Tackling Corruption Without Transparency

Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan flashes an luxury watch in a photo taken on Dec. 6 at Government House.


Re•tention: Pravit RojanaphrukOne of the more disturbing news items last month was the withdrawal of Transparency Thailand from Transparency International.

Based in Berlin, Transparency International is a nonprofit organization set up in 1993 to combat corruption, partly through its annual global corruption barometer and corruption perceptions index. Transparency Thailand meanwhile, is a Thai nonprofit setup in 2000 as a center for civil society to push for the eradication of corruption. It had been a member of and coordinated efforts with Transparency International for nearly two decades.

While Transparency Thailand refused to be specific as to why they decided to pull out, it was clear by reading the report of Transparency International on Thailand.


Thailand’s global ranking under the junta plummeted 35 places in Transparency International’s 2017 report. Transparency International’s corruption perception index saw the kingdom sink to rank 101 with a score of 35 of 100 due to endemic bureaucratic corruption.

According to a Jan. 25 Thai PBS story, Kanokkan Anukansai, an assistant of Transparency Thailand secretary general Juree Vichit-Vadakan, revealed that the organization decided to pull out of Transparency International in April 2016 after being a member for at least 17 years.

“Thailand dropped to 35 in its score this year, reinforcing the link between  perceived corruption and political turmoil. Government repression, lack of independent oversight, and the deteriorating of rights eroded public confidence in the country,” said the 2017 Transparency International Report.

“Thailand’s new constitution, while it places significant focus on addressing corruption, entrenches military power and unaccountable government, undermining eventual return to democratic civilian rule. Free debate on the constitution was impossible; campaigning in opposition was banned and dozens of people were detained. The military junta also prohibited monitoring of the referendum. There is a clear absence of independent oversight and rigorous debate.”

As if the report wasn’t damning enough, it should be noted that Juree, the secretary general of Transparency Thailand, is also a junta-appointed charter drafter. Conflict of interest? Readers can decide by themselves.

To this writer, it’s clear that Transparency Thailand can’t bear the continued plummeting scores and ranking as a result of Thailand being under military rule. I suspect that some believe that military rule, which is antithetical to transparency and accountability, has nothing to do with corruption.

Darkness cannot persist in the presence of light. Without transparency, nepotism and corruptions can easily germinate.

It’s clear that the withdrawal was about face-saving because as long as the military junta is in power, the less transparent Thailand becomes, thus the low ranking compared to other democratic nations.

Many Thais still do not understand that autocratic power invites nepotism and corruption because it makes scrutiny and transparency almost impossible.

Take the case of a recent polling scandal involving the two dozen-plus mysterious luxury watches on the wrist of deputy junta leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan.

Citing internal pressure, the director of the National Institute of Development Administration’s polling office, Arnond Sakworawich, resigned after claiming he had been pressured not to release the results of a poll on what the public thinks about Prawit after seeing all those expensive watches on his wrist that he never disclosed in mandatory asset reports.

This is another case of not just a lack of transparency, but the public’s inability to express itself or even know what the consensus is in a poll of what they think about the case.

Many Thais still cannot imagine dictatorial power is essentially good as long as those in power are good people. They don’t realize that absolute power in itself destroys accountability and transparency.


Tackling corruption – or any political problems – starts with accepting the reality that is the problem. If we cannot accept the reality, if there is no transparency and accountability, then there’s no use talking about tackling corruption.

Let us not talk about corruption as long as we don’t see the lack of transparency as part of a major factor inducing it.

Talking about tackling corruption without transparency is just hypocrisy.