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Homing in on Thaksin through corruption probes

Updated On: Jan 30, 2007

The Thai authorities are adamant to crack down on corruption, with the ultimate aim of getting Thaksin and boosting their favour with the public.

After all, the September 19 coup was made in the name of countering the rampant graft under the Thaksin administration and the Assets Examination Committee (AEC) was set up to probe the previous government’s misdeeds.  With no clear outcome in sight and the public growing impatient, the counter-corruption process seems to have accelerated since mid-January.

Around 16-17 January, the Financial Institutions Development Fund of the Bank of Thailand “lodged a complaint against Thaksin and his wife Khunying Pojaman over the Bt772-million land purchase scandals”, while the Airports of Thailand (AOT) submitted another “complaint against 14 suspects for alleged involvement in the purchase of the underground power line system and 22 suspects in the CTX bomb-detection purchase” with the AEC. Needless to say, Thaksin and his cronies like Suriya Jungrungreangkit (former transport minister), Srisuk Chandrangsu (former AOT board chairman), and Wichai Jungrakkiat (senior official of Revenue Department –fined earlier for omission of tax collection in the Shin Corp sale) are implicated in these proceedings.

Within a week, Pinthongta Shinawatra was questioned by the AEC for over six hours for tax evasion in the Shin Corp deal. Thaksin’s son (Panthongtae Shinawatra) was interviewed by the AEC regarding the same deal earlier in the month. The AEC is showing its claws by announcing “it would use ‘other tax regulations’ to force Pinthongta to pay more than Bt2 billion in personal income tax on the sale of Shin Corp shares”, the Nation noted. This declaration thereby retracts the authorities’ previous statement that Pinthongta was exempt from “paying tax on the proceeds of her share sales because she resided in Thailand for fewer than 180 days in 2006”.

In a further show of teeth, the AEC will meet the Council of National Security chairman Gen. Sonthi and PM Surayud to “seek the transfer of several key bureaucrats who failed to cooperate in taking action against politicians implicated in the 13 corruption cases it is investigating… to ensure witnesses do not retract their statements in court”, the Nation reported. This is in reaction to the AEC’s headache over the non-cooperation of state officials “who refuse to file complaints with the AEC against former political office holders allegedly involved in graft” because they did not want to implicate themselves as they retained their positions even after Thaksin was ousted from office.

This fear of self-implication has delayed prosecutions. Apparently, corruption probes in a rubber-sapling programme failed to yield results as the Office of the Rubber Replanting Aid Fund (ORRAF) did not name those involved in graft. Sak Korsaengruang, the AEC spokesman said, “The government must consider their transfer so our work can move forward efficiently… We are not telling the government and the CNS what to do, but we will give examples showing that the agencies which reshuffle their executives have more efficient and effective results.” He cited the progress in the “investigation of irregularities relating to Suvarnabhumi Airport after the change in the [AOT] executive board.”

The woes at the Suvarnabhumi Airport are now well-known.  Even before its official opening at the end of September, the new airport has suffered numerous problems which many blamed on poor and rushed planning and of course, corruption. Indeed, polls by Suan Dusit showed that majority of Thais blamed corruption more than any other cause for the mess in the new airport.  Cracks in runways and taxiways hand repairs being undertaken now have caused delays, and decision has been made to shift some non-connecting domestic flights back to the old Don Muang airport.

This increased efficiency in graft busting or at least the seemingly dogged approach to crack down on corruption is vital to proving to the Thai people the authorities are doing their job. In a recent Suan Dusit Poll of 1,286 people between January 25 and January 28, 48% believed corruption was the “main cause of difficulties befalling the four-month-old international airport and 50.5% wanted investigations speeded up”, with punishment of the culprits, the Nation reported.

On the business front, another poll on 1,639 business operators in Bangkok and neighbouring provinces from January 1-28 by the ABAC Social Innovation of Business and Marketing, a research unit of Assumption University, found that 70% of the respondents believed that corruption was still rife among local officials, with 55.7% believing that top officials continued to be corrupt. However, only 13.8% felt “there was corruption among the leading figures in the interim administration”. On whether corruption would increase under the current government, “more than 66% said it would increase among local officials [with] more than 54% [saying] they believed corruption would increase among lower-ranking officials and 35.7% [saying] it would increase among top-ranking officials”.

The overall sentiment of those surveyed seemed resigned that graft was a part of the system, and that it occurred in all levels of politics, business and daily life. Tellingly, the poll showed that 37% of the respondents felt that corruption would increase after the next general election and 23% believing it would “increase among top-ranking officials”. With such a scenario, it is difficult for Thailand to eradicate corruption fully even if the CNS heeds the AEC’s advice to make anti-corruption a national campaign.

Sources:

Airport debacle 'caused by graft' (Nation, 29 January 2007)

Corruption ruined the airport, Thais tell poll (The Bangkok Post, 29 January 2007)

AEC moves against wayward officials (Nation, 29 January 2007)

Assets Examination Committee hopes to remove key permanent officials involved in corruption cases. (Nation, 29 January 2007)

Ministers 'won't point the finger' (Nation, 27 January 2007)

Ex-PM Thaksin’s daughter questioned over 6 hours on Shin share deal (Thai News Agency 25 January 2007)

AOT names 36 in graft cases (Nation, 17 January 2007)

Back to Don Muang – domestic flights to resume soon (Bangkok Post, 29 January 2007)