The chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau and 18 senior officers are allegedly involved in illegal gambling dens in Bangkok. This in itself isn’t really very surprising. It’s also not very surprising the it was Chuwit who blew the whistle on this. What’s surprising is that there will be an investigation into their (alleged) involvement.
If found guilty, the senior officers will be punished with a 5% salary cut for 3 months. After that, they will receive their full salary again.
In case you’re wondering if there is a typo – no, it’s really just five percent. Considering how much money they (allegedly) might have made from their (alleged) involvement in illegal gambling in Bangkok, this is a joke.
Critics of Thaksin often blame him for corruption – and even among his supporters, there are very few that seriously believe he wasn’t corrupt. It’s nonetheless interesting to look at corruption ratings from Thailand before, during and after the Thaksin administration.
There’s no doubt Thaksin was corrupt and used his political power to pocket a lot of money. But more interesting is how much his wrongdoings have been publicized, compared with the relative lack of publication and exposure of the corruption that happened after the coup.
Amazing Thailand and the amazing ruthlessness of the establishment: within a day of Army Chief Anupong Paojinda calling for a dissolution of parliament (which I take it means no more crackdowns on his watch) and the Electoral Commission has apparently voted 4-1 to dissolve the Democrat Party for receiving an illegal donation and other charges (at least one other charge anyway – the reporting is not entirely clear).
The process is not automatic (well, not in law anyway) as the case is now passed to the Attorney General and then on to the Constitution Court. However, I think there is no need for me to spell out what this means.
So, Abhisit is finished and will presumably be banned for five years, along I guess with Suthep, Kasit (? do PAD coalition members also get banned) and whoever it is who passes for the brains behind the Democrat Party.
This would mean an election and another few months of faffing around with the relevant court still having the power to ban any successful party, if the court so decides (how many times can they do this without looking just a little bit, shall we say, presumptuous?).
That would be good for Anupong, who stands a chance of getting to his retirement with his various powers intact, so to speak. Any potential violence might be put off (unless the stories of the Prem v Watermelon coup/battles I mentioned earlier turn out to be true) but the ill-feeling will be stored up for explosions of anger later.
For the establishment, the system prevails – which is what the system and its key supporters most want.
It is again up to the Database section of the once honest Bangkok Post to speak at least something of the truth. In its Home Review column this week, which also includes some sharp observations about the integrity-challenged one’s attempt to ‘create a level playing field as we would have had in 1931,’ appears this paragraph:
“Blase and calm to a fault, the Tourism Development Office director Seksan Nakwong said there is nothing to worry about, not a single film maker is cancelling production because of all those red-shirt protests going on; on the contrary, the 12 advertisements, six documentaries, two music videos and two feature films should come in on time and under budget, why worry? Thai Nondestructive Testing explained to Mr Seksan (and the country) why it was very worried; managing director Chomduen Satavuthi said the protests were slowly eating up the government’s time, which has slowly caused delays or cancellations in state projects, which has slowly ended projects one by one, which has solely caused political uncertainty and damaged the company’s business; for that reason, Thai Nondestructive Testing intends to look overseas for new markets and work, expanding first into Sudan to establish an acoustic emission testing project, and to Vietnam, where it will set up a joint venture; and that is the state of the nation in the view of one company anyhow – that a country which requires Thai peacekeeping forces and a country dedicated to beating out Thailand in economic terms are more attractive than Thailand itself to a Thai company.”
Yes, a Thai company finds it easier to work in Sudan and Vietnam than the Thailand of the corrupt and incompetent Abhisit regime.
Incidentally, while the junta cronies have to make up ‘evidence’ according to the PAD’s ‘policy corruption’ laws, word is that there is at least one Minister who is demanding kickbacks on every deal that goes through in the Ministry that this non-gender specific person has responsibility for – I have heard this not just from civil servants there but directly from a person who was told to provide the bribe to get the deal done.
The Abhisit Regime: corrupt, incompetent and thoroughly unfit for public office.
One of the reasons why the Abhisit regime is so keen to apply the repressive ISA measures as long as possible (perhaps paving the way for the declaration of a permanent state of emergency and the suspension of what little remains of free speech and parliamentary democracy) is because it is a good pretext to buy the loyalty of the army – the military are on triple pay while it lasts.
Just to make sure everyone knows what is going on, it was announced today that the Abhisit regime is openly giving the military yet more money to buy more ‘necessary’ equipment in the wake of the scandals following the procurement policies involving the GT200 metal stick ‘bomb detectors’ and the non-flying airship thing which is supposed to be keeping watch over the southern border region and certainly would not present a very tempting and easy to hit target if it ever did start to fly.
