Shortcomings of the National Anti-Corruption Commission

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The fight against corruption requires the active involvement of different parts of society. Strong political will and leadership at the highest level needs to be complemented by a well coordinated network of state, institutions, complemented by the vigorous engagement of the media and civil society. Anti corruption agencies have a crucial role to play in this network of accountability institutions…

Before I continue, heads-up for the readers. This is a quote from the Practitioner’s Guide: Capacity Assessment of Anti-Corruption Agencies of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2011). Now that is clear, we continue: … Practitioners’ Guide will provide a practical resource to assist those agencies to develop and strengthen their capacity and thereby empower them to confidently and effectively promote cleaner, more transparent and accountable governance for all people.

The truth of the matter in the black and white annals and visions of the international anti-corruption crusade, this Practitioner’s Guide (see: PDF copy of the document) is counter productive when applied to the National Anti-Corruption Commission of Thailand (NACC). The commission’s mandate is enshrined in the 1997 Constitution (in Section 246), which is a post-1996 coup d’etat era of junta-inspired production of “independent organizations” that is supposedly free from the influence of Government and Parliament and maintain a “neutral” image. But here is where it ends. The Senate selects and and to some extent controls the NACC members for “a term of nine years” (Section 247 of the Constitution). The NACC chief does not report to the Prime Minister of Thailand.

Imposition of Politics in the NACC

Critics have argued that the Senate is blemished because of the framework of selected senators, for instance: consists of one hundred and fifty members to be elected from each province AND to be “selected in the number equivalent to the total number hitherto stated deducted by the number of elected senators.” (Constitution, Section 111 of Part 3). A short but helpful explanation to the functionality and political bias can be found in ispacethailand’s article: Judicial Coup: When Thailand’s Anti-Corruption Bodies Are Set for the Downfall of Thai Democracy. The logical question to be asked is, can the NACC be free from exploitation by the Senate or from the Opposition components in Thailand’s arena?

Global Ranking of Nations

Transparency International, a global coalition against corruption, in their Corruption Perception Index recently ranked (among 177th countries):

  1. Thailand: 102th
  2. Singapore: 5th
  3. Philippines: 94th

As mentioned in the website of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau: “Singapore is reputed to be one of the few countries in the world where corruption is under control. This is due mainly to the strong political will to curb corruption, firm actions taken against the corrupt regardless of their status and background, and the general public who do not accept corruption as a way of life.” Its director is responsible directly to the Singapore Prime Minister.

As in the case of the Philippines, the Ombudsman and its subordinates are appointed by the President of the Philippines from a list submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council for a non-renewable seven-year term. The Ombudsman can be removed from office only through impeachment. Even with the greater powers mandated by an elected authority, the formation of their National Anti-Corruption Program of Action (NACPA) has proven effective with direct involvement of civil society organizations and participation of members of the public.

Now as for NACC’s efforts in Thailand, more critically seen by human rights and anti-graft advocates, are widely perforated with political allegiances and lacking the moral independence to uphold the law. The selective prosecution fans the public disbelief of the commission’s neutrality and therefore leading critics to question the NACC’s ultimate agenda. In the system of prosecution and good governance, the gaps in anti-corruption policy development and enforcement contradicts the commission’s future improvement, or the very least in impartiality. The public has no access in contributing towards NACC’s key performance index. The watchdogs of transparency has no access to the commission’s accounting system specially to determine how far Thailand has come in achieving its anti-corruption goals and objectives. Another question to consider: Is there genuine public confidence towards the impartiality and effectiveness of the selected members of the NACC and as a whole?

Currently NACC’s background has not been tarnished by incidences like those found in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, where a Malaysian political assistant who was interrogated by their officers, Teoh Beng Hock, or even a senior custom officer, Ahmad Sarbani, was found dead in premises of the MACC. That being said, the neglect to install the said organization with clear and accountable monitoring systems in Malaysia’s anti-graft body resembles the flaws of Thailand’s NACC. Despite the MACC fallout, the country (that has a director reporting to the Malaysian Prime Minister) possess a better ranking than Thailand.

Arrested Development

Although there are workshops and open-door dialogues, in the spirit of multi-sectoral anti-corruption efforts with NACC, the anti-corruption participants seem to pursue their own initiatives with little regard for the bigger national picture. This in turn has revealed the demise of a convergence strategy to generate collective action in a transparent method in order to achieve national anti-corruption vision within the context of an accountable performance targets.

In fact NACC does not have limited resources and does not have limited access to best practices of anti-corruption management. Critics say that the primary weakness is the lack of honest partnerships and follow-up collaboration with civil society organizations, local and international development agencies, business sector and the media. This apparently cripples the “independent organisation” status Thailand’s anti-corruption commission claims to have. This weak link will not enhance the capability of the Government and law enforcers to stamp out corruption.

 

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