Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Indonesia, better than Thailand?

 Panthep Klanarong, president of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, spent about 20 minutes discussing the obstacles facing his office. He defended his office's performance, saying that it has only the power to investigate and not to prosecute, and that he needs the help of other agencies and departments, and the people of Thailand, to combat corruption.
Apparently, one of the reasons corruption in Thailand is rampant and rarely checked is because not even the National Anti-Corruption Commission has the power to stop it.
Mohammad Jasin, vice-chair of Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), for approximately 10 minutes, explained his commission's 100% conviction rate. His commission has the power to investigate and to prosecute, and even to take over cases from the police if need be.
Sixteen members of parliament have been convicted, 26 cases are still ongoing. Six ministers and others of ministerial level have been convicted. Twenty district mayors and heads. One governor of the central bank and four deputies. And a former chief of the national police.
If there's one thing I've learned from the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference, which finished in Bangkok yesterdayfrom Nov 10-14, it's that perhaps Thailand needs to be more like Indonesia. This is not to say that Indonesia and KPK don't have flaws, but it is to say that they are doing a lot better than we are.
The most popular, and most baffling, statistic last week was the 76.1% of Thais who believe that corruption is OK, as long as the country prospers. They were surveyed by Abac Poll.
That means that of the Thai population of 63.7 million, 76.1% of the people do not realise that such an attitude can only help corruption to prosper, not the country; 76.1% of the country who do not understand that because of such an attitude, the country can never prosper.
If this poll tells us anything, it's that the stark horror of our collective misguided existence is a genuine metaphorical reflection of the brainless, soulless and clueless zombies in a classic George Romero horror film.
Perhaps the 76.1% simply feel defeated. How can they not? Just go back to the first paragraph of this column. Talk about deflating, eh?
Not only that. To address this disconcerting find, the prime minister's spokesperson, Thepthai Senpong, announced that the government will ask the Ministry of Culture to combat such attitudes head-on by building a new culture, creating a new consciousness for the Thai people, one that would not condone corruption.
Excuse me?
Re-engineering the mindset of the entire country? It's not that I disagree, but would it not be more practical for the honourable spokesperson to just advise the prime minister to sack one or two of his corrupt ministers?
To at least make a credible stance on the Constitution Court's video-clip crisis?
To mandate the National Anti-Corruption Commission with actual, real power to combat corruption?
You know, to set an example for the people of Thailand? Call me crazy, but hey, I'm full of wacky ideas.
No wonder 76.1% believes corruption is OK. What else can you do?
Mr Jasin showed the conference a picture of televised court proceedings. Yes, the entire country gets to watch the court doing its job. How's that for transparency?
In Thailand? We have to smuggle video clips.
Mr Jasin also spoke of how ''dark forces'' are trying to limit the power of, or even do away with the KPK. On learning of this, the people of Indonesia took to the streets in droves in support of the KPK.
Why? Because the KPK has set an example, has given them hope, has shown it can be done, and so the people stood up.
This is not to say Indonesia and the KPK don't have their flaws. The KPK is still quite limited in its powers, and is no stranger to controversy itself. But it sure is doing a lot better than Thailand and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
The Abac survey compares Thais' attitudes toward corruption from before the 2006 military coup and the present day. And here's the stinker _ 90.1% believe that there's been an increase in corruption with the present government. Four years ago, 84.9% believed there was an increase in corruption under the Thaksin government.
There you go, according to the Abac survey conducted in 17 provinces, the Abhisit government is believed to have a higher rate of corruption than the Thaksin government. To be fair, surveys are not a perfect science, but they do tell you something.
But here is the bigger stinker: The supposed purpose of the 2006 coup was to counter corruption. After the coup, four years later, Thais perceive Thailand as having a higher rate of corruption. Seriously?
If this poll tells us something else, it's that the stark horror of my beloved Kingdom's absurd existence is real life imitating an episode of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone.
At the International Anti-Corruption Conference, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke of his latest efforts to combat corruption _ the signing of an agreement with 27 leading Thai businesses in an alliance against corruption.
Putting pen to paper is all well and good. As a writer, I'm all for the belief that the pen is mightier than the sword. But as a practical, thinking human being, I also understand that there are times when we need to unsheath the sword.
Perhaps we could, like Indonesia, empower a real, actual mandate to smite corruption.
Put away the blustering and posturing. Bring out the sword. Make sure it's sharp.
And wield it justly.

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