The ‘necessary’ equipment, apparently, includes:
“The source said the weapons procurement plans proposed by the armed forces would be worth an estimated 400 billion baht.
The source said the navy would try again to seek authorisation to buy two second-hand submarines at a cost of more than 20 billion baht.
The navy has set up a committee to conduct a feasibility study on the submarine purchase project. It also wants to buy a new fleet of frigates to replace old ones which have been in use for 15 to 20 years.
The source said the army would seek cabinet approval to procure a new fleet of tanks which would be part of a plan to establish the new 3rd Cavalry Division in Khon Kaen.
About 70 billion baht would be required to buy the tanks.”
Readers may recall that the plan to put tanks on the streets of Isan represents Privy Councillor Prem Tinsulanonda’s desire to stamp on the face of the poor forever. Alas, our time to enjoy the presence of this person may be limited – how will we suppress our grief?
OK, I’ve rewritten this to take out some of the better jokes, just in case.
Things you would hesitate before making up for fear of being accused of gross exaggeration:
Today, Thailand’s reputation (genuine reputation, that is) slid again as it was announced as having declined to 84th in the league tables of corrupt nations – it has been sliding since the disastrous 2006 military coup.
Also today, the leader of the 2006 military coup General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, instead of being sentenced to the lengthy prison sentence he so richly deserves, has announced he is entering politics as the head of the new Matuphum party (with money partly looted from the country after the 2006 military coup).
Also on the same day, one of the principal beneficiaries of the 2006 military coup, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has announced plans to give substantial salary and allowances increases during an economic crisis with millions unemployed.
It is fairly well-established that one of the major factors inhibiting the social and economic development of Thailand is the huge proportion of the budget devoted to the military. The most recent example of this is the attempt to buy yet more advanced jet fighter planes by the air force, for no obvious reason other than status and access to opaquely awarded budgets.
When Thailand enjoys democracy (e.g. 1992-2006), the proportion of the budget spent in this way is gradually reduced. When the military rules the country (e.g. 2006 onwards), then the budgets leap up. Irrespective of the ongoing financial crisis, which should surely be the cause of reduction of needless expenditure, the military seems to be entering a new golden age of money sloshing about (not to mention the deeply sinister plan of a certain old person to create a new division to suppress free speech and freedom of association in Isaan).
There is, of course, a need for a military force – any country sharing a border with Burma is going to require infantry, helicopters and the like to deal with fighting and with refugees. Also, discoveries of oil and gas in the waters around the Kingdom, as well as the issue of refugees escaping prosecution (such as the Rohingyas) will also need some naval patrol boats. A rational review of the military would presumably demonstrate the need for a land force and for a naval force. In the modern world, armies and navies have their own aerial assets – helicopters, planes, even airships. The need for these vehicles is fairly clear.
So, let us dissolve the air force. What good is it? What does it offer that the army and navy do not already offer? What enemies can be envisaged that needs a flight of highly expensive (perhaps, according to some rumours, overly expensive) jet fighters to counter them? In any large-scale combat, after all, the Americans would take over and the Thai air force would be grounded to keep it out of the way.
The lines have, so to speak, been drawn up for the pro-democracy demonstration due to be held this weekend. The ISOC has met and announced that 37 ‘companies’ of police and military forces will be stationed to regulate the demonstrations – checkpoints will search the demonstrators (many tens of thousands are expected but it is always difficult to know exactly how many will in fact show up) and reports are that many checkpoints on roads around the city have been established to prevent people from outside Bangkok from making it into the city (some people are travelling individually and incognito as a result).
The demonstration itself will focus on the competence and character of the Abhisit/PAD/military regime – pro-democracy redshirts argue that the incompetence of the government at a time of economic crisis is such that there should be a dissolution of parliament and people given a genuine chance to be governed by people for whom they have voted. They also argue that a variety of scandals and alleged instances of corruption should lead to PM Abhisit (and some others) being impeached and removed from office.
The rightist government and its media friends have tried, as a means of disguising the issues at hand, to portray the forthcoming demonstration as being likely to lead to violence and disorder and, also, that it is all some kind of conspiracy mounted by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who is treated as some kind of devil for his temerity in challenging the aristocratic elite. Consider this story, for example.
