ACD commander Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew checked the money and the envelopes, the VIP included, seized from the DNP chief’s office on Dec 27, whereas he was sitting on a sofa, watching. Photo courtesy of ACD

EDITORIAL: Systematic corruption needs systematic anti-corruption reform_and accountable politics

The DNP’s bribe-taking scandal along with other high-profile corruption cases involving several state agencies have demonstrated that they are not just a personal issue, nor a bad Karma committed by one bad guy or group. The current corruption indeed is the country’s plague that is eating up and destroying the entire system of our society. It desperately needs systematic anti-corruption reform_ and more critically, accountable politics

A month has passed and the bribe-taking scandal at the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP) has proved that it’s not a personal issue_nor a bad Karma of one bad guy.

As the investigation has gone more and more in-depth, what has been exposed alongside the systematic flaw at the department that had opened the door to illicit acts is the systematic corruption, under which those in power have possibly conspired with one another to abuse their power and system to take an advantage of their subordinates and the organisation. 

As some evidence and statements gathered by the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) have suggested, the department’s chief, Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, may possibly not have acted alone in the bribe-taking allegation. 

According to the ACD’s investigation, a majority of “witnesses” whose names or offices’ appeared on the envelopes packed with money seized from Mr. Rutchada’s office during the raid on Dec 27, 14 out of 21 items at least, preferred to decline that they were forced to pay bribes to the chief. Some remain mum, while others said those were the rental fees of a sacred statuette created by the department to boost its officials’ morale, or donations to help wildlife.

The starking evidence is one envelope with a written text addressing the percentage of 70 along with the word “VIP”. This is equivalent to Bt 1,260,000, as seen on the envelope by the media.  

Nevertheless, the disciplinary action against Mr. Rutchada is set to be concluded by the Environment Ministry’s disciplinary panel this coming week. And nobody at the ministry has so far confirmed whether or how the investigation will be expanded to expose all the wrongdoing and wrongdoers involved. 

Niwatchai Kasemmongkol, Secretary General of the National Anti-Corrution Commission (NACC), which is investigating possible criminal prospects of the case, told the recent discussion held by Seub that at this point, the evidence it has received from the ACD involves only the DNP chief. Whether to extend the criminal investigation depends on the evidence available, he added. 

“NACC may come up with an assumption and we prove it with evidence and witnesses’ statements in order to see who is involved in an allegation. If you have evidence, give it to us and we will investigate further. At this point, the evidence involves only the DNP chief. There is a belief that it may have been linked to his superiors; the minister or the permanent secretary, but we cannot say that without evidence. Otherwise, we would accuse them without proof,” said Mr. Niwatchai, responding to speculation that those at higher ranks may have been involved in this scandal.

While the NACC, which has taken over the case from the ACD, has confirmed that Mr. Rutchada’s criminal investigation may have been concluded within one year or less following the adequate and solid evidence handed to it, DNP’s director of Protected Areas Regional Office 9 (Paro 9) who has blown a whistle, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, said that such a bribe-taking still continues. His “close aides” are still active, and some of them have posed threats against the witnesses from his office, he said, suggesting how this illicit act can go on if nothing has changed in the department’s corrupted work system.

Mr. Chaiwat had ever petitioned Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha himself last August, but no response of his was given to him, except for the reply from the ministry that it had received the matter and acknowledged that, the procedure widely criticised as being too bureaucratic. It’s the Prime Minister himself who had signed an order to transfer Mr. Rutchda to the PM’s Office pending the investigation, the point that Mr. Chaiwat was also concerned as he is still in power.

After all, the Prayut government when it first came into office had initiated the state administration reform as part of its package reform of the country. The anti-corruption in state agencies was among the crucial part of the state administration reform, and the creation of an efficient system against interference and corruption within state organisations had been purposed.

The public, however, has never heard any progress about it since. What happened and what continues up until now have clearly suggested the failure of the government’s reform against corruption.

The more horrifying fact is the DNP is not the only department that has such a corruption and bribery problem. Aside from the DNP, corruption-related acts have occurred in several other high-profile agencies including the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), under which its chief along with over ten DSI investigators were recently transferred or dismissed following a scandal involving a transnational crime committed by some Chinese investors.

Systematic corruption needs systematic anti-corruption reform_ and more critically, accountable politics. Corruption is clearly not a personal issue, nor a bad Karma of one bad guy as ever claimed by the Prime Minister himself. It’s indeed the country’s plague, eating up and destroying the entire system of our society.