Last week, I was doing my routine run at my usual track. Afterwards, sinking into a chair, sweat drenching from every pore, I overheard a group of elderly puu yai gentlemen talking nearby. These were businessmen, captains of industries, and they were complaining about corruption that oozes out from everywhere, just as the sweat from my every pore.
I’ve been running here for the past 20 years, and I’ve heard the same complaint over and over. No matter which political party was in charge, and now with the military government. So, if governments change, why does corruption remain? There’s a number of reasons for this, one of which is the constant that remains despite the parade of different governments: the bureaucrats (kah-racha-karn), the nucleus in the day-to-day management of Thailand.
When it comes to corruption, we don’t often put patronage politics under the microscope, as well as we should. But when it comes to the day-to-day operation of Thailand, those people come and go, patronage bureaucracy however is the white on this jasmine rice. From the different ministries to state agencies, they are well entrenched and deeply rooted. Their purpose is to protect the network, expand it and above all, enjoy the spoils.
Here’s an illustration of patronage bureaucracy at work.
Up in Mae Rim District of Chiang Mai Province, new judicial housing on 147 rai of land is near completion. This includes judicial offices and courts. The one-billion-baht project has caused a public uproar as it is being built at the foot of Doi Suthep national park.
At first, only locals and conservation-minded people were concerned, but the controversy has since grabbed national attention. Not so much the court buildings, but very much the judicial housing.
At the time of this writing, the issue hadn’t been resolved one way or another. But a recent video interview with Chamnan Rawiwannapong, former president of the regional court of appeal office, has caused heads to shake and stomachs to turn, all the way from Chiang Rai to Yala.
Mild-manner and in a calm, ever-so polite – even sagely voice – he played the role of an esteemed poo-yai tasked with explaining the complexity of the issue to all the poo-noi, so that we may see the light and come to an understanding. Chamnan told us there are cases involving election fraud coming up.
“How would the judges preside over the cases if they don’t have a place to stay?” He asked.
“Would you not want to provide convenience for the judges?” He pleaded.
“The offices of the appeal court are very far. Over 10 kilometers from the city. How do you expect judges to travel? How do you expect court officials to travel? You should be concerned of these things.” He reasoned.
In regards to how the issue should be resolved, Chamnan appealed to our sensibility (or gullibility) by saying that judges should be allowed to reside in these homes first and see if they can do things to improve the environment. Then, in 10 years’ time we can revisit the issue.
That’s right, 10 years. People barely talk about luxury watches and a dead black panther anymore, and those things happened just a couple of months ago.
One expects this line of rationalization from a Phuket jet-ski operator trying to explain why he overcharge jet-ski rental for Thais and double overcharge it for tourists. But Chamnan isn’t a Phuket jet-ski shark, he’s the former president of an appeal court.
Of course, the video interview went viral, and social media has been incensed. But the issue here goes far beyond one man’s cunning solution to a problem. This merely is the latest example of the problem that has plagued us since Medieval times – the patronage network, righteous, self-absorbed and greedy by nature – enjoy the spoils together, support and protect one another.
The context of spoils here isn’t spoils of war, where we plunder from other countries and societies. But it’s the spoils where the bureaucrats plunder from own country and its people.
This is not to say that judges shouldn’t have housing, they should – and the housing should be worthy of the office of the judiciary. But if the housing project causes environmental concerns and does not meet the consent of the people. If the attitude of the judiciary is to wave dismiss and “let’s talk about it in 10 years’ time,” then this is not a case of using taxpayers’ money for official housing – which is normal anywhere in the world.
Rather, this falls into the category of plundering from the people in order to the feed a bureaucratic patronage network.