It is not likely that there will be any immediate positive change from the demonstration (a positive change would be a move towards democracy), since it is the secret hand which will decide when Abhisit is obliged to give up his power and the secret hand follows its own agenda. On the other hand, there is a real danger that violence will break out (possibly through the use of agents provocateurs as has happened previously) and innocent people will be wounded or killed. At least these days we have the technology to photograph and record what will occur – and these images do leak out, despite this repressive regime’s attempts to suppress political dissidence ruthlessly
One of the many interesting and important points made by the development economist Ha-Joon Chang in his very readable (yes, really) book Bad Samaritans: The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations and the Threat to Global Prosperity (the American version appears to have a different title than the one I have in my hand here) is that corruption might increase after privatization or in forms of government ‘reform’ which give more prominence to market activities.
First, he points out that poorer countries are almost inevitably likely to have some level of corruption, since people’s votes or affections are more easily bought, public officials have lower salaries, social welfare is at a very low level and the ability of the state to track economic activities is very limited, meaning that since no one is watching, the temptation to cheat a little here or there will be much higher. Second, he describes how the current orthodoxy among the neo-liberals of the world is that corruption is the reason why, they allege, their policy prescriptions generally do not work and the attendant claim that reducing the ability of politicians to distribute resources will decrease corruption. However, he argues that the opposite is (or at least may be – he is that kind of thoughtful writer):
“Increased contracting out has meant more contracts with the private sector, creating new opportunities for bribes. The increased flow of people between the public and private sectors has had an even more insidious effect. Once lucrative private-sector employment becomes a possibility, public officials may be tempted to befriend future employers by bending, or even breaking, the rules for them. They may do this even without being paid for it right away (p.169).”
So, if what Mr Chang argues is true, then it would be expected that a pro-business administration would be associated with a higher level of corruption and would need to take additional steps to try to reduce it. The disbursement of a large stimulus package (deeply necessary in the current economic crisis) would seem to represent a similar situation – it is lucky that corruption is not always entirely bad …
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.
The Quisling Government has put through its plans for an economic stimulus package to try to ward off the worst of the economic/PAD-caused crisis. It claims it will help, the Opposition claims it will not help. The truth of course is that no one yet knows how much such a package will help in the medium (i.e. more than one year) term, whether it will be enough and in what timescale the borrowed money can be repaid. However, it is true that nearly every government in the world has been obliged to put forward some kind of package to try to protect their own economies. By what principles, therefore, should the Quisling Government’s package be judged?
First, it is apparent that most of the measures put forward are simply the same policies initiated by the previous democratically-elected governments, which the Quislings so endlessly criticized as ‘populist’ and ‘vote-buying’ – well, we know how much integrity these people have so there is no surprise in seeing them change their approach completely and then deny they have done so. These policies – relief for the poor, community level initiatives and infrastructure improvement – are generally sound in that they help at least some of the most vulnerable in difficult times and promote local level production to boost income (and morale) across the country and reduce the importance of labour migration and its negative social results.
What other policies have been announced? Fifteen years of free education is promised – difficult to argue with that as a principle although it does not appear to have been costed properly, suggesting it is not a serious promise.
Free milk is promised to some additional school children. Again, not in itself a bad thing, although it is hard to justify in terms of stimulating the economy and the kind of policy which is most susceptible to corruption, based on the historical record. Let us hope that expenditure in areas such as this will be transparent and accountable.
Some tax cuts appear to have been promised – this would be a mistake (don’t ask me, ask Nobel Prize for Economics winner Paul Krugman), government spending is better.
The PM himself, of course, does not help his cause much because he only ever speaks in vacuous sound bites without the ability or awareness of the need to be specific. As more specific policies emerge, if they ever do, then there can be some proper consideration of whether they are appropriate or not.
It is hard to imagine Abhisit Vejjajiva remaining PM for long – and not just because of the astrological predictions made about his career.
The Democrat-led coalition has a very small majority and this is likely to be reduced further by a series of by-elections in the early part of next year. Further, the now-opposition Phuea Thai party is likely to try some of the tactics used by the Democrats in their rather inglorious period of opposition. This will include trying the get the party dissolved and subject it to various votes of no confidence. Despite the nonsense being talked about the Democrats as being ‘pure’ politicians, the reality is that their brand of politics has disfigured Thai politics for decades and it is not long before the first scandals break out either by their own MPs or some of their new coalition allies. Abhisit himself will have eventually to explain what the truth is about all of those draft-dodging allegations and the legitimacy of the process by which the army orchestrated the silent coup which brought him to power is being seriously questioned. There will presumably be a fair amount of street demonstrations by pro-democracy supporters outraged by this latest coup and it could well become personal. Sooner or later, people are surely going to start asking whether Abhisit really thinks it is justifiable to have leading members of the fascist PAD movement as senior Democrat MPs.
