DIDN’T the average Thai see anything wrong when the ex-premier’s wife took part in a bidding process for a choice piece of land from a government agency?
Of course, most Thais were suspicious. But the term “conflict of interest” was never really taken seriously in Thai society then. Besides, we were asked: “What’s wrong with the premier’s wife, with tons of money, offering the highest bid? Who else could make a higher offer?”
In other words, we Thais were told in no uncertain terms that instead of questioning the premier’s political ethics, we should all be grateful because only the richest family in the country could buy that piece of land at that price.
But now that we have heard the Supreme Court’s verdict, we should know better. It’s perhaps the most valuable political lesson any politican vying for high office should learn: Yes, conflict of interest is bad and punishable – in fact as punishable, if not more so, than other acts of more blantant corruption. No matter how you frame it, it’s still stealing money from taxpayers in broad daylight.
The court had this to say about why former premier Thaksin Shinawatra should be put behind bars for two years, without probation:
“…The first defendant (Thaksin, in this case) held the position of prime minister and had been handed the trust to administer the country for the highest benefit of the state and the people. But he ended up breaking the law although, as head of government, he should have set a good example by being honest and made this evident and behaved with good political ethics … therefore, he should not be granted a suspended sentence….”
In fact, as things stood at the time, any Thai would tell you that if the premier’s wife really wanted anything in the public domain, she would have got it. And the premier himself wouldn’t have had to lift a finger. We just knew how things were supposed to work. There was a time when there was a price for everything. And, when he was at the height of power, nothing was off-limits
It was therefore a great spirit-lifting revelation that the Supreme Court came back with the ruling that it was wrong for the then premier to argue that he wasn’t in a position to influence the FIDF because it wasn’t a government agency. The court’s verdict insisted that, for all intents and purposes, the FIDF was in fact a government mechanism. Besides, since the finance minister was running the show there, the premier couldn’t possibly argue that his influence couldn’t be felt at the bidding, when his wife was a prominent and active participant in that bidding.
The man on the street is now vindicated. Our suspicion has been confirmed. And the verdict has done us proud. We can now tell the world: Who says Thailand can never be serious about fighting corruption and getting rid of the inherent conflicts of interest in high office?
Who says we only get the small fry, but never catch the big fish?