By Asst. Prof. Dr. Torpas Yommanark
Last August, I had the opportunity to present the new trends of 2024 in the area of Governance at the event “Sustrends 2024: 50 Trends Changing the World,” held at the Benjakiti Forest Museum. The subject of my presentation was “Open Data: How to Create a Governance Ecosystem,” and I would like to share the content of my speech in this article.
When discussing sustainability, one cannot ignore the issue of Governance. We have clearly seen the inefficiencies in attempts at reforming various sectors such as education, natural resources, and public welfare. The root cause of these issues stems from corruption. The ease with which corruption occurs in this country is due to a lack of proper oversight systems, or a lack of good governance.
However, this is not to say that Thailand has not made any previous attempts to address this issue. Quite the opposite; we have numerous laws—up to 15 just for countering corruption alone. There are also several large governmental organizations like the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), the State Audit Office, and many other committees. However, all these measures have not substantially improved or made the system more sustainable.
One reason is that this method of combating corruption has been a trend for the past 20-30 years, focusing on the use of state power, establishing independent organizations, and strict laws. Although it has succeeded in many places, such as Hong Kong or Singapore, Thailand only adopted the form without applying the details comprehensively and profoundly to the country’s context, so we haven’t gotten very far.
Another past trend we have used and continue to use is awakening the public’s consciousness to rise against corruption. This is very important and necessary. However, the problem is that people are rising up against fraud but do not know what to do next, how to oppose it, and how to counteract those with overwhelming power and influence.
Therefore, today I will talk about the trend in creating good systems that Thailand could hop on this train in time to achieve sustainable development. This trend has proven successful in many countries, such as South Korea, I would simply call this trend ‘OPPA.’
The first trend is OP, which stands for Open Data. It’s about arming the public who are already prepared to fight against corruption with information. If you don’t know, or don’t see anything, how can you monitor and check? This disclosure is not only helpful for tracking various budgets but also for ensuring that anti-corruption agencies work efficiently. It’s like reviving a past trend to be useful once again.
I give the example of www.openspending.org from the UK, which opens all state data as standard and allows the public to use it immediately. That means we have a standard for opening data that we can use right away without having to reinvent the wheel.
As for Thailand, we have various efforts from the state sector, such as ‘Where does the tax go? (Phasi Pai Nai?)’ by the Government Digital Office and from civil sectors like ACT Ai by the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT), which has led to exposing major cases like the ‘electric pole scandal.’ A citizen checked the data of electric pole procurement from ACT Ai, saw that it was unusually expensive, exposed it, and filed a complaint. This created a wave leading to the changes we see.
However, the problem is that there are still many obstacles. Many government agencies are still possessive of their information. They say they want transparency, but they refuse to disclose information. Take the NACC for example, which has a direct role in creating transparency in society. However, crucial information that the agency holds like political assets is only disclosed for 180 days before being shut down. They also prohibit downloading the data. If you want to keep the information, you have to photograph each screen, which is a massive burden.
The second trend is the P, which stands for Participation, or creating extensive public cooperation. This is highly related to the first trend because, once comprehensive and standardized information is disclosed, it should be pushed to be utilized by making the data easily digestible and creating a continual channel for benefitting from that information.
For example, closer to home, there is the website www.opentender.net. Not only does it disclose public procurement information, but it also uses a system to analyze the risk of corruption, allowing you to see it in percentages. In addition, a good system should not only catch fraudsters but prevent fraud from happening in the first place. I’d like to cite Porto Alegre in Brazil where the public is enthusiastic and heavily involved in the usage of the state budget. This is because, in addition to disclosing the city’s budget, they also allow citizens to participate in designing the budget, known as participatory budgeting, which has significantly improved the quality of life in the city.
Thailand is also making some efforts, mostly developed by the public. I say ‘some’ because the first point, open data, is not yet in place, making systematic participation difficult to achieve.
The last trend is ‘A’ for Accountability, which is the ultimate goal we wish to achieve for a good system. Because it would make it difficult for anyone to cheat, and those who do well will also prosper in this system. Many past governments have jumped straight to creating accountability by using state power to enforce laws, without first establishing strong and systematic transparency and public participation. As a result, it’s either difficult to implement or not sustainable. Sometimes, this enforcement even becomes a political tool.
We have seen examples of change in many countries. Even in South Korea, a President was imprisoned due to corruption. This was possible because the public could easily access public information and make their demands securely, leading to effective accountability mechanisms. But don’t lose hope. Because today, we have much more advanced technological infrastructures. We have examples of the success of this trend in many countries worldwide. Importantly, we also have a large number of informed citizens who are ready to fight corruption. Therefore, it’s not too late for us to build a good system with OPPA—Open Data, Participation, and Accountability.
By following this trend, we can create an effective and efficient environment for preventing corruption, which will also facilitate the solving of other problems, whether it be education, inequality, or the environment, leading to true sustainable development.