I have been busy commenting over at Sarasonteh and came across the following article from VOA entitled “Economists Warn Corruption on Rise in Thailand” from 15 December 2005. I will admit I used to think that Tom at Sarasonteh was a little obsessed with his focus on the international media and their inaccurate reporting of Thaksin and the Thai government, but the more I read the international media’s reporting on Thailand, the more I realise he is right. The international media’s coverage of Thailand is so inept that it is necessary to point out their bias. The VOA article is another prime example.

The article starts with this startling subheading.

Economists are warning that corruption in Thailand is on the rise, and may threaten the country’s democratic development. An analyst’s report has raised concerns that powerful businesspeople in the government may be directing public policy in their own interests (emphasis added).

Now, Pasuk has her say.

Pasuk Pongpaichit, an economist with Chulalongkorn University’s Center for Political Economy, warns that close ties between government and business are increasing the risk of corruption (emphasis added).

Ok, now it gets really bad.

Mr. Thaksin has said he is confident corruption will fall soon, in part because the government has introduced an electronic auction system for bidding on government contracts. In addition, he says improved financial management systems for the government will help fight corruption.

Transparency International, the anti-corruption organization, says Thailand has lost ground in fighting corruption since 2001, a view supported by Robert Broadfoot, of Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong (emphasis added) .

Mr. Broadfoot says studies of business executives” perceptions indicate that in general, corruption has lessened in Asia in the past year – except in Thailand and the Philippines (emphasis added).

Transparency International is a well-known independent organisation who undertake a yearly “Corruptions Perception Index” (CPI). The higher the CPI the less corrupt a country is meant to be. A 10 is a perfect score and would suggest no corruption whatsoever and anything below 2 would be frankly embarrassing. Now, let’s look at what Transparency International’s actual figures for their yearly surveys of Thailand say.

In 2000, when the Democrats were still in power, Thailand’s CPI was 3.2. By 2003, the CPI had gone up to 3.3. Then, another increase in the CPI in 2004 to 3.6. Now, on 18 October 2005, Transparency International released its survey for 2005 and wait for it, the CPI has now increased to 3.8. Yes, you read that right.

We have Pasuk, the journalist (Ron Corben), and Robert Broadfoot saying that corruption is increasing vs Transparency International who say that corruption is decreasing. The concerning thing is that Corben doesn’t even seem to have bothered to read Transparency International’s CPI figures for 2005. I have done a google search and looked on Transparency International’s website, but there is nothing new for Thailand in the 2 months since the 2005 figures were released. One wonders how Corben came up with the phrase “Transparency International, the anti-corruption organization, says Thailand has lost ground in fighting corruption since 2001″. Now, Corben actually lives in Thailand and reports on Thailand regularly.

While, the article doesn’t set it out clearly, Broadfoot’s arguments are based on the 2005 survey by the company he works for, PERC. Unfortunately, only PERC subscribers can access the details of PERC’s 2005 survey so it is difficult for me to comment as news reports only give limited details on the 2005 survey (not that this stopped Sondhi’s newspaper from exalting the 2005 survey). However, comments from PERC on their 2004 survey raise some concerns on the survey’s reliability:

This year’s [2004] survey by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy showed perceptions of corruption improved sharply in China and Thailand and slightly in several other countries compared to their last poll in 2003.

China, Malaysia, and Thailand were tied at sixth place with scores of 7.33,

It took a different view of Thailand, whose perception rating has improved sharply “but the problem of corruption has not improved in fact and might even have deteriorated.”

Our guess is that expatriates working in Thailand know full well of improprieties that take place but these abuses are not seen to be hurting the business of expatriates. (emphasis added)

“After all, Thailand is the best performing economy in Southeast Asia these days,” it said.

PERC said this shows that perceptions of corruption are related to the performance of an economy.

PERC’s comments don’t inspire me with confidence on the accuracy of their surveys. In the aftermath of the tsunami and high oil prices, Thailand’s economy slowed down in 2005, particularly in the first half of the year. Does this mean that the reason for Thailand’s bad performance in PERC’s 2005 survey on corruption is due to the economic slowdown and not actual corruption? This is certainly what PERC comments in 2004 suggest. Transparency International’ survey on corruption appears much more reliable.

Despite what critics of Thaksin say, corruption in Thailand is falling and is not on the rise.