Petty corruption seems to prevail in every Third World country. Now as the economies in Southeast Asia get stronger, Thailand may soon not be considered a third world country, but the disease of Petty Corruption in Thailand does not seem like it is going away at all.
At one time, there was a lot of petty corruption in Singapore and Hong Kong, but those areas managed to stamp most of it out. When Thailand’s current energetic and attractive Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, took office in 2011, she promised to rid petty corruption from the country. As Thailand Business News of 27 September 2011 reported a month after she took office:
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra vowed to fight against corruption in an anti-corruption campaign which took place at Lumpini Park in Bangkok with many important political figures joining the bandwagon. The Prime Minister took an oath against corruption and stressed that her government placed great important on promoting good morals and transparency among all officials. She also said she would like to see the culture of honesty manifest in the Thai society.
But by all accounts, nothing has changed and the situation is perceived by Thais and expats alike as perhaps even getting worse. So what happened Madam Prime Minister? Methinks that the corruption monster in Thailand is just too darn big and too darned ingrained for this to go away with a few government leaders talking a good talk about it.
There was established an Office of Anti-corruption. As reported by one of the vigilant expat members of ThaiVisa forum (Notime, a senior member): “I went to the Government Anti-corruption Office in Bangkok. It took me a long time to find it. It’s in the area of many splendid, huge government buildings towards Don Muang airport and then West. I didn’t even know before that Thai government had such enormous, new offices. But that institution wasn’t housed in any of them. I finally found it in a nearby commercial building. It occupied a small office space on the first floor and nobody in the building even knew it was there. It was staffed with few young people and the boss was nowhere around. One of the first things they told me there was that they were very, very underpaid. I felt like offering them some encouragements at first but on the second thought I just left. Lesson learned: somebody “up-there” wanted to have an anti-corruption office but not for real. Just so they can talk about it.”.
Reported a year after Prime Minister Yingluck took office, reported in September 2012 in the Thailand Bushiness News:
Corruption remains Thailand’s most vulnerable factor
The Yingluck Shinawatra government has failed to deliver its promised crackdown on corruption, according to a poll at Bangkok’s Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU)
DPU research center director Kiat-anan Luankaew said the government’s anti-corruption performance received 4.6 of a total 10 points, describing corruption as a deep-rooted culture in Thai society, particularly in the political and public sectors.
The only anti-corruption alternative left is to strengthen the public sector, in cooperation with the media, to strenuously follow the performance of politicians and government officials while educating the public on the cancerous nature of corruption.
“Lessons learned from Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong prove that it is a curable problem if we persistently fight against it,” he said.
The survey on corruption in Thailand was conducted Aug 26-Sept 4 and announced Wednesday on the eve of National Anti-Corruption Day. A total of 1,028 people in 20 provinces were questioned in the poll.
Asked if corruption is a vital problem for Thailand, 88.3 per cent of the respondents agreed that it was serious while 7.2 per cent said it was not and 4.5 per cent said they were not sure.
In dividing graft to three categories: political, state and private sectors, 81.9 per cent, 72.5 per cent and 54.7 per cent of the respondents said corruption has increased in the political, state and private sectors.
In addition, the respondents predicted increasing corruption rates next year with 72.2 per cent, 65.5 per cent and 50.1 per cent of respondents seeing more corruption in the political, state and private sectors.
Yes, it is everywhere and ingrained into the way people do business and go about their daily tasks. If you are in business, it is in every aspect of your business. In order to get deliveries or sell products anywhere in Thailand, there will always be hands out waiting for a reward. And in daily life, everyone in Thailand must cope with the little extra that needs to be paid in order to have things happen, or to avoid a penalty. Need to get a document filed at some provincial government agency? Then you better be ready to “grease the wheels of the machine” to make it work — literally.
The way Thais do business is the mai bpen rai (relax — it doesn’t really matter) way. Go with the flow and don’t get excited. Taxes are low in Thailand, and most (especially Expats) seldom pay very much, so a little extra (and usually it is very little) for the government employee shouldn’t be regarded as such a big deal — at least that’s the justification for it that we hear, and maybe that is correct.
Americans back home don’t have petty corruption, and in fact it is regarded as a very serious crime. Any cop or small time government official soliciting or taking any kind of gratuity to get the job done or avoid a problem is promptly locked up if they are caught. And the American culture is such that any infraction by someone of authority is quickly reported and immediately followed up on (for small time corruption). The net result is that there is very little petty corruption on the street level in the United States. If you get a traffic ticket in America, no one would consider paying off the highway patrolman. You just pay the ticket, and it is probably $200 or $300 or $400 or maybe more. In Thailand, a traffic policeman stops you, he tells you what you did wrong, and if you pay him 200Bht (about $6), it goes away. And even if you have to pay this 200Bht tip fifty times (which is highly unlikely), your fines will still be less than what you pay back in the US for one infraction. It is important to put everything into perspective
Thailand supports a huge bureaucracy. Without the ability to speed things up in the system, you would be stuck in a Kafkaesque nightmare waiting for the system to spew out your approvals or paperwork or results. With just a little ointment, the machinery will spit it out and you will be done. When any society has created a giant unwieldy bureaucracy, it will also create a way around it. America’s bureaucracies are just too darn efficient to need that ointment. They have computers that work.
The Thai government is inefficient in much of what it does for their citizens, but that is actually a blessing when you put into perspective. It allows a Thai and an expat to relax and not worry about prying eyes from government people in their home and family life. An expat here will have no property taxes to pay on their home, and there generally is no Thai federal tax authority prying into their personal financial affairs.
The moral issue is sometimes difficult for the Westerner to handle. It is simply wrong. Yes, but the Thai street cop does not get a big enough salary that he can support his family, so in a sense, it could might be considered a tax to help support the police. And if a person does not make the payment, there usually is no overhanded undue pressure; that person can be morally right, take the ticket, go to the police station, wait a long time and pay the fine, which is usually much more than the 200Bht tip that would have made it go away.
The US government, of course, is not corruption-free. It is the big guys in the US that make up for it, squandering billions of citizen’s dollars on their cronies with massive kickbacks to them, and strapping the public with debts that will last two or three generations. The US is corrupt on a much grander scale than what happens in Thailand. I hope Thailand never “graduates” to the high levels of corruption that seem to run America’s government.