Mindful changes needed to weed out corruption

Mindful changes needed to weed out corruption

The Nation (Thailand)/ANN

Thailand’s Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva are being investigated for abusing their position when they used their government office to send out short messages, or SMS, via mobile phone service last year.

In his and the prime minister’s defence, Korn said SMS was meant for the public interest and that there was no personal gain nor conflict of interest.

The opposition, on the other hand, said it was a deal big enough for impeachment. They called on the counter corruption agency to go after them with no mercy.

Sounds a bit trivial – government officials using state property for personal gain? Probably. But if this fiasco about the SMS is to be a benchmark for corrupt practices, then it would be safe to say that just about all our elected leaders have committed such a sin.

Have any Thai politicians ever used a telephone in their office to call family members or friends for personal reasons, or used government cars and transportation for personal trips?

The problem with Thai society is that we are living in shades of grey without any real guidelines as to what is acceptable or not.

We have been living in this big shade of grey for so long that shady conduct and attitudes have, more or less, become a part of our national character.

We can talk all day about the problem, but few have ever come up with a solution as to how to address it.

Of course, there is no magic wand to wave over the country and wish the problem to go away. And because corruption is so deep-rooted in our society, all of us must do our part in combating it. From the man on the street to the prime minister, a person must be part of the solution or continue on course and remain part of the problem.

One common excuse as to why our government officials are so corrupt is pinned on their low wages. In this respect, officials become corrupted because they have to make ends meet. But where does greed get factored in? Too much doesn’t seem to be enough.

The question is how do we build a system that weeds out corruption? Let’s try one that is based on merit rather then personal connection.

In countries with high marks for transparency and accountability – another way of saying less corrupt practices – bureaucratic systems and military are designed in such a way that permit outstanding people to shine above the rest, while those who don’t cut it are weeded out.

The Thai army has nearly 1,000 generals, most of whom have no real command post, much less a job, while a country like Australia has four.

The Thai armed forces know that the majority of their budget goes to routine spending, like salary and benefits, not towards strengthening military capability and capacity. A leaner armed military would definitely mean more meaningful forces.

The same could be said for the civilian side of the government bureaucracy. Bloated, corrupt and ineffective are some of the words that come to mind when one speaks of Thai bureaucracy.

Perhaps if we used the same standards for our government officials as the private sector and paid the employees a market rate, then what would happen?

It could help the so-called brain drain, a process in which the country’s best and brightest are lured to the private sector because of the financial rewards.

But that might not be enough. Promotion would then be based on merit instead of time in service.

But do we have the educational institutions to train our people to meet the challenges of this globalised world?

Today schools, technical colleges, universities are popping up all over the country like convenience stores. But sadly education, as opposed to making money, doesn’t seem to be high on their priority.

We have this false institutional pride that pits students from one technical school against another, but we don’t have a tradition promoting standards of excellence.

And when our elected leaders talk about corruption, it sounds like a broken record. Instead of raising the issue of corruption for its own sake, they raise it to score political points. And they wonder why there isn’t public trust in the government service.

/ News

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