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NEWS UPDATES 17 June 2010

Corruption root of Thai problems

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Corruption rests at the roots of Thailand's current political problems and public resentment about social and economic gaps within the country, says Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, as reported by the Bangkok Post.

"[Corruption] can destroy what is already good," he said. "It can destroy society and contribute to many other problems.Even though we have systems and laws and organisations dedicated to countering corruption, it remains a long-standing problem," he said.

Speaking at a conference on anti-corruption efforts, Mr Abhisit said persistent corruption contributed to some parts of the society giving up hope of any solution at all, while imposing added costs throughout the economy.

Public corruption resulted in added waste and the procurement and delivery of goods and services ill-matched for the country's needs at the expense of taxpayers.

Transparency International ranked Thailand 84th out of 180 countries in its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, tied with El Salvador, Guatemala, India and Panama. In contrast, Thailand ranked 84th out of 179 in 2007 and 63 out of 163 in 2006.

Mr. Abhisit said corruption eroded the country's moral and ethical fiber, starting at the very top with the political system.

Corruption directly contributed to today's public discontent with the social, economic and political imbalances within the country, he said.

Addressing the problem means not only enforcing the laws more seriously but also ensuring sufficient salaries within the civil service, instilling morals and a sense of civic duty among staff, department heads and leaders, he said.

Among government agencies, the Customs Department ranks highest in terms of complaints filed regarding corruption.

Mr. Abhisit said one problem was the considerable discretion wielded by customs officers in determining the taxes or procedures required for a given case.

In some cases, traders have been penalised despite the fact that they followed the recommendations made by customs officials themselves.

Mr. Abhisit said the Finance Ministry was in the process of scrapping a long-standing practice of paying special bonuses to staff for fines levied against the private sector, as the system actually encouraged distortions and contributed to corruption.

Somchai Sujjapongse, the director-general of the Customs Department, said he was committed to improving transparency within the department.

A high-level working group, comprised of industry leaders and outside experts, was set up last year by Dr. Somchai to give advice on how to improve the efficiency and transparency within the Customs Department.

Department heads recently were made to sign pledges vouching for the actions of their staff and certifying their own responsibility over the actions of their subordinates. The e-Customs system has also been expanded to improve transparency and reduce the discretion of customs officials in processing cases. Standard operations, such as container inspections, will also be benchmarked with the goal of completing work within 30 minutes, rather than one or two days.

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