Friday, April 29, 2016

Thais woke up to a scandal per day

When those in power view corruption as an expected perk


APRIL 28, 2016

The public learned a bit more about how the Thai system works, and it was not a pretty sight. The lesson from last week was arguably that anyone — literally anyone who can do it, does it. Not only does it but actually takes it as an expected perk.

The subtext: The man who blames the politicians for it also does it.

After a cooling-down day following the Songkran New Year and Highway Massacre extravaganza, the country was met last Tuesday morning with a headline that said: “Preecha ‘abused power.’ ”

A kind whistleblower had spent the Seven Dangerous Days (a reference to the week of New Year celebrations where the death toll on Thai roads is at its peak) ferreting out a classified document not fit for the eyes of common people. In it, the powerful permanent secretary of the ministry of defence had both initiated and then signed off a sweet deal for a young university graduate to enter the army with an officer’s rank, but no military training or, in fact, authority.

General Preecha Chan-o-cha said it was true. He had taken pity on a talented young man stuck in a drone job he hated. So he made the promising man an acting sub-lieutenant handling civil affairs in the 3rd Army, with a salary of 15,000 baht.

Gen Preecha is the brother of the prime minister, Gen Prayut. The talented young man with the new army job is army Sub Lt Patipat Chan-o-cha, who is Gen Preecha’s son and has a proud Uncle Too (the Prime Minister’s nickname).

All over the world, of course, there are military families, but it is rare outside of banana-rich oligarchies to see the combination of secrecy, assumed privilege and attempted secrecy of poor Sub Lt Patipat’s case. Dad, uncle and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon circled the wagons faster than an influential family caught in a fatal auto accident. Uncle Too explained, “Shut up,” because it was all done legitimately.

He is right. And so is Gen Preecha, who said “everyone does it”.


On Wednesday, the public learned: Election Commissioners used overseas trips for group fun, family visits.

An investigative piece by Thailand’s leading English-language daily revealed the overseas hibbity jibbity of the men who will run the three billion baht referendum.

As a matter of course and privilege, they not only while away a week or more on alleged “work trips” to observe how foreigners vote, they take big groups of aides, secretaries and the like with them.

Example: Chairman Supachai Somcharoen has a son in the United States. Mr Supachai recently found it essential to the referendum process to observe a US primary for eight days. Mr Supachai did not arrange the trip to see his son, but by good fortune he just happened to come upon him during the trip.

For this, Thai tax payers are not only paying double the standard expenses of 35,000 baht per person per trip. They are paying it at a time the government, the aforementioned Gen Prayut, has banned overseas junkets. Mr Supachai and EC cohorts say they are entitled because they have to be well educated on elections. (They also reportedly claimed they thought the ban applied only to government officials, not themselves, who are members of an independent organisation.)

Then on Thursday: “Suksapan store under investigation.”

The nationwide chain of Education Ministry stores has long been shadowed by a public perception that Suksapan exists for its Ministry of Education civil servants and phuyai (Thai for important people), and not students and parents. Nevertheless, its stated job is to provide required books and quality school uniforms at extremely low prices. They have one job. You can guess the rest.

Last week, a whistleblower revealed that 530,000 textbooks had just walked away from the warehouses. Also, someone over-ordered uniforms by 500,000 units so they could rot in storage.

On Friday, this one hurt: “Farm Chokchai land ‘mostly illegal.’ ”

It seems that Thailand’s first cattle spread and dude ranch intrudes into Khao Yai National Park, sits on land secured by title deeds it has no right to and just for kicks has blocked the entrance to a next-door village because it’s big and entitled and because it can.

Farm Chokchai is a fabulous introduction to the innocent age of real cowboys, cattle roping and massive steaks on hot platters. Mr Chokchai Bulakul established the Chokchai ranch in 1957. (It’s now run by his son Choak and attracts up to 200,000 visitors a year.) What a letdown if the Department of Special Investigations is right and it’s been sitting on a corrupt swamp all this time, not lush cattle-feeding grass. How sad if it has just been 60 years of enriching three generations of Land Department snudges.

And if a new, major case every day of nepotism, influence, outright graft and officials sniggering at their corrupt schemes milking the public is shocking, how much worse it is that there is no apparent chance of anyone ever being held accountable. (BANGKOK POST)


Alan Dawson, a subeditor with Bangkok Post, has lived in Thailand most of his life. He started his journalism career in the 1960s and was the bureau chief in Ho Chi Minh City for the United Press International during the Vietnam War.

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