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Billions of Baht in Phuket Graft



Collector Saichon Chotdee is arrested outside a Phuket tailor shop

Taylors in Phuket, forced to pay millions of baht in bribes, today lifted the lid on huge corruption payouts that amount to billions of baht each year on Thailand’s most popular holiday island.

MPs from the Standing Committee of Anti-Corruption and Good Governance of the Senate confirms that the amounts involved in graft on Phuket are massive.

The Senate committee is in the midst of a three day investigation on Phuket in which evidence is being heard from witnesses alleging corruption by senior Phuket police. It is believed some senior Phuket police have already spoken to the committee in Bangkok.

Honorary consuls once labelled Phuket ”the most corrupt province in Thailand,” with as many as 14 government agencies said by locals to be involved in graft in the west coast holiday capital of Patong alone.

And the bottom line to all Phuket graft – along with the extortionate fares demanded by the tuk-tuk and taxi monopoly – is that the tourists from all over the world who visit Phuket ultimately pay for it all.

Estimates of the amount that corruption and the tuk-tuk monopoly add to the cost of a trip to Phuket vary, but they add 20 or 30 percent to a holiday for visitors who frequently use tuk-tuks or who buy souvenirs from stalls along the west coast of Phuket at Patong, Karon, Kata and Kamala.

Linked to the corruption allegations is the scandalous treatment of immigrants to Thailand, who often find themselves paying bribes to enter the country, then regularly on demand for the privilege of performing the most menial jobs.

Burmese laborers in construction or serving in restaurants or performing household duties without proper work permits are seen as easy marks for corrupt Thai police on Phuket.

The Nepalese tailors who gave evidence to the committee today are victims of a similar abuse scam – they have permission to stay and work in Thailand, but not as tailors.

To come forward today to speak to the Senate committee, the 10 Nepalese tailors required courage. But the levels of extortion, they say, have become too great for them to continue to live in fear as graft victims.

The committee conducted its hearing behind closed doors this morning and again this afternoon at Provincial Hall in Phuket City.

One Nepalese tailor told Phuketwan later: ”There are about 100 tailor shops in Kata Karon [a popular Phuket holiday spot south of Patong] and all of us pay bribes every month.

”I have five staff, so I pay 10,000 baht a month – 2000 baht for each of them. How many millions of baht do the tailors of Kata-Karon pay?

”We reckon they pay at least 1.5 million baht a month. Add to that the amount paid by hundreds of copy shops selling pirate goods of all kinds, and you have an idea of the scale of the corruption.”

All over Phuket, adding in bribes paid by bars for staying open beyond closing time, for resorts avoiding prosecution for waste water discharge and other breaches of regulations, and for having permission granted for all kinds of simple requests, and corruption on Phuket amounts to untold billions.

Whether this particular investigation lifts the lid more generally on corruption on Phuket and triggers healthy changes remains to be seen. At present, the committee is investigating allegations against three senior police, an administrative official, and the man who collected the money each month.

The identity of the graft collector was revealed with the arrest of Saichon Chotdee in mid-August. But Khun Saichon was unusually granted bail in the early hours of the morning after his arrest.

He always provided the tailors with receipts for their 2000 baht payments.

Along with a Phuket vice governor, Khun Saichon is to provide information to the committee.

However, connecting Khun Saichon to those who actually keep the money may not be as straightforward as it seems.

News of the Senate investigation comes amid heartening signs that the embassies of some foreign countries are prepared to insist on improvements on Phuket that will protect their nationals from thuggery, scams and extortion.

Whether their concern extends to the graft and corruption that is actually paid for by all tourists who visit Phuket is another issue.

And the new Thai government probably does not need reminding that without extortion, thuggery, environmental degradation and corruption, Phuket would certainly rank among the world’s finest tourist destinations.

Senate Committee Chairman Senator Jongrak Jutanant, a retired police general, told Phuketwan the investigation was 80 percent complete.

He aimed to return to Phuket in two weeks, then to forward the committee’s report to Cabinet for action

By: Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison

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