An Abac Poll revealed that 64% of Thais think corruption is acceptable if the country or themselves benefit in some way from the corrupt schemes. Of greater alarm is the fact that 70% of youngsters under 20 endorse this view.
With corruption having become so endemic and deeply rooted in society, it should come as no surprise that social acceptance of corruption and cheating is spreading to the younger age group every day.
This worrying situation was confirmed yesterday by the Health Systems Research Institute. Its survey of children’s emotional and moral health compared to a decade ago showed that more children in the 10-14 age group feel it is okay to cheat or bribe “when necessary”, such as to pass exams or win at games.
There are also worrying signs in smaller children. Children under 5 now fare worse in compliance. Children in the 6-9 age group also fare worse in empathy and emotional control. It is the same with the 10-14 age group, who are also well below par in critical thinking.
It would be a mistake to consider corruption solely as a morality issue, which otherwise could be resolved through strict induction in moral science for children.
Due to lack of transparency, accountability and effective punitive measures, corruption in government now accounts for as much as 30% of state investment and purchasing budget. So investors transfer these costs onto taxpayers and consumers through more expensive goods and services. In public infrastructure projects, corruption results in cost-cutting and poor quality, which often leads to tragic consequences.
Corruption is not limited to the government. Thailand’s gigantic underground businesses are well protected by the police. The combined worth of illegal businesses _ gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking, human trafficking, trading in contraband arms and the smuggling of diesel oil _ is believed to total more than 20% of the nation’s economy. If protection money in the gambling business is anything to go by, 5 to 20% of its earnings go to police protection.
The gigantic size of the underground businesses means their tentacles reach far beyond the police force into every sector of society, especially in politics, and bolster the patronage system as another wall of protection.
In government, the closed and top-down decision-making system breeds corruption. Lip service to morality does not help. The cure is in the opening up of the state system through people’s participation, decentralization and political reform.
In the private sector, the key is police reform. Without improving the dreadful welfare system for police, there is no chance of addressing the scourge of corruption, legal double standards and lack of legal enforcement. Without decentralization and demilitarization of the police force, justice and legal equality remain far-fetched notions.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has set up a special committee to eliminate double standards in the judicial system. But this goal of legal justice will remain elusive so long as the Yingluck government dares not touch the police force.
Close collaboration between the state and the business sector and longstanding police corruption have made people lose trust in the rule of law. The various surveys showing people’s acceptance of corruption merely mirror their hopelessness. We have the remedies for corruption _ political and police reform. What we do not have is the government’s political will
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