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13 February 2014
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Economists wary of people’s council

An appointed government proposed by protesters as a “people’s council” could worsen Thailand’s chronic corruption problems, economists have warned.

Prof Pasuk Phongpaichit of Chulalongkorn University’s economics faculty yesterday said it is not clear who would appoint the members, and this would allow for corruption.

“A small group of people might not come from a fully acceptable procedure,” she said, adding that an appointed government might change the law without clear procedures.

“This is one of the loopholes that can lead to corruption, violation of human rights and many other issues,” she told a seminar hosted by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

At the same time, the private sector should also be reformed for Thailand to address corruption issues effectively as many large-scale projects implicated companies in corruption cases, she said.

Prof Pasuk has been researching corruption in Thailand since 1992, a year after the coup by the National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC) ousted Gen Chatichai Choonhavan, who was democratically elected.

“At that time, the justification of the coup was to solve corruption problems that stemmed from Gen Chatichai. But in fact, the NPKC themselves had some transparency issues,” she said.

Prof Pasuk’s studies have found the government of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat had the top score in terms of percentage of gross domestic product that politicians received in corruption.

In a democracy, corruption can be solved through the justice system and various democratic institutions.

Unlike an appointed government or one that comes from a coup, an unelected council would have more tendencies to withhold information, she said.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s justice system has problems in punishing wrongdoers, whereas countries such as Singapore have a stiff rule of law.

“Even if you get a good person into the government, you still won’t be able to root out corruption if the government is appointed and there is no governing law or constitution,” Prof Pasuk said.

Political analyst Marc Saxer said corruption is the fuel that keeps the patronage system based on personal relationships going.

“Corruption, nepotism and cronyism are not illnesses to be cured but the very DNA of the patronage system. Hence, in order to root out corruption it is not enough to prosecute individuals. The outdated governance operating system needs to be updated,” he said in a separate interview.

While corruption can be solved by strong institutions, institutions are only strong if they are universally accepted as neutral and fair.

This is why institutions imposed by one side on the other will most likely fail to tackle delicate tasks such as curbing corruption, said Mr Saxer, who is resident director of the Germany-based Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bangkok.

TDRI research director Deunden Nikomborirak said the most important tool for people to use in tackling corruption is information, and Thailand’s Freedom of Information Act should be revised so that there are very few instances in which the government can avoid revealing information.

“Thailand should conduct more studies in terms of corruption, as we only have a perception index that asks people how they feel about corruption,” she said.


First published: Bangkok Post,  February 12, 2014