Updated: Mutual back-scratching

It is not a secret that companies that do well in Thailand have tended to be big “donors.” Most conspicuously, they fork out millions each year to various royal things, including charities, projects and just handing over bags of money for unspecified royal use. In the giving season, there is an endless parade of donors handing over the loot. Most recently, it has been Princess Sirindhorn doing the receiving on behalf of the world’s richest monarchy. A red royal garuda outside the company head office is one marker of these Sino-Thai tycoons having gained royal approval and acknowledgement.

These companies give less conspicuously to state events and projects. Least conspicuous of all is the myriad of payments that are made to military officers, police top brass and senior bureaucrats. This can involve positions on boards. Think of General Prem Tinsulanonda’s long chairmanship of the Bangkok Bank and all that carried with it for the company and its owners. the marvelous and still unexplained wealth of former police chief Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang, who now heads the casino known as the Thailand Football Association.

Another strategy is the creation of advisory positions, paying nice monthly stipends but where little advising is required unless their is some trouble that needs to be ironed out. And then there are the payments to those officials who are required to do favors, bend rules, overlook things and so on.

This is oiling the wheels of their commerce and trade through a hierarchy of corruption. Yet a blind eye is turned because this is the great and the good scratching each others’ broad backs.

Sometimes, though, through arrogance, forgetting that this is shady dealing and knowing that everyone does it, a revelation is made. The mutual back-scratching is visible and confirmed as in a recent report at the Bangkok Post.

Perhaps believing that revealing unexplained wealth and extra income is okay because so many others have done it with impunity, city police chief Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn declared that the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc pays him 600,000 baht a year as an “adviser.” ThaiBev is a company controlled by one of Thailand’s richest, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, worth almost $14 billion (naturally, he’s also close to the palace.) The Post story continues:

The payment is shown in Pol Lt Gen Sanit’s list of assets and liabilities that he recently declared to the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) as a member of the National legislative Assembly (NLA). The record shows he began receiving the monthly stipend last year.

The news from the NACC was released in the middle of a long holiday weekend, when it is guaranteed to attract the least possible notice.

It seems the senior policeman thinks receiving loot from the country’s wealthiest – meaning they must be great and good – is normal despite the fact that one aspect of his job is to implement a range of laws that govern the operations of the beer kings, who also have huge land and property investments in Bangkok (and beyond). This senior cop can’t see any conflict of interest, but can see his bank balance doing very nicely. This senior policeman probably also thinks that 600,000 is something of a pittance when compared with all the other illicit funds that funnel up to him. This strategy of corruption in the police is well-documented, and that’s why senior police are so wealthy. When the NLA was put in place by the junta, the top cops averaged a whopping 258 million baht in assets. And, moonlighting by doing favors for the rich and powerful is widely believed to be “legal.”

The criticism has been muted. After all, this corrupt cop has just been appointed by the junta to the NLA, so criticis have to be careful or they could end up in jail, harassed or worse. Somchai Armin, the chairman of something called the Lawyers Association for Rights and Environment Protection, has demanded Sanit give up his job as adviser to ThaiBev. That’s it? Even the Post wonders: “Somchai provided no reason for failing to call for Pol Lt Gen Sanit to resign from the police.”

Of course, Sanit is laying low: he “was not available for comment as of the press time Sunday and it is not clear what advice he has offered to the firm.”

Update: Serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, has filed a petition on this case with the Office of the Ombudsman.  Srisuwan argues that the Police Lt General “might have violated the Royal Thai Police code of conduct and ethics of 2008, the Prime Minister’s Office regulation of 2008 regarding ethics of political office holders, and the National Anti-Corruption Act of 1989.” The Office of the Ombudsman now has to decide if it will do anything. The military junta has apparently done nothing.

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