Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s order barring gifts to superiors is a small but solid step in the battle to eliminate corruption.
Thanks to the “no gift” policy, a directive instructing state officials not to accept or give expensive gifts, most state offices have celebrated the festive season in a different atmosphere.
Unlike past years when members of the private sector scrambled at state offices for an opportunity to hand valuable gifts to seniors, this year saw the New Year festivities passing by in relative calm.
Most state agencies followed the policy. For instance, Chatchai Promlert, permanent secretary for Interior, instructed officials to exchange greetings cards instead of gift baskets or presents.
Wichit Chantanusornsiri is a senior economics reporter, Bangkok Post.
Somchai Sujjapongse, permanent secretary for finance, issued a circular, ordering officials not to give gifts to their supervisors at any level.
He encouraged his subordinates to send greeting cards, sign well-wishing books, or make use of online channels to share happiness.
The no-gift policy, which also applies to family members of senior officials, is an attempt to make the Finance Ministry a place where morality and transparency reign.
Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn also took a remarkable lead, with a directive prohibiting subordinates from giving gifts or souvenirs to supervisors as he said such a practice could pave the way for corruption.
The minister has encouraged health officials to stick to “rightful” values that cherish modest living.
Thailand is not alone in trying to tackle corruption. If we look around the region, some of our Asian friends have put in place similar steps.
Under its leader Xi Jinping, China, the regional giant, has also curbed gift-giving in the state sector.
In recent years, Mr Xi has led a massive anti-corruption campaign in which senior officials including ministers were removed and jailed for corruption.
Although some critics believe Mr Xi’s campaign is politically motivated, as it allows him to get rid of his opponents, it’s still noteworthy.
Closer to Thailand, our immediate neighbours including Laos have also joined the anti-corruption bandwagon.
There are reports that Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith ordered authorities from cabinet ministers down to local administration level to refrain from sending greetings cards. Gifts are also forbidden.
The Lao leader made it clear he wanted government officials in the tiny state to be a role model in living a modest lifestyle with no lavish spending.
Of course, we need continued action to root out corruption as well as the cronyism that over the years has left Thailand behind in terms of competitiveness.
We cannot gain the confidence of investors and those from the business sector if corruption is rampant.
The no-gift policy is a small but solid step toward tackling corruption. Yet I hope the policy will not just be a flash in the pan measure that will soon vanish and be forgotten.
Ironically, even as the state sector is trying to clean up its act, a corruption watchdog is lodging a complaint against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for giving away expensive puppies as New Year gifts to two of his cabinet members, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda and Deputy Prime Minister Chatchai Sarikulya.
Still, it’s encouraging to see many ministers and senior officials are observing the policy and setting a good example for those under them. This has rekindled my hopes that it could help lead us into a new era of a corruption-free Thailand.