as I started off by saying, a very Thai response.