There is, of course, precious little expectation that Abhisit will suddenly discover a taste for policy formulation and deep thinking such as will be required for a Prime Minister during the economic crisis now affecting us all. It is to be hoped that some of the senior Democrats likely to be given important cabinet positions have the sense to realize that their usual free market ideology is wholly inappropriate for the current situation and that what is required is a high level of spending on policies badly needed to improve the lot of the Thai people as a whole: low-cost universal health care, village-level investment funds, regional development to deter labour migration and reduce the vulnerability of the economy to external environmental shocks – strange, I seem to have heard this somewhere before.
New results on corruption have been published by Transparency International, which is a noted and generally respected authority on the matter. These are the figures for Southeast Asia:
4. Singapore 9.2
47. Malaysia 5.1
80. Thailand 3.5
121. Vietnam 2.7
126. Indonesia 2.6
141. Philippines 2.3
145. East Timor (Timor-Leste) 2.2
151. Laos 2.0
166. Cambodia 1.6
178 Burma 1.3
(Brunei was not listed.) As ever, Singapore aside, these are fairly poor results for the whole region – given that economic and social/political development tend to proceed in tandem more or less, it would be expected that rankings here would approximate rankings in terms of overall economic development – most are much lower. Burma is only one place off the bottom and equal to Iraq. Cambodia is not much better.
Thailand has slowly improved over the years, especially since 2001, when various measures were implemented to improve government efficiency and reduce corruption opportunities – for example, electronic auctions when bidding for government contracts and introducing coherent ideology and party memberships to reduce the importance of vote-buying. The score declined in 2006 and 2007 because of the influence of the PAD mob preventing government action and during the disastrous military junta period. The results for this year are unlikely to be very positive, since the mob continues to prevent much of government business and this will automatically affect the score, given the methodology employed.
Of course, historically foreign investors have not always wanted to have a high transparency index when it means they can hide dubious corporate practices or collude in suppressing dangerous or abusive labour standards – we have seen our fair share of that in Thailand. However, it is no way to prepare for competitiveness in the future. The first thing to do will be to restore the rule of law and the principle that all people are equal before the law. Well, ‘restore’ is perhaps not the right word.
The draw has been made for the AFF Suzuki Cup to be held later this year – and Thailand and Singapore, the two leading teams, are to be kept apart for the group stages. The tournament brings together the leading Southeast Asian nations, such as they are, for games to be held in both Thailand and Indonesia during December of this year. Given how far away regional teams are from qualifying for the World Cup or even the later stages of the all-Asia national and club tournaments, the Suzuki Cup (previously the Tiger Cup) is about as big as it is going to get for the foreseeable for local footballers.
A preliminary group tournament will be held in Cambodia to winnow out two teams from the five weakest: Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Brunei and Timor Leste. Those two teams will then qualify in one of the two main groups: the first brings together Singapore, Indonesia, Burma and the runner-up from the qualifying round and the second group has Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the winner of the qualifying round. Given the current state of political play, I imagine organizers will be pleased if games between Thailand and Cambodia and between Indonesia and Timor Leste can be avoided, as there are likely to be high feelings involved. Various other combinations of teams offer possible outbreaks of long-standing tensions (Singapore and Malaysia, for example) but these are not currently at a high level.
Favourites for the tournament will be holders Singapore and of course Thailand, which has historically been a strong nation at this level. Recently, both Burma and Vietnam have emerged as strong threats and Vietnam in particular seems likely to remain strong owing to its organized national league (albeit that it appears to be riddled with corruption) and the money available to tempt good players to play there. The success of the Burmese team is more likely to have been good team spirit in a squad of players facing all kinds of difficulties in their daily and professional lives. Malaysia and Indonesia should both be able to put out competent teams but seem to have stagnated recently. No one else has got any chance, frankly.
The recent results from Wimbledon show that at least some Thai athletes are capable of competing at the very highest level. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the boxing team brought back one medal of each denomination and hopes are quite high for a similar level of success. Women boxers have also been successful in world title fights at the lightest weights, while the Olympics also witnessed victories in the women’s weightlifting competition. Not every sport is going to be successful, of course, given the average build of Thai athletes and the level of support available – but the victory of Spain in the Euro 2008 Championship showed that being shorter and slighter than opponents need not be a critical disadvantage.
Which makes it all the more disappointing that the Thai (men’s) football team has seemed to be going backwards in recent years. The just concluded World Cup 2010 Qualifying Campaign ended in five defeats and one meaningless victory, while the Kingdom was defeated in the final of the last Southeast Asian championships by Singapore – while countries such as Vietnam in particular are showing real promise of involvement. Despite the corruption in Vietnamese football (well, Vietnam as a whole to be honest), the domestic league is quite competitive and nationwide and that is making a significant improvement.
