It’s Not Just Corruption, It’s Culture

The National Corruption Commission (NCC) has cleared Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan of any wrongdoing over the luxury watches scandal. Of which, he is reported to have been sporting some 21 watches valued at over 30-million-baht total… on a soldier/politician salary.

Some of you observant readers may think to yourself, wait, isn’t it called the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)? Well, that depends on how you want to look at it.

The finding comes to no one’s surprise, yet the public is outraged over it. This is because the emotion of outrage isn’t always the result of a shocking surprise. Many times, it’s simply out of predictable disgust.

Many activists and opposition leaders are already taking the Commission to task, calling for shame, investigation and resignation. But what would be the point other than having an outlet to express outrage? Government agencies cowing to dictatorship regime, it’s a tale as old as time.

But is this anything new for Thailand? No, it’s not. Powerful politicians get away with scandals during times of democracy. So why wouldn’t powerful generals get away with scandals during times of dictatorship? Hence, the problem goes much deeper than dictatorship or democracy.

Though to be fair, at least in democracy, the people have the rights, as guaranteed by the law, to march, protest and demand a regime change. But since this is Thailand, the military would waltz in, declaring dictatorship and promising a return happiness. Either way, we are back to square one.

Therein lies the problem. There is no body of law that we can trust. No government institution that we can put our faith in. No constitution that we can rely on. Under dictatorship or under democracy, everything is arbitrary. Favors. Connections. Bribery. Patronage. Power-play. Intimidation. Violence. These are the values we rely upon to get anything done.

Despite fancy malls and super-cars, culturally we are simply a backward child-like society with an obsession for shiny toys. There are exceptions, of course. Society can be proud of many fine, upstanding citizens. But as a whole, well… it ain’t pretty.

Put society into perspective. Rich/powerful folks aren’t doing anything different from poor folks. From motorbikes to taxis to sedans to super-cars and to submarines. From street vendors to moms-n-pops to SMEs to huge conglomerates and state enterprises. From village heads to district kam-nans to local council, provincial strongmen, national MPs and ministers.

When rich folks cheat, it’s just on a bigger scale, and they are more likely to get away with it, that’s the privilege of being rich. Poor folks cheat on a much smaller scale, and there’s lesser chance to get away with it, that’s the disadvantage of being poor.

But all are the same, rich or poor, we cheat. Not all of us, but enough to make it a cultural norm.

One thing is for certain. Every society on earth went through (most are still going through) this every-man-for-himself cultural value. We were all backward and feudal once, and many still are. But a society that has been successful in re-engineering its cultural mindset, is the society that has pulled ahead in the global system. Not everyone in a society has to be enlightened, in fact that would be impossible. But enough people have to be enlightened, to pull society out of the dark age and forge the sense of responsibility and accountability.

What does being enlightened mean? In this context, it’s a society where upon the collective identity of the people is based on the sanctity of the rule of law, which is formulated on the principles of human rights. This is the ideal we must strive for and turn into reality. The ideal that invokes trust and inspires faith, the ideal that the people know they can rely on.

But ideals are meaningless, lest we have people of integrity to champion them.

Therefore, we need a new crop of inspiring leaders. Even more importantly, we need inspiring parents and teachers.  


  1. So finally, after more than one year of arduous and painstaking deliberation, the National Corruption Commission has finally come to the decision that the Right Honorable Deputy Prime Minister and most upstanding citizen could actually afford those million dollar time pieces on his modest salary as soldier/politician. Wow! What a slap in the face of Thai society! Speechless. What more can one say?


  2. As a matter of interest I happen to be reading John le Carré´s novel “The Honorable Schoolboy”, published in 1977 in which much of the action takes place in Cambodia on the eve of the Khmer Rouge entering Phnom Penh (1975). References are also made to conditions in neighboring countries such as northern Thailand where “poor people up there don´t know nothing, because Bangkok don´t give them no schools so the Commies come talk to them in the night and the Commies tell them all their sons all go Moscow, learn be big doctors, so they blow up the police station.” Thailand then was at the mercy of the military, and 40 years onward the same applies. Every little advance taken to establish a democratic society has been systematically squashed by the military.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s