Thailand: A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One

2003

Cavan Hogue

The Royal Thai Police have been in the limelight over the last month or two. While redeemed marginally by their role in catching the terrorist Hambali, the publicity has centred on claims by a massage parlour tycoon that he was kidnapped and then falsely accused by police of faking his abduction. Chuwit Kamolvisit was arrested on 19 July and charged with making a false criminal complaint. He claims he paid large bribes to police to keep his massage parlours going. (Bribes are paid to keep illegal brothels open and to avoid taxes in the case of legal operations.)

Charges of police corruption are hardly new in Thailand, but the present scandal has received considerable media attention and has resulted in police officers up to the rank of general being placed under investigation with many being subsequently suspended. The scandal has been linked to the Government’s promise to wage war on 'influential people' involved in criminal activities and its controversial drug suppression program. (According to official figures, during the last six months, police arrested 877 government officials on drug related charges). Government action against senior police officers is seen by many as an indicator of how serious the Government is about its campaign against 'dark forces' in society.

Low-level corruption is endemic in Thailand and cannot be stamped out while low-level policemen and officials are paid less than a living wage. One can, however, make a distinction between poorly paid constables who take small bribes to feed their families and senior officers who take large bribes to live in luxury. The present campaign is about the latter.

What are the implications for foreign business? Small-scale payoffs are not a problem for foreign businesses, but they can become involved in the payment of large bribes to government officials to get contracts or operate a business. Clearly the current media and Government crackdown means that such activities will be under greater pressure than before. It is perhaps asking too much of human nature to hope that corruption can be eradicated from any society, but the current political climate in Thailand suggests that accusations of high level corruption will be around for a while – especially in respect of the police. Honesty may be not only the best policy morally, but at least for the present it is probably also the most sensible policy practically.

WATCHPOINT: While Thais have watched in fascination to see which 'heads would roll' in the police force, they can also expect tight security measures to be put in place ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held in Bangkok on 20-21 October 2003.

 

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