Corruption and nepotism under the military junta

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For anyone paying attention to the mainstream media’s comments about the Thai anti-Taksin and anti-Yingluk protests, you would be forgiven for believing that Taksin Shinawat and his cronies were filthy corrupt politicians who had been pocketing millions and bleeding the country dry by offering “too many” pro-poor policies to the “ignorant” masses. These reports mentioned Taksin’s corruption as though it was an indisputable fact and that he alone was responsible for corruption.

Taksin is a super-rich tycoon. He is still super-rich even after having a large portion of his assets seized by the pro-military courts. His wealth primarily comes from exploiting the work of others, no different from any tycoon or business leader and no different from king Pumipon who is the richest man in Thailand. This is a form of gross robbery, but it is “legal” robbery under the capitalist system. It is robbery from low paid workers by those who have economic and political power. Economic and political power also paves the way to various business deals not available to the majority of the population.

The only corruption charge placed against Taksin was the charge that he was Prime Minister when his wife bought a plot of land from the government. This was undoubtedly against the rules. But the courts accepted that the price paid was the genuine market rate and they also ruled that his wife had no case to answer. Taksin also used various tax avoidance schemes to avoid paying tax on his immense wealth.

There is also no question that Taksin was responsible for shocking human rights abuses in the war on drugs and in the south when he was an elected Prime Minister. General Prayut Chan-Ocha, head of the Thai junta was also guilty of gross human rights abuses during the cold-blooded murder of Red Shirts in 2010.

Finally, Taksin was accused of “nepotism” by appointing his friends and relatives to state and political positions.

Now let us look at the situation under the military junta; a junta welcomed and supported by those middle classes who claim to be against corruption and nepotism.

After seizing power by illegitimate military force, Prayut sacked all state officials who were not deemed to be his loyal servants and replaced them with his cronies. He then appointed his mates to the so-called National Assembly, which duly appointed him as Prime Minister. He has hand-picked the anti-reform committee which is going to design a political system which ensures that he and his cronies hang on to power and influence for the foreseeable future. All this is political corruption and abuse of power.

Prayut is also guilty of nepotism. He promoted his younger brother Preecha to a higher military rank and appointed him to the post of deputy Army Commander. Formerly Preecha was commander of the 3rd Army. Prayut also appointed Preecha to the National Assembly.

It has been revealed that Preecha Chan-Ocha has bank savings in his own name of 42 million baht in 5 bank accounts. Another 47 million baht appears in 5 other accounts in the name of his wife PongPun. Preecha seems also to be confused about which account is his own money and which belongs to the “special budget” accounts of the 3rd Army.

Many Thai generals, including all the junta leaders, have accumulated wealth amounting to hundreds of millions of baht, way beyond what they could earn from their normal salaries. This has been going on since the bad old days of the military dictatorships in the 1940s.

Part of this money comes from corrupt deals and bribes. The other part comes from the use of their power and influence to do business deals and exploit the work of others, just like Taksin and Pumipon. The military as an institution also owns a large bank and lucrative mass media channels. Part of the profits go into the pockets of the generals. They also gain wealth from “managing” state enterprises.

Even the university rectors are not immune to this money grabbing circus. The university bosses who loudly attacked corruption and are sitting in the junta’s anti-reform council, have helped themselves to millions, way above their already inflated salaries which are a hundred times higher than the average wage for working people.

The truth of the matter is that corruption and nepotism can only be abolished (and they have not yet been abolished in Western democracies) by empowering ordinary people, expanding the democratic space and using drastic but democratic measures to create economic equality. This would also involve abolishing the free-market which allows the rich to constantly accumulate wealth at the expense of the poor.