The stench of military corruption

Giles ji Ungpakorn

The stench of junta corruption in the case of the gross and distasteful “Rachapak” monument park simply will not go away. General Prawit, deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, along with Generalissimo Prayut, have repeatedly tried to pass the buck and claim that it is “an internal army matter” or that it is “nothing to do with the government” because it is about the affairs of a private foundation. General Teerachai, the commander of the army has tried to brush off the affair and General Udomdet, chairman of the Rachapat Foundation and deputy Minister of Defence has equally tried to deny any wrong-doing. When repeatedly pressed for explanations by journalists the self-appointed generals have tended to lose their temper and shout threats. They can also “send the boys round” to pay people a home visit and drag anyone into an army camp for an attitude changing session. They did this with one Pua Thai politician who asked awkward questions. But the scandal simply will not go away.

The Auditor General has come out and said that state money was involved with this project and not just money from a foundation.

The Rachapak Park, near Hua Hin, is the site of seven huge statues of past kings, glorifying and continuing to distort “Thai” history. Naturally, it has special royal approval. It is a gross mirror image of a similar site, with huge statues of three past kings, built by the Burmese military junta in their new capital, Naypyidaw. For months there have been stories of the corruption surrounding the building of the Rachapak statues.

Myanmar Armed Forces Day (AP)

Meanwhile the Counter-Corruption Commission is still “considering” whether it should launch an investigation. They will have to tread carefully so as not to offend their military masters.

When Paryut staged his military coup in May 2014, he claimed that one of the junta’s priorities would be to deal with corruption. Only the feeble-minded members of the middle classes actually believed him.

When the Thai generals claim to be suppressing corruption, what they really mean is that they will deal with corrupt politicians who stand in their way. It is a means to try to ensure that the military has a monopoly on corrupt practices.

In a recent article in New Mandala, Prasit Wongtibun commented that “the Thai junta hasn’t rid the country of dodgy politicians; it’s simply taken their place”. He went on to write that the business sector has reported that “commissions” for government projects has risen to 30 or 50 per cent of the total project value. Local mafias on the street were replaced by men in uniform to whom vendors still pay protection.

In addition to the current scandal, Prayut has appointed his brother and various cronies to top positions. They have paid themselves huge salaries and also increased the military budget from which they all benefit.

Military corruption in Thailand has a long tradition going back decades. Military officers are involved with smuggling, prostitution rackets, drug trafficking and human trafficking. They also appoint themselves to lucrative management board positions in state enterprises. Most military officers enjoy incomes well above their military salaries and retire after having amassed much wealth.

Field Marshal Sarit Tanarat was one of the most notorious corrupt dictators in Thailand. He used state funds to pay for his sexual pleasures and to make investments in what became his private businesses. He plundered from the secret state security budget and the government lottery. He and his wife had shares in 45 companies. One of their principle share-holdings was in the Bangkok Jute Sack company. Rice millers were forced to buy their sacks from this company by law. Sarit also amassed huge areas of land together with cash savings of millions. He was involved with smuggling to supplement his income. When Sarit died of liver failure, King Pumipon ordered 21 days of official mourning for his “best friend”. Meanwhile his mistresses and children fought over his estate.

After Sarit died, his right-hand men, Generals Tanom Kitikajorn and Prapart Jarusatien, along with Tanom’s son Narong, carried on in the best traditions of the corrupt military, siphoning millions off proceeds from the national state lottery and collecting protection fees from various companies involved with government contracts.

Corruption goes hand in hand with a lack of democracy and accountability and the increased role of the military in society is making matters worse.