THAILAND: PM's cronies big winners, says study

New website tracks privatisation and conceal acts of corruption

Bangkok Post
Monday, January 10, 2006

By Tul Pinkaew

A study has found that corruption within the current administration has benefitted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's business cronies, economist Sungsidh Piriyarangsan said yesterday. Speaking at the official launch of a graft information website, www.corruptionwatch.net, a portal designed to become a platform for the public to report incidences of corruption and voice concerns, the former Chulalongkorn University economist said there are various methods with which the government can influence the economy to benefit politicians and their friends.

Topping the agenda, according to the study, is privatisation.

"In Thailand, privatisation has been ongoing since the beginning of the Thaksin era, on the pretext of involving the private sector in the development of infrastructure for the public interest," said Mr Sungsidh.

"In fact, the purpose of this privatisation was to shift economic power to conglomerates owned by the prime minister's cronies and to companies owned by the Shinawatra family."

Various methods are used by large companies connected with the current administration to curtail competition, Mr Sungsidh said, and these have the backing of the government.

Also on the list, the study found, were stock manipulation, drawing up government regulations to benefit certain groups, covering up news or allegations of corruption within government ranks, bribery and conducting international trade negotiations in the interest of cronies, such as the plan to trade farm products for fighter jets.

"The government currently oversees about 500 billion baht a year in purchasing budget, another 500 billion baht in state funding and 500 billion baht for the construction of the so-called mega-projects. If 10% of all this goes into the pockets of a few people, it will steadily slow down the economy," said Mr Sungsidh.

He said Mr Thaksin's definition of corruption, however, does not include what was mentioned in the study as "conflict of interest."

"Throughout his five years in office, Mr Thaksin has not once mentioned conflict of interest as part of the fight against corruption," said the economist.

The study was conducted by Chandrakasem Rajabhat University's Good Governance Research Institute, of which Mr Sungsidh is chairman.

Various representatives of civic groups are lending their support to the Corruption Watch website, including Totrakul Yomanak, president of the Engineering Institute of Thailand; Democrat party deputy leader Alongkorn Pollabutr; Veera Somkwamkid, secretary-general of the People's Network Against Corruption; Chart Thai MP Chuwit Kamolvisit; Theerapat Serirangsan, a lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University; auditor-general Jaruvan Maintaka; former National Counter Corruption Commission member Klanarong Chantik and Senator Nirun Phitakwatchara.

The website, to mark its inauguration, alleged irregularities in the purchase of three naval patrol ships worth more than 700 million baht. It alleges that the contract was contested by four companies, but last week only one company was deemed qualified and thus eligible to submit an uncontested quote.

The website demands the government and the navy clear up suspicions before a contract is signed.