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Encouragement from Nelson Mandela: a wall at LKY School of Public Policy

Planet Phuket Project: Crunching Corruption

Friday, March 11, 2011
CORRUPTION is Phuket's biggest problem, but how can it be beaten? Phuketwan journalists went to Singapore to talk to Ora-orn Poocharoen, the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the well-regarded Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Senior scholars from the university are likely to take up individual investigations of Phuket's problems and offer strategic solutions. Help is on the way, Phuket. Jet-skis, tuk-tuks, extortion in just about every aspect of Phuket life from the airport on . . . all these issues have answers.

But much more needs to change before corruption can be beaten, Ajarn Ora-orn says. Phuket people are now gaining good advice on how they can face the future in a clean, green Phuket - what Phuketwan is calling the Planet Phuket Project: Challenge for Change.

Here's the continuing conversation:

Phuketwan Corruption is not as difficult to write about as it once was. There was a public meeting in Patong not long back when it was admitted there were 14 organisations that take money in Patong for different reasons, at different levels. Phuket is still like the pot of gold for people looking in. It attracts people for the wrong reasons. It's a beautiful place but it will be destroyed very quickly unless something happens to change it.

Ajarn Ora-orn One area of research that I am doing is on budget transparency. I see that there is a role for journalists to play, as you already have a website, to actually put up budgets of local and central governments so people can see how much how much has been allocated to Phuket for different sectors. if local governments are willing to cooperate with you and have their budgets put up, that's already a huge step for transparency. Then have people start to debate whether such allocations are appropriate for different parts of the island.
People can write in. It won't go directly to detecting corruption, but usually the budget documents would have targets. For example, if they state that five schools are going to be built, people can see if five schools have been built, not with one missing. It's an advocacy program. I call it social auditing because people can just audit. You don't need to go to the Auditor General. You have the information, you can hold governments accountable. and actually, if I'm not mistaken, under Thai law, budgets for local government have to be made public. And if they already have it on their website, you can put it in a way that's easily digestible for the public, that can generate discussion and awareness.
If they don't have it then if you put it up, that will be a good thing. That's one work that I do, on budget transparency, but I look at the national level in Thailand. it's part of a larger project run by an NGO in Washington called Open Budget Initiative, and actually we have partners around the world to check transparency levels in 82 countries, but we've never gone to the local government level. My passion is to get this to the local level as well.
We also have study trips where we bring our masters students overseas - the 35-year-old ones - and the last two years I've brought them to Thailand, looking at ecotourism. Phuket is a great place for students to go and the students can be exposed to all types of problems and meet all types of people, and challenge them. ''Ok, you've learned the theory in class. This is the real world. What are your recommendations?''

Phuketwan People are looking at Phuket now in terms of Singapore-style growth, if not necessarily a Singapore-style outcome, for Phuket. What happened in Singapore to solve the problem of corruption?

Ajarn Ora-orn From my understanding, from my studies of corruption and how Singapore tackled it, it was very much top down and it was about law enforcement. A very good example is that Thailand's corruption law has the death penalty, Singapore does not have the death penalty for corruption, yet Singapore has been able to enforce all of their anti-corruption laws. In Thailand you don't see hardly anybody being jailed.
There's been one minister so far in the entire history of the country. So the problem is law enforcement. In Singapore they were not reluctant to put people, top ranking people, in jail one after the other - bom-bom-bom - to show the public that this is serious, the law is enforceable, and to me it's a strategy of catching the big fish. You don't waste time to catch people for petty corruption, you just go for the top. Go for the highest.
That's really strategically using your resources for the most effective outcome. I wrote a report for the National Counter Corruption Commission of Thailand. They always complain that ''We don't have enough people, we don't have enough budget, our mandate is so wide in the country, how can we curb corruption?'' All my interviews with other governments, mainly the Swedish Government, the Norwegian Government, the Finland Government, in Singapore and in South Korea, they all say the same thing, ''You have to choose the big cases to work on and make that successful. Don't waste your time on small cases.'' That would be my recommendation for Phuket. Focus on that, keep on reporting that, keep on investigating that, keep on shining light on that. Force the law to be enforceable.
The other tactic that Singapore used was to separate out new people from old culture so the public servants that came in from the year that they started the anti-corruption strategy were being separated and being trained on a completely different program so that they don't blend in with the old culture. In Singapore in the past, police were so corrupted as well.
They actually had this training program for 10 years until they saw a complete overhaul of organisation culture. So it wasn't overnight, it was across 10 years. It was a deliberate training program that they had installed, working with each cohort and making sure that each cohort was not eaten up - took leung - by the old culture.

