Thailand: Experts share lessons for countering corruption

February 23, 2012


  • Thailand, despite its measures to identify where and when corruption is happening, can do better in perceptions-based listings
  • Citizen engagement is as important to countering corruption as systems, rules and regulations. Thai experts recommend stronger support for the Access to Information Law
  • Around the world, social media and mobile technology are making it easier for citizens to gather evidence of corrupt practices

Bangkok, February 23, 2012—Thailand, in spite of being a parliamentary democracy and a higher middle-income country, can do better in perceptions-based corruption listings. According to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index, Thailand was 78th out of 178 countries in the world.

Thailand has been good at putting in place systems that help identify symptoms of corruption and reduce the opportunities for corrupt practices. Public services processes like passport issuance, ID cards, and driver licenses, have been streamlined. Many of these processes are now online and are constantly being evaluated using a system of key performance indicators. An example is the e-Revenue system which was implemented by Thai authorities to reduce interactions between taxpayers and tax collectors and the risk of any money changing hands in the process. Similarly, e-Auction systems were put in place to reduce collusion in public procurement. An independent National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has also been established to investigate corruption in the public sector. Public officials are now required to file assets and income declarations. However, despite these measures, Thai people are of the view that corrupt practices are still on-going.

As part of the World Bank’s support for good governance and anti-corruption, it co-organized, with the NACC, a conference to discuss practical approaches towards more evidence-based anti-corruption policies. It was held on January 11-12, 2012 in Bangkok and brought together international and Thai experts. They highlighted ways to curb corruption:

Social media networks and cheaper technology are being used to bust corruption

Affordable technologies- combined with high speed internet and social media networks- are taking the anti-corruption fight to a higher level because it enables citizens to collect evidence and send them to authorities more efficiently. In India, webcams are being used to ensure that teachers show up in rural schools. Widespread smart phone use is allowing citizens to send pictures, in real time, to Delhi Police Department’s Facebook page featuring traffic violations. In Africa, SMS technology is allowing citizens to check if the drugs they are buying in the pharmacies are genuine. In many Latin American countries, citizens can upload pictures of public projects and their GPS coordinates to ensure there are no ghost infrastructures.
-Annette Dixon, Country Director, World Bank Thailand

Corruption plagues every sector and calls for a multi-sector response.

Corruption continues to plague every sector of Thailand, in spite of the tireless efforts of the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC). Combating corruption requires the collaboration of all groups in society for the ethical exercise of government; combating corruption requires citizens' support, and private sector participation. Combating corruption also requires relevant research and the Research Center at the NACC plays a key role. It serves as a focal point where practitioners can discuss views and data on corruption and provide evidence for policy measures so that problems can be effectively addressed. Presently, the NACC is in the process of setting up a Law and Economics Study Center, in collaboration with universities in Thailand and abroad. This Center will integrate the disciplines of law, economics, and other social sciences to develop an integrated policy framework to combat corruption.
- Panthep Klanarongran, President, National Anti Corruption Commission of Thailand

The most effective anti-corruption enforcement efforts are not necessarily those that make the splashiest headlines

The most effective anti-corruption campaigns are likely to be those that are broad, sustained, and consistent across time and across targets. High-profile “crackdowns” or occasional high-profile prosecutions can sometimes be effective, but there is evidence that the effect of such is fleeting. Corrupt officials learn to take the occasional crackdown as part of life, much as criminals learn to lay low when the heat is on: that crackdown constitutes an annoyance, but not a real disruption. Even worse, a cycle of temporary crackdowns, followed by a return to “business as usual”, can breed cynicism. Effective anti-corruption policy amounts to the law enforcement equivalent of a balanced diet and lots of exercise: regular, steady enforcement of predictable and legitimate rules with sustained political and financial support. There’s nothing magical about it, but it’s hard to sustain.
-Professor Matthew C. Stephenson, Harvard Law School

Natural resources can easily be exploited but there are proven, effective ways to avoid this

The use of natural resources- land, minerals, water, and forests- is an important development path for countries. However countries often don't get the full or sustained value of these resources due to weak governance and corruption. Corruption can be minimized if countries consider the following for each of the five broad stages of transforming natural resource potential to attain sustainable development: (1) Framework and institutional setup - subject regulations to broad consultations, consider international comparisons, and debate the regulations in parliament; (2) Awarding of concessions and licenses- have a competitive procurement process, standardize the key terms of concession agreements, invite third party advice and review prior to signing of contracts, publish key conditions, and have parliament assess outcomes from prior concessions; (3) Regulation, engagement, and monitoring of operations- invest in monitoring and require projects to pay for independent third party monitoring; (4) Collection of taxes and royalties- publish payments, participate in industry initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and ensure independent audit of amounts and payments; (5) Revenue distribution and management- publish the public budget and ensure the audit of public funds use.
-William Rex, Lead Social Development Specialist, World Bank

Open information leads to good governance and better accountability

The right to public information is believed to be an essential right of citizens. When Thailand’s Access to Information Law (ATI) came into existence in 1997, it was intended to be a mechanism to ensure government accountability, good governance and democracy through citizens’ participation. However, despite the law and the disclosure of public information policy, the number of people making use of the policy by requesting information and lodging complaints remain very low. Some of the major barriers to the realization of the purposes of the ATI law can be found in: (1) Structural issues related to terms of appointment and institutional home of the Office of OIC; (2) Budget: The declining budget allocated to the implementing office has left little for training, dissemination, and other proactive ventures; (3) Leadership: The lack of political will or commitment at the top has led to the downgrading of ATI activities. Many government agencies do not feel the need to comply to open information as a high priority; (4) The value and usefulness of disclosing public information needs to be discussed. The public nature of the law appears to be overshadowed by users for personal interests or problems. But, in spite of the many shortcomings, ATI is symbolically important. When properly implemented, it can inspire and harness energy towards greater transparency and accountability.
- Juree Vichit-Vadakan, Secretary General, Transparency International