A professor from the U.S. recently authored an article that set out some concrete measures that Thailand could employ to tackle corruption. In a 17 October 2013 article for the Bangkok Post, Professor Robert Klitgaard – called the “world’s leading expert on corruption” by the Pulitzer Prize winning Christian Science Monitor – observes: “Corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability. To reduce corruption, try to reduce monopoly and enhance competition. Limit official discretion and clarify the rules of the game.”
The dominance of monopolies in Thailand and the prevalence of laws and regulations designed to protect those monopolies is one of the many striking features of Thailand’s legal and regulatory regime. There are laws that prohibit foreign ownership of businesses in Thailand, but also laws – considered unlawful by the WTO – that protect local businesses from foreign competition. Other features of Thai law would appear to play a role in Professor Klitgaar’s corruption calculus. Thai laws typically grant officials wide discretion with little clarification and no guidance on how they are to exercise such discretion; there is also little or no accountability when such discretion leads to rent seeking behavior. That these features of the Thai legal and regulatory terrain create incentives for corruption should not surprise anyone.
On a more positive note, Professor Klitgaard’s observations demonstrate that corruption is not an insolvable problem for Thailand or some embedded feature of Thai culture that cannot be eradicated or at least mitigated. Instead, corruption is the unsurprising result of various features of the Thai legal and regulatory terrain that can be changed. Other countries have done so, and so can Thailand. For more information on domestic and international anti-corruption laws in Thailand, click here.