Stickman Readers' Submissions February 4th, 2011

Another Stab At Corruption In Thailand

Steve’s recent submission entitled ‘The Sum Is Not Greater Than The Whole’ should have been given a green star by Stickman. The fact that he didn’t does not detract from this being a first class article, and one which I almost entirely agree with.

It just so happens that in a small way this week I have been involved in looking at the very issue of corruption law in the UK. The previous Labour Government created The Bribery Act 2010, and it is being brought into effect by the present Conservative Government in April this year. It reforms an area of law which has been untouched for the best part of a century, and endeavours to relate to modern day activity, particularly economic, but also upon individuals.

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Although the Act is relatively short, it is wide ranging, and in addition to creating new corporate offences, it also covers UK companies operating overseas, whether through subsidiaries, joint ventures, or direct market access.

A cynic might say that this new Act Of Parliament has been brought about at just a time where it has never been harder to bring to book the kind of people who may be breaking the new law when it comes to pass.

However, Lord Woolf who was Lord Chief Justice from 2000 to 2005, says of The Bribery Act 2010 –

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‘When the Act comes into force it will substantially improve our law and should have beneficial effects around the globe. It should encourage other countries – who, like the United Kingdom in the past, have neglected the need for having powers which enable action to be taken to deter corruption in general and bribery in particular – to adopt similar legislation. The problem with bribery is that once it becomes an embedded part of the culture of any country it undermines almost every aspect of the society of that country. It can undermine the courts and the rule of law. It can paralyse the government and undermine trade and commerce. A culture in which bribery is rampant is a particularly insidious problem for undeveloped or less developed countries who find that it almost inevitably attacks their institutions so that they are no longer able to protect their citizens. In addition it deters multinational companies from trading with a country in which bribery is prevalent. Global companies are increasingly concerned about their reputation and reluctant to expose themselves to allegations that they are contravening best international standards of propriety.’

Well well, Lord Woolf seems to refer primarily to societies abroad, rather than the UK, which is the only country to which the new law actually applies. Given the content, one might even think he is referring directly to Thailand! And given the similarity to some of the statements in recent Stickman submissions on corruption in Thailand, could it be that Lord Woolf is a contributor to Stick’s website?

I certainly agree with the spirit and intention of Lord Woolf’s statement, but what about the reality? In the case of the UK, there are far too many laws already created, and in the pipeline. This has helped to create an ever increasing prison population approaching 95,000 out of a population of 62 million.

Steve also mentions the prison population in the USA, and I’m going to digress for a moment because the statistics here are so shocking, in a country which is supposed to lead the world in democracy. In America, one in every 99.1 adults are in jail, a prison population of 2.3 million. As a proportion of the population, that’s more than twice as many South Africans, three times as many Iranians, and six times as many Chinese. There are more than double the number of prisoners in Thailand than in the UK, out of a population of 67 million. Not good.

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America’s shocking statistics continue. 1 in 30 men aged 20-34 are in jail, 1 in 9 black men, more 17 year old blacks are in jail than in college. America contains 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s jail population. It is also interesting to note that America bans the importation of all and any goods made by forced labour, or prisoners.

However, American prisoners are involved in the manufacture of the following goods – 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID tags and other items of army uniform. 36% home appliances, 93% domestically produced paints, 21% office furniture – competing directly with factories over the border in Mexico. If prisoners refuse to work they are placed in solitary confinement. Yes, the American prison system is great for business, for America is more a corporation than a country. If you want amusement, horror and sadness go on to Youtube and watch and listen to what the late comedian Bill Hicks has to say about many aspects of his own American society.

Returning to the original theme of corruption, I’m not going to repeat all the reasons why Steve believes that in spite of corruption Thailand can still be a pleasant place, and I take his point on being light hearted about it. I especially take the point about foreigners being unable to own land in Thailand, when one would have thought that corruption would have been the biggest winner if this was allowed. You only have to look across the border into Cambodia where the law was amended in 2005 to allow foreign ownership of buildings. This created a property boom, which collapsed in 2008 along with everything else international. The point I’m making here is that the majority of Cambodians are extremely poor, and this market was nothing to do with them. The only ones to benefit were the country’s leadership, and in some cases indigenous people were thrown off their own land with no notice, in choicer areas where there was money to be made by land development when foreign investors would benefit.

I do not believe there is a hope in hell that Thailand would, in the foreseeable future, pass a law similar to the new one in the UK. Nor do I think they should. Steve has already presented many economic reasons as to why this could not happen, as it would mean insurmountable costs and changes which in their present cultural state, I cannot imagine the Thais being able to bear. Stick makes a good point about the key being a massive overhaul of education and the culture of learning, and this would be a good place to start. But not with the intention of turning Thailand into just another clone in the global economy of shopping malls and consumer spending, we’re already seeing what a dead end this is.

The problem with education in Thailand is that the rich and upper classes don’t want it for the poor. Education means increased awareness – meaning awareness of injustice and inequality, threatening the power bases. Nothing new in this, except that the Thai rulers are particularly adept in maintaining the status quo. Even Thaksin, whilst being the only leader to actively assist the poor in the rural North East, only did this to win their support and try to secure his own power base – his own brand of corruption, and look what happened to him. No, I think that if change is going to happen, like many others I believe that it will have to come through the Thai people themselves in their own way, and this will involve a heck of a lot of bloodshed. What the outcome will be – who can tell?

Speaking with my Thai wife of 5 years, and on my many visits to LOS, I find that Thais live with everyday corruption without batting an eyelid. My wife had to pay a bribe of 2000 baht to an official at her local Amphur in order to avoid having a land transaction held up whilst there was a query on whether, being married to a farang, she was eligible to have her name registered as owner. I have twice had to pay police fines when driving, the first was 2000 baht for something I didn’t do, the second 500 baht for something I did do. It was over and done with in minutes and I felt far happier this way than on the occasions I’ve been prosecuted for driving offences in the UK – some seven times over 35 years of driving. A small and personal view, but I tend to disregard the whingeing of farangs when it comes to corruption in Thailand, it’s not really their business. Corruption in Western society operates on a much more massive, if more sophisticated scale, and much more hypocritical. You have to be delusional not to see this. And when comparing the sins of the British Empire over the last 300 years against the sins of Siam/Thailand – well, there’s no comparison!


It's interesting that your wife seems to accept corruption – many Thais do but I think just as many do not.

I know it was just a minor point you made and not the main point of the article, but being shaken down for 2,000 baht, or even 500 baht by traffic police for things you did not do is almost unheard of. Most fines for traffic infringements are 400 baht and the maximum fine for most traffic infringements is only 1,000!

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