In Thailand, meanwhile, the FA of T have vacillated between appointing foreign and Thai managers of the football team and have not given any of them enough time. Since the reign of Peter Withe, when it really looked like the team could make the next step forward, things have stagnated or actually worsened.
The new manager seems set to be former Everton and England midfielder Peter Reid, widely and rather cruelly known among football fans as ‘Monkey Heid,’ owing to an unfortunate physical resemblance. Reid, it is said, has ‘fallen in love’ with Thailand after some gigs here working for satellite TV, although it is also true that he seemed to have little prospect of getting a new managerial job in the UK. Reid’s managerial career has been mixed (his playing career was excellent). Initial success at Manchester City and Sunderland was not matched at Leeds and Coventry. He has a reputation for playing quite a rigid long-ball 4-4-2 game which seems unsuited for Thailand – unless the FA of T can start naturalizing some tall centre-forwards born overseas – while his reputation for falling out with players appears to be an accident waiting to happen in a system such as is found here. Still, he is old enough to have matured and achieved wisdom as a manager and let us hope that he can identify players willing to play for him and a system under which they can flourish.
Poor ‘Kittichai’ – not, presumably, his real name. There he was, minding his own business surfing the internet and found himself pursued by a woman offering him sex. The woman, Kemjira Tanpaiboon (27, it is conventional to add), described herself as pale-skinned, large breasted and in need of help and what red-blooded Thai chap could resist such a combination? The desire for white skin is prevalent throughout Thai society, as witnessed by the large number of adverts for cosmetic products offering to bleach the skin in one way or another.
Anyway, Khun Kittichai agreed to meet Ms Kemjira, who apparently lives on Ramkhamhaeng Road. Alas for him, when he arrived, he was disappointed to find the latter weighed approximately 100 kg and his ardour waned. Ms Kemjira, however, was not one to take no for an answer and demanded sex and money – a scuffle apparently broke out as Khun Kittichai tried to leave, during which she grabbed hold of his mobile phone. Subsequently, she used the phone to call him and threaten to tell his wife unless he paid her for the phone’s return. This he agreed to do but then took police with him. They arrested the woman for prostitution and extortion – she has an eleven month suspended jail sentence and a fine of 8,000 baht – these punishments were reduced because she confessed.
It is not clear which of the two crimes attracted the jail time. As just about everybody knows, there is a substantial sex industry in Thailand and the usual double standards about who uses it, who pay and who gets punished. A cash-based industry generally offers many opportunities for corruption as police can, if they wish, collect fees from sex workers and their establishments for not arresting or closing them down. Many rich and some not so rich men still expect to have one or more ‘mia noi’ – so-called little wives, in addition to number one wife. Thak Chaloemtiarana’s book on the despot Field Marshall Sarit shows him to have had a ‘nakleng’ (tough guy) image, for example, and there is a photo of the top five of 1961’s Miss Thailand competition, with each of whom the Field Marshall was said to be having a relationship.
Protestors have managed to shut down the Environment Ministry by blocking access to the main building – at least temporarily. The protestors are concerned about the scheduled building of two new power plants in Saraburi and Chachoengsao Provinces. The concern centres on the possible environmental impact of the new plants and the fact that, as they see it, there is no meaningful public impact into environmental impact assessments.
Protesting in Bangkok by people throughout the Kingdom has a long and distinguished history. When I have visited the ministry of Labour, for example (to visit my wife), it was a common sight to witness retrenched (redundant) or striking workers bringing their case to the centre of power. Historically, the power of the state, present in the King, was delegated to aristocrats or mandarins spread throughout the country and these officials were given permission to ‘kin mueang’ – literally, ‘eat the state.’ In other words, officials were expected to keep some portion of the national revenue (from taxes, monopolies and trading tariffs) for their own purposes – this is considered to be the origin of corruption in the country. It was only when the official took too much that people would rebel and begin a march on the capital to take their protests to the king.
Normally, of course, the king would send soldiers to kill or disperse the peasants before they got anywhere near the capital but the tradition remains. Thais tend to believe in the monument supposedly set up the King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, which promised them that all people could come to him and he would listen to their grievances. And so, it is common for protestors to come to Bangkok and set up camp to demonstrate about the issues that concern them and either receive a hearing and some kind of assistance or have to give up and go home.
In the current environment, with the spoilt brat anti-democracy activists PAD whipping up hysteria through a wrongly friendly media, protestors run extra risks. There is a real danger of violence at the moment. Visitors should stay away from protests – it is, after all, illegal for foreigners to be involved in political protests (it dates back to the Communist scare).