Corruption, nepotism and impunity

In an op-ed at the Bangkok Post, Thitinan Pongsudhirak says this of corruption:

The reason corruption is not forcefully addressed in Thailand is because we don’t know where to start with the powerful few involved. Those at the top who are supposed to eliminate corruption must be clean and willing to confront and prosecute culprits in a networked society where the degrees of social separation are very small. Going after corruption means going after crooks you and your friends and family may know.

We could read this as suggesting there’s a cultural element to corruption, but we’d prefer to think of it as suggestive of nepotism.

PPT is sure that nepotism plays a role. Indeed, the royalist elite and Sino-Thai tycoons are a relatively small ruling class and there are plenty of kinship links. The military and royalist state has also spent a considerable time seeking to make and reinforce such links.

Tucked away in an academic book (Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, eds, Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power, Singapore: NUS Press, 2016) is a chapter by Nualnoi Treerat and Parkpume Vanichaka on elite networking through “special executive courses.” As one reviewer explains:

The interviews with course attendees are of great value for understanding how it is that specific policies benefiting the oligarchy come to fruition. The inclusion of members of “billion families” into the courses brings to light some of the behind-the-scene mechanics of how an oligarch can connect with those in the parliament, military, bureaucracy, university sector, or the media.

Public-sector courses have been offered by the National Security Academy for Government and Private Sector (Po Ro Or), the Office of the Judiciary, the King Prajadhipok Institute, and the Election Commission. Two private-sector courses include the Capital Market Academy by the Stock Exchange of Thailand one by the Chamber of Commerce….

Throw in marriage, sucking up to the monarchy, elite schooling and all of the other things covered by Thailand Tatler and a coherent and connected ruling class is constructed and maintained.

All this lubricates and normalizes elite corruption as part of the process of entitlement. These people believe that they are Thailand.

At the same time, there’s a lot more than nepotism and entitlement at work. At least two other elements of corruption deserve attention. They are impunity and the nature of the “corruption system.”

Ruling class corruption and “unusual wealth” – in some cases, stupendous wealth – these people are also immensely powerful. This means they can literally get away with murder (the “connections” that display power are visible). The ruling class share impunity among themselves and their flunkies.

That’s why no one investigates the “unusual wealth” of those associated with the military junta. That’s why “both the chief of Bangkok police and the nation’s largest beverage company failed to respond to a state watchdog’s demand they clarify their financial relationship.” This refers to Police Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn and ThaiBev controlled by the Sirivadhanabhakdi family and the “adviser’s” allowance paid by the company to the cop.

(By the way, we think Khaosod is misreading the documents it links to on the General’s monthly salary; we think his annual salary is 1,425,600 baht, not his monthly salary.)

In addition to nepotism, entitlement and impunity, the mainstay of corruption is that it is a system. Business people, politicians, military and police and bureaucrats know what the system is, and they all benefit from it. The system channels corrupt funds from every level of the organizational hierarchies to the top.

That’s why, for example, cops and military brass are willing to literally pay for positions that see the greatest flows of funds. Think here of being permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport and chairman of the State Railways of Thailand or police chief in Pattaya; the money flows like a giant river. Of course, shares taken at lower levels are the cement that holds the corruption system.

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