15 January 2018

Thailand’s parliament passed a law that makes it an offence punishable up to 5 years in prison, if a civil servant receives gifts, benefits or offers, such as a special discount, interest exemption, or remission amounting to more than $10. This is ridiculous. If the anti-corruption officials and prosecutors waste their time on such trivial transgressions, they will not be able to catch the big culprits like politicians and top civil servants. It is true that the country should be free of corruption at all levels. Thailand ranks 101 out of 176 countries in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International. It ranks even after Philippines and Peru.  In such a country, it is not feasible to rout out corruption to this level with the stroke of a pen. It should be done in stages.  

Corruption investigators argue that if the law is clear and not ambiguous it would be easier to prosecute offences. This is true. If there are tens of thousands of complaints received, it will paralyse the judicial system. If no action is taken in many cases, the officials will begin to flout the law openly.

According to Bangkok Post Two weeks ago the Public Health Ministry banned staff from using state office resources for personal reasons, including charging their personal mobile phones.  There was a strong backlash and the Permanent Secretary who imposed the ban, had to retract it. The aim of the government is to prevent any form of conflict of interest among state officials. A public official cannot deliver his best if he is worried over a small gift a close friend or a family member may have given it to him for his birth day. Law is necessary, but enforcement is more important than legislation.

This may be an attempt by the government to comply with the United Nations Convention against Corruption of 2003.

On 29 December 2011, BBC carried a report, “Sussex Police ban mobile phone charging to save money.” The scheme failed due to lack of significant savings. It is better to have a happier workforce than saving a few pence a year.

It is true that the military government is pursuing after two former prime ministers – Yingluck Shinawatra and her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was overthrown in a military coup on 19 September 2006 and was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail for abuse of power. In another military coup in May 2014, Yingluck was arrested and removed from power. Both the former prime ministers claim that they have been victims of political persecution. Both had landslide victory when they assumed power as prime ministers. Both are still free outside Thailand.

There are numerous high-level corruptions which the government must concentrate regardless of political affiliations.