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Why is the private sector more serious about ending graft?

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You've got to wonder why the private sector has come out more aggressively against corruption than the government. And you should get more curious if the government appears not too excited over reports that a senior bureaucrat has reported losing to a team of robbers much less than the robbers themselves claimed to have taken from his home.

Put these two stories together, and you might not be too surprised over the fact that Transparency International says Thailand has slipped in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranking in its latest annual report.

According to Juree Vichit-Vadakan, secretary-general of Transparency International Thailand, our country scores only 3.4 out of 10 on the transparency scale. The previous year's score for Thailand was 3.5.

Compared with other countries, corruption perception in Thailand was ranked 80th among 183 countries on the 2011 CPI. Last year, we were placed 78th among 178 countries monitored in the survey. Regionally, Thailand was ranked 10th among 26 Asian countries. Significantly, Thailand shared the 80th ranking with Colombia, El Salvador, Greece, Morocco and Peru.

More significantly perhaps, no Cabinet member or senior government official has said anything about the report. There is no call for a new campaign against such a negative "corruption perception index". Nobody in the government has declared a full alert in response to this "wake-up call".

But business leaders are more or less up in arms. They aren't reacting directly to Transparency International's rankings. In fact, the Anti-Corruption Network (ACN) had planned to announce its new, pro-active campaign before the TI report was made public.

It wasn't pure coincidence though. The alliance of Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries, the Thai Bankers' Association, the Securities Exchange of Thailand and 26 other organisations had formed a strong network to fight corruption in the face of reports that the government was planning to spend at least Bt800,000 million for recovery and reconstruction activities after the devastating floods.

"We are going to X-ray every project to monitor any attempt at corruption," declared Pramon Sutivong, the anti-graft network's chairman. In other words, the private sector is watching the government to prevent officials and politicians from demanding tea money, which in some cases is said to be as high as 30 per cent, from firms bidding for contracts from government agencies.

The anti-corruption network's campaign is to be labelled, "Clean Thailand, DIY" - a vigorous, and courageous attempt to mobilise citizens from every sector to help fight the corruption that has spread like cancer all over Thai society.

Why hasn't the government taken an active role in this very important anti-graft move? For one thing, the enthusiasm to crack down on corrupt officials isn't there. Deputy Premier Kittirat Na Ranong told reporters that he was approaching the issue with a "heavy heart" (a Thai expression indicating the opposite of encouragement) because corrupt practices had become a "tradition" inherent in Thai society.

The other reason for the ambivalent attitude on the part of the government towards fighting corruption is that it isn't part of the populist platform which, for all intents and purposes, is aimed at pleasing the electorate, not upsetting the apple cart.

The Counter-Corruption Commission (CCC), an independent body with a distinguished record so far, isn't standing by though. A CCC executive member, Vicha Mahakhun, told a radio programme that the revised law had added new muscle to the agency by empowering the CCC to freeze the assets of officials "suspected" of corruption.

The case of the ex-permanent secretary of the Communications Ministry, Supoth Saplom, will be the first test case for the new legislation. "We must show that we can trace the money trail all the way back from the start - and not only take action when robbers report piles of cash in a government official's residence," Vicha said.

With the government showing hardly any enthusiasm for getting to the bottom of the story of such a senior official with so much cash stashed at home, it's time the non-government agencies showed that they can really represent the people's eagerness to catch the crooks red-handed.

If not now, when?

The Nation


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