The Thai army always accuses civilian politicians of being corrupt in order to justify staging military coups. Sutep’s mob, the Democrats and the middles class love to use the same accusation against Taksin and Pua Thai. Yes, corruption is a serious problem for Thailand and therefore we need a serious discussion about how to fix this problem.
We need to ask which groups are most corrupt. The answer is the army, both in the past as well as in the present. In normal times the army generals enjoy lavishly fees by sitting on boards of state enterprises and big companies. The military also own much of the mass media, which gives them large profits.
Independent bodies and courts are corrupt to the core because people in these high positions are appointed and enjoy huge salaries. To get into such positions you need to be well connected with politicians and army generals.
What about politicians? Yes, the corrupt politicians are especially those who have no policies to offer to the electorate, like the Democrats or the old style parties. They love to stress, over and over again, about morality and justice, but have nothing to provide to the people except “special favours” to their clients. They are also only motivated to become politicians by the prospect of accumulating wealth.
Taksin was also interested in accumulating much wealth and he never paid enough tax. Like all politicians, he used his powerful position to further his own interests. But his motivation to become Prime Minister was more about feeling that Thailand needed to be modernised.
What about the police? Yes, we can see their corrupt activities every day on the streets.
The whole system is a fertile ground for corruption to grow. What about the solutions?
A few days ago there was a seminar about the corruption hosted by The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). What were the main points that concerned them? The director of TDRI said that monopolies are the root of corruption. The representative from the Thai Chamber Of Commerce implied that “populist” policies by Thai Rak Thai or Pua Thai were examples of corruption! He claimed that governments all around the world are reducing the role of state to intervene in the market with the exception of Thailand. Obviously, he has not kept in touch with the news in Europe and how much ordinary Europeans have expressed their resentment against austerity and their support for the Welfare State. There were a few academics in the seminar, but only one, Pasuk Pongpaijit, defend democracy as the best tool to cope with corruption. Even so, she did not offer any concrete way to do this.
Corruption is a serious problem in Thailand, but it is can never be abolished by the elites who are universally corrupt. It cannot be abolished by legislation either. To abolish corruption we need to expand the democratic space so that the public can reject corrupt politicians and state officials. Everyone, including the army generals and members of the royal family need to be openly scrutinised and made accountable. Strengthening social movements and trade unions can be an important part of this and we need mass media to be free of elite control. Reducing inequality and providing decent public services can also be part of the fight against corruption.
However in present day middle class Thai discourse, “corruption” is merely an insult people use against public figures whom they dislike, while ignoring the corruption of others.