Phuketwan How do you start that? How do you start turning an island from a corrupt place to a not-corrupt place?

Ajarn Ora-orn I guess that's where leadership comes in.

Look for the next part of the Phuketwan interview: How you can help beat corruption
The Planet Phuket Project: Hunt for a Lee Kuan Yew Solution
The Search for Answers Phuket and its melting pot of people and problems may become a study case for some of the brightest public policy students in the region. We'll tell you what happens next.
The Planet Phuket Project: Hunt for a Lee Kuan Yew Solution

Planet Phuket Project: How Phuket Went Wrong
The Quest for Answers Clarity is being sought to solve Phuket's problems with some help from scholars at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
Planet Phuket Project: How Phuket Went Wrong

The Planet Phuket Project: Crunching Island Corruption
The Quest for Answers Phuket has the offer of expert help now to prepare the island for a corruption free future, necessary to achieve fairness and balance for future generations.
The Planet Phuket Project: Crunching Island Corruption

Planet Phuket Project: Making Tuk-Tuks, Taxis Fair
The Quest for Answers Phuketwan's Planet Phuket Project, with Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy, aims to find ways of solving corruption and other problems on the holiday island.
Planet Phuket Project: Making Tuk-Tuks, Taxis Fair

Dear PM, Please Make Phuket Corruption-Free
Latest Happy Birthday, Mr Prime Minister. Here's a gift to you, an idea that could make Phuket and perhaps Thailand better places. Start your fight against corruption here, on one small island.
Dear PM, Please Make Phuket Corruption-Free

Phuket Corruption: Enough, Say Patong Victims
Photo Album A public seminar on Phuket has senior officials revealing the scale of existing corruption among 14 government bodies - and attempts by more to join in.
Phuket Corruption: Enough, Say Patong Victims


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Ajarn Ora-orn I guess that's where leadership comes in.

And if those same leaders are themselves corrupt, and wish it to continue ??

Posted by LivinLOS on March 11, 2011 08:18

Editor Comment:

You need to wait for the next installment, LivinLOS


There are 2 different types of corruption:
1/- Done by senior civil servants and politicians to make money at the expenses of taxpayers.
2/- Done on daily basis by petty officers to get official documents or clear off some fines.
Phuketwan and Khun Ajarn Ora-orn are talking only about the first one but Thais and foreigners alike are boring of the second type of corruption as it is on daily life.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on March 11, 2011 08:53


"Ajarn Ora-orn: From my understanding, from my studies of corruption and how Singapore tackled it, it was very much top down..."

And there is the solution.

Posted by Mike Boyd on March 11, 2011 10:55


Some really good points here and the core to 99% of the problems here is corruption. But wait, didn't the Gov say there are 'No Dark Influences" in Phuket? Yes he did but maybe he doesn't consider corruption to be a dark influence, and there lies the real problem. If you refuse to face the problem, you can never solve it.

As Ajarn Ora-orn rightly pointed out, Singapore beat it by pure Law Enforcement but the fact that Phuket and indeed the whole of Thailand is controlled by a majority of corrupt law enforcement officials it's hard to see how, without harsh sweeping change, that real forward movement can be initiated.

Look at New York (USA) in the 70's. They had the same problem and ended up arresting over 75% of the entire police force and officials. It's got to the point here that drastic action need to happen but this will not happen while the elite rule and restrict education so that people are able to see the truth.

@Ed... as a journalist you must appreciate the restrictive practices of delivering the news here. Democracy? Freedom of Speech? Neither exist and it is these fundamentals principles that can combat corruption.

Posted by Graham on March 11, 2011 11:20

Editor Comment:

We've never had anyone try to muzzle us, Graham. Most of the limitations on journalism are self-imposed. Some publishers are only interested in making money. The only ''community'' they serve revolves around advertising cash.


