Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other guests attend an event to mark Anti-Corruption Day at Bitec in Bang Na on Saturday. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has urged all sectors of Thai society not to tolerate corruption and said he expects the country’s position on the corruption perception index (CPI) to improve this year.
Speaking at an event to mark International Anti-Corruption Day on Saturday, the premier called on all parties to join forces in the fight against corruption. He also emphasised the importance of raising public awareness of the issue and the need to foster an anti-corruption culture among citizens.
“Thai people must reject and no longer tolerate any kind of corruption. Corruption is not an easy problem to solve, but if all parties help one another to fight against it, I believe we can do it,” Gen Prayut said at the event.
Gen Prayut claimed that his government had taken many steps to combat corruption, including improving laws and setting up anti-corruption networks at ministerial and provincial levels.
“With all these efforts, we expect Thailand’s CPI score for 2017 to improve,” the prime minister said.
Last year, Thailand scored only 35 on a scale of 0-100 points in the CPI rankings. Its ranking plummeted from 76th in 2015 to 101st place in the 176 countries in the 2016 assessment.
Transparency International is scheduled to release its latest findings at the end of this month.
The prime minister also warned the public and private sectors not to be fooled by those who pretend to have his ear.
“If any public or private organisation encounters people who claim to know me personally and demand benefit for favours, you can report them to me or the Prime Minister’s Office directly. I can assure you that I never befriended corrupt people or received any benefit from them,” Gen Prayut said.
Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, speaking at the same event, praised the Thai government for addressing corruption as an urgent issue and as part of the national agenda.
“Now companies, not just their employees or agents, can be punished for violating the anti-corruption laws. Investors doing business in Thailand should therefore be aware of the risks and their responsibility to comply with Thai law,” he said.
Mr Douglas added that the anti-corruption laws also criminalise bribery of foreign public officials, which is considered as a major step in adopting the standards of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) president Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said the NACC has received about 500 corruption-related petitions a month this year.
He said that this shows that the general public have become more aware of the need to tackle corruption head on and trusted the NACC to assist with cleaning out the pond.
Over the next three years, corruption in Thailand will be substantially reduced, he said.
Former prime minister and Democrat Party executive Chuan Leekpai said at a separate event that putting effective policies into practice along with better law enforcement are the most important ways to tackle corruption.
“Any good policy is nothing if it is not put into practice,” he said, adding that anti-corruption measures should be also undertaken at all administrative levels, particularly by local administration organisations.
Meanwhile, a seminar was told that the judicial system’s biggest obstacle to bringing influential people to trial is financial wealth as it affords them the opportunity to bribe their way out of trouble.
Those who hold senior positions in a number of legal sectors including in civil, appeal and constitutional courts continue to abuse their power and are the most difficult felons to bring to justice, according to Constitutional Court judge Jarun Pukditanakul.
“There are also people in the government who are sponsored by illegal businesses with immense wealth, with a web of connections so deep and sophisticated it is almost impossible to identify them,” Mr Jarun said.
Mr Jarun also referred to individuals who lead prostitution rings and gambling mafias and who influence Thailand’s judicial system to the extent that it severely tarnishes the credibility, respectability and morality of the institution.
Existing laws continue to create opportunities for high-profile fugitives to escape, according to Niwat Kaewluan, former secretary-general of the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
“Statistically speaking, a person with a 20-year prison sentence serves around seven on average, and life imprisonment is around 11 to 20 years,” Mr Niwat said.
“Rich and powerful people often find ways to reduce their punishment,” he added.
He added that it was imperative for Thailand to figure out ways to remove such undue interference from the judiciary system.