Business As Usual
There was a discussion on an expat board recently about how widespread and accepted corruption is in Thailand. Not just at the high levels of government but as a way of life. Some board members were indignant, even outraged, that anyone would suggest that corruption is a part of the very fabric of Thai culture. Some people insisted it did not exist outside of the towns where the real culture had been ruined by tourism. Others had their own examples and understand how it is. Here is a day in my life that took place after that heated discussion. Having been here for 10 years, I do not think this day is so extraordinary and still, as a westerner, I get very frustrated with what Thais accept as the norm.
This story starts well enough; I just had one of the happiest days in my life because I sold my boat. The buyer, same same but different. In this story I am The Seller and he is The Buyer. I have a Thai girlfriend of many years. A common law wife actually. The Buyer has a Thai girlfriend. In this story they will be called The Wife and The Girlfriend.
To sell the boat following government regulations we must go to the Marine Office with all of the usual copies of important documents. We went on a Friday. The Wife stayed home because the boat was in my name and there were enough of us already. After about 30 minutes of going around in circles we got shown the door at the Marine Office because I could not produce a certificate of address from Immigration. Like for my driver's license renewal. Here, in my town, Immigration refuses to issue that document without a requisition letter from the government agency that requires it. It took me 10 days to get over that hurdle when I renewed that driving license. Perhaps they are looking for an incentive from me and I am too dim to understand that. So the language used at The Marine Office to show us the door was "we cannot do this because it is not a Thai boat". That did not sit well with me because back in the day I had to pay a 30,000 baht "fee" to this same office to register it as a Thai boat owned by a farang. (The reason stated for the 30,000 was that "it has a bus engine in it – receipt? NO!". ) What they meant to say about it not being a Thai boat is that it is not owned by a Thai person. It took me awhile to understand that meaning and the fact that a Thai person would have no trouble proving their address. So they sent us off to the Amphur – I'm not so pleased with this but we carry on.
At the Amphur we start with a clerk and she escorts us to a manager and we gather another clerk along the way. There is a 30 minute conference that includes The Girlfriend, who is the official buyer – not actually him. That is another story which is also about government regulations. They finally conclude that the Amphur cannot record the sale either because my passport is in English and because part of the boat title, the Tabien Luhr, is in English too. Not so good, every document "must be Thai language". This is absurd in my opinion, but hey, I'm just the one stupid enough to live here and being a farang, clearly I couldn't find my ass with help. So there is discussion about getting things translated. The Wife has been summoned, she had stayed home, to bring her residency docs and ID, etc etc etc. Soon after arrival she says to me "Why you not have me sell it for you?" When what she meant was "They want to do a power of attorney from you to me so we can get this done". I have issues. I have issues with "why you not" and I shot back "why don't you ask them? I have no idea what's happening here". And I went outside before I told them what I REALLY think. So before long I am signing a Power of Attorney. The Girlfriend and The Wife are advising me to be nice. So we get through all this paperwork – and let me tell you – it was more paper than I've ever had to deal with to buy, finance, insure and title search a house in Farangland. This is simply to record the fact that the boat has been sold – this would be a simple sales receipt in our world not requiring any government involvement. It has nothing to do with titling the boat. It took 5.5 hours to get to this point. The Girlfriend had to go to the Marine Office to transfer the title on Tuesday. I did not have to go because it was no longer my boat. She was supposed to go on Monday but the Amphur office had not done their part. "Come back in 2 days." On Friday they said come back on Monday.
But here's the part that I really reacted to – as The Seller, I was primarily an observer. I watched The Girlfriend in action and words fail me to describe the grovelling, the sucking up she did with those people. As if they were royalty and would not take care of her if she did not behave in this way. In private The Girlfriend was disdainful of them at best. I was repulsed by this show. I did have to go back for another round of this to wrap it all up on Tuesday. Finally done, with paper in hand for the Marine Office so the title can be transferred, The Girlfriend waied everyone involved and slipped the slacker who made us come back and come back again, a 1000 baht "tip". I would not have pissed on any of them if they were on fire.
At the Marine Office they dinged her 6000 baht to change it from a farang owner to a Thai owner, another 6,000 to change it from a private to a commercial vessel, and she voluntarily tipped them 3,000 baht. That's 15,000 baht in bribes. There were legitimate fees of 11,000 baht. No receipt was issued.
And there is a side story within this story. While we were waiting on Friday for the office to open back up after lunch, The Girlfriend managed another "government transaction". There is a hippy woman living here who is a friend of The Buyer. I do not know her. I was told that the hippy had a problem with her car. The Thai "mechanic" told her it was not serious and would cost a few hundred baht. She came back to get it and he said it was now 30,000 baht. She said "fuck you – it's yours" and left. People in the know think it is no coincidence that the next day the police came to her house with a search warrant. They found her few grams of ganja and she got arrested. She went to court, got out on bail, has to report back every 2 weeks and after a couple of months, if all is well, she'll pay a 3,000 baht fine and be finished. However, the police use this as an extra income opportunity and threaten take her to the Immigration Office where they will use their influence to have her deported and blacklisted unless she pays a 70,000 baht bribe. The Buyer had been present in court and was trying to help her. The Girlfriend knows some people. She contacts the arresting officer and he agrees to back off for 15,000 baht right now – no waiting. Sitting in the back of The Girlfriend's SUV, with tinted windows, I watched The Buyer's hired help make a video of The Girlfriend handing over the 15,000 to the police officer. She counted it out into his hands. The cop cannot see into the backseat and has no idea this is being filmed. The result is clear, not grainy, and with good audio. The Girlfriend wais the officer big time and thanks him profusely. The cop looks like he's about 22. They say he has a gambling problem at the casino across the border. I asked what will you do with this video? "Show his boss if he takes the hippy to Immigration". I'm not much of a gambler but I would not bet on The Girlfriend if that happens.
I think there is something in my story about how things work here, the importance of learning Thai language, keeping a low profile and to not commit even minor offences unless you are ready to face some serious consequences.
Captain Sea Dog (ret)
I'm glad I don't own a boat! Thankfully, when buying or selling a car, things are easy and when I sold my car I had zero problems – and did it all on myself with no need for help.
The way that government officials like to have their asses kissed just to get things done is something that has long appalled me. It is the public who is paying their salary and those who conduct themselves like this should be ashamed to treat people that way, abusing their authority and power the way they do!