Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Thailand Taking on Corruption Scandals Called 'Greatest Enemy'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Thailand Taking on Corruption Scandals Called 'Greatest Enemy'

Article excerpt

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Health ministers order hospitals to buy medicine from specific companies at 10 times the market price. Forestry officials fell teak forests for personal profit. Politicians are forking out millions to buy votes in Saturday's general election.

Rarely does a day pass in Thailand without a scandal rearing up in the public and private sectors.

Doctors let patients die so they can remove the kidneys for sale. Engineers are bribed to certify buildings that later collapse and kill. Buddhist monks embezzle money donated by the faithful to their temples.

"Corruption is devastating. It is the source of most of our society's ills. It is our nation's greatest enemy," says Krikkiat Pipatseritham, commissioner of the National Counter Corruption Commission.

What's new is that more Thais are willing to fight the monster and are scoring their first major victories. Some analysts even venture that Thailand has moved to the forefront of Asia's battle against corruption.

A few years ago a man like Thaksin Shinawatra, the mega-rich, leading contender for the prime minister's job, would have been regarded as untouchable.

But last week the NCCC found Thaksin guilty of trying to hide assets by transferring shares in his own companies to his maid and driver.

In August, Interior Minister Sanan Kachornprasart became the first major political figure ousted for corruption by legal means. Local media hailed it as "a revolution."

"That's what we wanted from the new constitution and that's what we got," says Chualongkorn University's Nualnoi Treerat of the verdict against Thaksin, who awaits a final Constitutional Court ruling on his case.

But Nualnoi said Thailand still had a way to go.

Despite the fact that grossly corrupt politicians and businessmen precipitated Thailand's 1997 economic crisis, one that may have cost the country as much as $52 billion, not a single major player has been brought to justice.

Should Thaksin wriggle out of trouble and win the election, many fear old-style money politics would bounce back. Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, his main rival, is regarded as "Mr. …

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