Ajarn Ora-orn's advice to not waste time with petty corruption and go for the big fish is spot on and probably the only way things would ever get sorted out here. But do you really believe there is any non corrupt government departments/agencies in Thailand that will come to Phuket and start arresting any of the head honchos? somehow I cant see that happening any time soon. And lets face it, If any of them were honestly investigated and held accountable, they would probably all be 'doing porridge' pretty sharpish !

Posted by Chalongian on March 11, 2011 11:39


@Ed ... we both are fully aware of the limitations of the press and the freedom of speech here. You've never been limited because you keep within the boundaries of what the Thais consider allowable - try going outside and see what happens. Transparency is only effective if you have freedom of speech. It's like the incident of the Police taking 5,000 Baht over the recent jetski incident - no journalist is going to go and ask because that would be outside what is journalistic allowances - so where is your freedom and public transparency. I'm not ridiculing you over this it is simply a matter of what is permissible here.

Posted by Graham on March 11, 2011 11:49

Editor Comment:

It's called ''the law,'' Graham. That's the boundary in all countries. We won't go and ask the police about the 5000 baht allegedly paid to them because, as Ajarn Ora-orn says and most people understand, chasing the small stuff is pointless. Nothing whatsoever to do with the ''journalistic allowances'' in your head. Feel free to go and ask, though. This is a democracy.

Oh, and your subscription is well overdue.


Good article thanks.

Posted by Capt Canada on March 11, 2011 12:27


There was a group of young Thai's in the 1970's(when the world was going through a Renaissance of thinking) who tried to change Thailand they all had jobs in the government and they swore they wouldn't take corruption. The Thai government eventually destroyed these people and sent them back to their homes in disgrace as they had lost there prestigious jobs. In there towns like Phuket and other places the locals thought them foolish as they had lost all they had worked years to get all the years of education and hard work had gone out the window because they had refused to cooperate doing things that were morally illegal that would even cause the deaths of there fellow citizens and is still killing Thai's. I just talked to some of these people on the phone and asked them if they would be willing to go public and tell there stories. Being that they are old now and have children that are old they may not want to jeopardise there families safety.But I am asking them to come forward.

Posted by Capt Canada on March 11, 2011 13:20


At least we are at the point when corruption can be openly mentioned in public. Roll on the day when the 14 different levels of corruption can be named and shamed - hopefully in the Thai press as well without retribution.

Posted by Mister Ree on March 11, 2011 20:22


and who will watch the watchers ?

Posted by mikey on March 11, 2011 22:38


There are also other kinds of "corruption" worth looking at here; this done by some foreigners! Like those self appointed wealth managers on the loose on this island which warn expats never to invest here "as you can't get the money back out of the country", or even worse nonsense.

They bad mouth all local investor opportunities with a vengeance, as well as and especially the local stock market; only to then go on and peddle their often high front end (often hidden) fees insurance/annuity or other financial products, which they then misleadingly call "tax free saving plans". But which are chuck-full of terminations and other concealed expenses/fees.

Phuket expats here of all kinds have fallen into this trap and the Thai authorities are understandably not concerned as its expats marketing other expats. But these so often spread vast misinformation to the very people whom want to live and retire here - and yes invest for higher returns and often to the benefit of Phuket/Thailand. In recent years, Thailand's stocks and baht currency has been among the best relative performers in the world, but you would never know it reading the press or falling victim to those scare mongers expats, self acclaimed and unregulated ''wealth managers.''

Posted by Thaistocks on March 12, 2011 11:26


wow I am impressed ...look forward to the continued interviews and results therefrom.

I suspect that it is naive to think that Phuketwan and ALL other media do not have the knowledge and ability to name and shame (not impossible to get this information methinks..just ask Joe public) but......

Posted by david on July 27, 2013 19:45

Editor Comment:

This interview dates back to March 2011, david. Do not expect the media to do the job of elected and appointed Thai officials. ''Joe public'' unfortunately hasn't the foggiest idea about collecting evidence. Arresting and jailing works a whole lot better than naming and shaming.

Thursday May 30, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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