Finally, an activiszt in govt!-Bangkok Post

March 12, 2012


Looking a gift horse in the mouth

Arglit Boonyai

Bangkok Post: March 10, 2012


On Thursday, Supinya Klangnarong, a member of the broadcasting regulator – the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) – announced her desire for the drafting of a clear code of conduct related to gifts offered to the commission.

[FACT cofounder] Supinya Klangnarong

Supinya’s call for a clear code of conduct on corporate gifts given to members of the NBTC was a breath of fresh air in a country rife with graft.

Ms Supinya said that previously a telecommunications company had presented her with a New Year gift basket containing among other things an expensive iPhone 4Gs. Ms Supinya declined the gift basket. Currently, regulations set by the National Anti-Corruption Commission prohibit government officials from receiving gifts worth more than 3,000 baht.

This piece of news was a surprising breath of fresh air in a country plagued by corruption. Many spoke out in praise of Ms Supinya, including readers of the Bangkok Post website, who were for once full of compliments.

Some people, however, were not so happy that Ms Supinya had spoken out against this blatant form of graft.

We reported yesterday that one commissioner, who unsurprisingly wanted to go unnamed, commented that he plans to raise the issue at the next board meeting and that the commission may resort to issuing Ms Supinya a warning for her behaviour.

And this truly is unacceptable behaviour! What kind of professional asks for rules and codes of conduct? She is truly despicable! Well, that’s probably what these unnamed people are saying.

Some members of the NBTC have even questioned whether Ms Supinya is a commissioner or an activist, as if the two roles are mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, there have been complaints that “her non-creative disclosure about the gifts has severely damaged the reputation of the regulatory organisation”.

Once again I am at a loss. Are Thailand’s officials a bunch of corrupt money-grubbers trying to hide their crimes, or are they just stupid? Neither is really the answer we want so it might be safer to avoid that question.

In the eyes of the public Ms Supinya’s actions have done more to restore our faith in Thai administrators than any amount of fund-raising dinner parties or PR events. Who can seriously sit there and think that the NBTC’s reputation has been tarnished?

Wait, I know, what about the people offering these “gifts”? Will these companies now think twice about offering free phones and microwaves in case they are outed to the public? Maybe.

Are other agencies worried that the spotlight will fall on them next and we will start hearing about the free cars, holidays and braised shark’s fin birthday cakes they receive? Probably.

Is the general public concerned that with Ms Supinya’s revelation the NBTC’s image has been tarnished? Can I get a “Hell No!”?

Much like paying tea money to schools and vote buying, everyone knew this kind of behaviour was endemic in Thai society. Hiding it doesn’t make people think you’re a respectable, stand-up, trustworthy guy, it just makes us think you’re a bad liar.

To be fair this form of graft may not be corrupt in the traditional sense of being intentionally dishonest. Thailand has a strong culture of saving face and being krieng jai. People feel obliged to offer gifts. Those receiving the gifts feel obliged to take them to save the person face. Later down the line the person who was given an iPhone may feel krieng jai to help that person out.

It’s a difficult cycle to break out of. Ms Supinya did just that and is now being vilified by her peers. Instead of punishing the hero, the NBTC should take this opportunity to address the problem itself.

Speaking to the media may not have been the best way to combat this issue, but perhaps Ms Supinya felt that dealing with the matter internally would have got her nowhere. Judging by her colleague’s response, who can blame her?

It will be interesting to see, in a country where corrupt politicians can skip bail and unusually wealthy civil servants are let off because of a lack of evidence – to exactly what extent we will punish the innocent.

Arglit Boonyai is Multimedia Editor, Bangkok Post.

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