4 Years After the Thai coup: Assessing the Military's Anti-Corruption Fight

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on May 19, 2018

May 22 marks the 4th anniversary of the 2014 military coup. Time for us to reflect on what has happened since then. In part 1 of a 3-part-series, we're assessing the military's anti-corruption fight, something they have pledged to take head on when they took over. Four years later the results are mixed to say the least.

TRANSCRIPT

GEN. PRAYUTH CHAN-OCHA; Thai Prime Minister:
"...I hereby swear, that I will conduct myself with honesty, that I will not commit corruption, and I will uphold the values of justice…"

Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's message denouncing corruption was loud and clear. It has always been so.

Mr Prayut used corruption to justify the military’s takeover of power in the 2014 coup.

It said the administration of then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was corrupt and needed to go.

Several politicians from Ms Yingluck's toppled government were prosecuted following the coup, charged with corruption and in the case of the former prime minister herself, with criminal negligence in a rice pledging scheme.

She fled the country before a court sentenced her to five years in prison.

But corruption continues to be a problem, according to a report this year by Thailand's Court of Justice.

GEN. PRAYUTH CHAN-OCHA; Thai Prime Minister:
"The government is aware of the issue and is pushing this issue [of anti-corruption] as a national agenda. We’re already amending laws, and other mechanisms of checks and balances. The next step is how to make these changes into a reality."

Thailand's score in the latest Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International shows little improvement in its anti-corruption performance.

On a score of zero to a hundred, where the higher the score, the cleaner the country... Thailand scored 37 in 2017, compared to 38 in 2014, the year Ms Yingluck's government was overthrown.

ILHAM MOHAMED; Regional Advisor Asia Pacific, Transparency International
"What you do find in Thailand is grand corruption, illicit enrichment and illicit financial flows. This is what needs to be tackled and this is where you need to focus on if you would like to make changes."

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT, Bangkok, Thailand:
"The military is one of those institutions in Thai politics that has always had corruption allegations levelled at it. Things did not get better when it took over power here in 2014. Quite the contrary, a few scandals involving senior army officials have become major headaches for the government."

The Rajabhakti Park near Hua Hin for instance - the army's project to honour the monarchy.

Critics allege the park's giant bronze statues of seven past kings were massively overpriced, raising suspicion of kickbacks for the military officers who commissioned them.

Government investigations later cleared them of any wrongdoing.

And then, the saga of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and the luxury watches he allegedly owns.

The probe by Thailand's National anti-Corruption Commission is still in place but critics fear the case will be buried.

Observers have asked if it's only the small fish that are getting caught.

MANA NIMITMONGKOL; Secretar General, Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand
"But at the moment, those measures have not yielded any results yet. And the public is doubting that, while they they seem to be focusing on local politicians and low-ranking civil servants, whether senior officials in the government or in the bureaucracy will be under the same scrutiny. Which leads to the question about how effective the crackdown was in the last 4 years?"

Prime Minister Prayut has announced that Thailand will hold its election in February next year.

And when it does, the country's anti-corruption track record will once again be closely scrutinised by the people.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok