NACC and ACD investigators counted the money found in the office of the DNP chief during the raid, whereas he was sitting on a sofa, watching. Photo courtesy of NACC

EDITORIAL: DNP needs a major revamp_here and now

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP) is plagued with bribery and corruption allegations, largely from the flaw within, and it needs a major revamp with transparency, accountability, and more critically, public engagement at the heart

2022 ended with lightning news at the National Parks Department_and a slap on the face for many.

Last Tuesday, investigators from the National Anti-Corruption Commission ( NACC) and the Anti-Corruption Division (AC) stormed into the office of the department’s chief, Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, and arrested him for an accusation concerning malfeasance in office and bribe-taking, a rarely seen action taken against senior civic officials. He was accused of calling for some bribes in return for position retaining from his inferiors nationwide, putting further pressure on the state budgets accordingly. (Read: Calls for revamping of position promotion at DNP growing whereas Environment Minister still puts faith in existing system)

Aside from the hand-over of the bribe money worth Bt 98,000 and a large sum of nearly five million baht more in envelopes hidden in his office, what was also exposed is a flaw in the department’s management system that needs to get a major revamp.

The most critical point concerning the issue might lie in the conclusion made by the Secretary-General of the Anti-Corruption Organisation, Dr. Mana Nimitmongkol, on Kom Chad Luek TV programme on air on Nation TV 22; “…As long as our bureaucratic system is still not as transparent and accountable as it is supposed to be, and people cannot examine it, we will never solve corruption and this problem will never end.”

The arrest of the Parks chief is considered highly charged and critical among anti-corruption advocates as they view that it has exposed corruption in the entire bureaucratic system and stages in spite of the government’s flagship policy of anti-corruption. Still, the public seems to be silent and distant from the impacts and problems swept under the carpet, letting them be dealt with by the officials concerned and some conservation advocates.

In fact, hardly any information about the department’s critical work and structure is much learned by the public despite some past efforts to share it with the public. In other words, the department’s work and system are still pretty much closed, being acknowledged in a narrow circle of conservation advocacy.

So, the point made by Dr. Mana is worth being taken into consideration, especially at this moment when the department’s system desperately needs a major overhaul; how we can introduce a work system that is transparent and accountable, and people can engage or participate so that they can stand up timely and help shield the agency against any wrongdoings.

As Seub Nakhasathien Foundation has pointed out, the department needs to introduce a clear career path for its personnel so that it can help prevent any interventions against personnel development and promotion at the department and a revamp of some units or divisions that have no more functions any more to cut back budgets prone to corruption. All these must be in the eyes of third parties. So, Seub Foundation has suggested new committees be set up to consider the matters and they should be joint panels, comprising people outside the department, in addition to its officials and alike.

The foundation has gone further with the promotion of the department’s chief. It said it should no longer be just the business of the government as it used to be, but the promotion should also be done the same way to ensure accountability and transparency.

Nobody knows whether the foundation’s proposal will work, but at least it’s the best proposal at this point as it has proposed the element that could help ensure more accountability and transparency in the department’s work and system; the third parties.

The only question is whether those at higher ranks and the Prime Minister himself get serious enough with corruption (and more critically, the bureaucratic reform); confront it and take the right action against it.