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Don't wait for politicians - the power to reform is in our hands

Publication Date : 17-12-2013

 

Last week, the head of China's Agriculture Ministry inspection team warned officials not to accept holiday gifts, including fruit and vegetables, on New Year's Day and the Spring Festival. The order is in line with the Communist Party (CPC) Central Committee's eight-point crackdown on corruption that began 12 months ago.

In December 2012, China's Politburo announced its first detailed guidance for strengthening trustworthiness of officials, whose abuse of power has distanced them from ordinary citizens. Since that day, anti-graft rules have been announced one by one.

Rule No 2 says that meetings and major events should be strictly regulated. Politburo members are not allowed to attend ribbon-cutting or cornerstone-laying ceremonies, or celebrations and seminars, without first getting approval from the CPC Central Committee. In addition, official meetings should be short, specific and to the point - no empty socialising and schmoozing. Sealing the crackdown on political extravagance is a ban on shark-fin and bird's-nest soups at official receptions

China Daily reports that a top Agriculture official was punished after he spent 30,000 yuan (US$4,900) on a new set of office furniture in August, while a colleague bought 30,000 yuan worth of moon cakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival. (http://asianewsnet.net/Chinas-gift-ban-applies-to-festivals-54991.html)

We Thais should take note. China's efforts to eradicate corruption are worth paying attention to if we are serious about lifting our Transparency International Index ranking. Beijing has shown that where there's a will, there's a way - a top-down approach.

But despite the talk of "reform" raging in Thailand, it will likely be years before we get such action here. Instead, while politicians and academics brainstorm on what is to be reformed and how, it is we ordinary folks who have the power to kick-start the process.

A survey by Bangkok University shed some light on where to start. The survey revealed that more than 70 per cent of Thais support reforms, with most pinpointing law enforcement as the area in urgent need of attention.

I couldn't agree more.

On my daily commute from Ram Intra Road to Bang Na via the outer ring-road, I regularly see cars cutting in to traffic to make it onto the U-turn, often narrowly avoiding accidents.

A friend of mine was recently caught on camera turning into a "no-turn-left" lane. The fine and the photo arrived at her home with a warning that it would be doubled to 1,000 baht unless paid soon. With incontestable proof in front of her, she hurried to pay.

I just wish there were a camera at the outer ring-road's Chon Buri exit. I'm convinced the fines collected would soon pay for the "eye in the sky".

Drive for long enough in Thailand and you are likely to encounter traffic police trying to extort bribes in return for waiving a ticket. I know some drivers are happy to make that deal, even boasting later about negotiating the lowest fine. But how are we to strengthen law enforcement if both officials and citizens show such a lack of respect for the rules?

Then there's the fiercely competitive environment of education, where many parents buy places at good schools for their kids, believing that it a worthwhile "investment" to secure a good future social status for their children. Of course, they care nothing about the children whose scores may be higher but who stand no chance of quality education because their parents are poor.

Businessmen can also make a start in cracking graft. From now on, I would urge them to immediately report any official who tries to extort money from them to an anti-corruption agency. Given the deep-seated corruption that has now led us into political crisis, businesspeople are being irresponsible when they claim that under-the-table payments are standard and necessary.

The public is quick to complain about politicians being corrupted by power that always lures wealthy backers and hangers-on. But we like to keep it quiet when we are asking for a politician's help to get our children into a famous school. The bottom line is that if we didn't ask, they wouldn't be tempted.

Yes, power does corrupt. But the bigger truth is that everybody has their price - if the people around them are willing to pay it.

 

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