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Cablegate: Pilot Project Tackles Corruption at Grassroots Level

VZCZCXRO5822
PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHCHI #0156/01 2890404
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 150404Z OCT 08
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0863
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0936

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000156

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON KCRM KJUS BTIO TH
SUBJECT: PILOT PROJECT TACKLES CORRUPTION AT GRASSROOTS LEVEL

CHIANG MAI 00000156 001.2 OF 002


-----------------------------
Summary and Comment
-----------------------------

1. (SBU) Provincial Counter-Corruption Commissions in Lamphun
and Sukhothai, launched a year ago as part of a pilot project
that includes six other provinces, have had modest success in
raising grassroots awareness to counter local government
corruption. The project will ultimately be replicated
nationwide, as stipulated in the 2007 Constitution, though
implementing legislation must first be passed. To date the
pilot provincial commissions have taken a "soft" approach by
promoting community awareness rather than going after corrupt
officials. With Thailand currently ranked middle-of-the-pack in
Transparency International's global corruption index, the
country has much to gain if it can build and sustain a
grassroots-level anti-corruption network to complement
national-level efforts. End Summary and Comment.

----------------------------------------
Targeting Local-Level Corruption
-----------------------------------------

2. (U) CG traveled to the Upper North's Lamphun Province
October 10 to meet with the provincial office of the National
Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC). This office is one of
eight provincial-level offices created a year ago as a pilot
project of the NCCC. The NCCC itself was established as an
independent agency under the 1997 Constitution, and began
operations in 1999. The NCCC has nine Commissioners, one of
whom - Pakdee Pothisiri - happened to be in Lamphun on the day
CG visited.

3. (U) Pakdee pointed out that in Transparency International's
2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, Thailand had placed 80th out
of 180 countries rated (tied with Brazil, Saudi Arabia and
Morocco; behind 47th-place Malaysia and 72nd-place China,; and
comfortably ahead of all other mainland Southeast Asian
countries, with Vietnam being closest in 121st place). He said
the NCCC has set a goal of raising Thailand's current CPI score
of 3.5 up to 5.0 by 2012, which would put Thailand roughly on
par with Malaysia.

4. (SBU) On this background, Pakdee explained, the genesis of
the pilot project came from a sense that the NCCC needed to
address not only investigating and exposing existing corruption,
but also preventing new corruption. The NCCC Commissioners
believed prevention could best be achieved by mobilizing civil
society at the grassroots level against corrupt practices.
Moreover, corruption in Thailand was widespread at the local
level among municipal, district, sub-district and provincial
officials. Pakdee reported that, of the over 10,000 cases in
the NCCC's docket in 2006, more than half were from the local
government level. He attributed much of this to the diffusion
of procurement authority among many officials, all with little
oversight.

5. (U) Thus the NCCC launched its pilot project as an attempt
to address local-level corruption at the grassroots level. It
opened eight Provincial Counter-Corruption Commissions (PCCC)
in September 2007, two each in the North (Lamphun and
Sukhothai), Northeast (Nong Khai and Surin), Central
(Chanthaburi and Phetburi) and South (Surat Thani and Songkhla)
regions. The PCCCs were tasked with tackling corruption at the
local level by encouraging the participation of all sectors,
government as well as civil society, in corruption monitoring
and prevention.

------------------------
Staffing and Budget
------------------------

6. (U) Given the provisional nature of the pilot program, the
PCCCs do not have their own office but rather share space with
the provincial administration office. The NCCC headquarters
provides each provincial office with a modest annual budget of
600,000 baht (USD 18,000), and support staff who are direct-hire
personnel seconded from NCCC Bangkok. Each PCCC has five to
seven Commissioners, based on one of two models. In the case of
Sukhothai, the Commissioners are a mix of provincial government
personnel and local civil society leaders, chaired by the
Provincial Governor. In the case of Lamphun, all Commissioners
are business and civil society representatives, though several
are retired provincial civil servants or police.

------------------------------
Looking for Soft Targets
------------------------------

7. (U) During their first year of operation, PCCC activities in
Lamphun and Sukhothai focused on educational campaigns to
promote greater understanding of the societal costs of

CHIANG MAI 00000156 002.2 OF 002


corruption and to build greater community participation in
monitoring and preventing corruption. Specific projects
included:

-- educating the public about the work of the PCCC;
-- training prospective counter-corruption counterparts;
-- promoting transparency and good governance in local
government units;
-- educating local administrators and politicians about asset
declaration requirements; and
-- naming "most outstanding" local government entities based on
community opinion.

8. (SBU) One PCCC official admitted to us that, at least for
year one, it was more practical to focus on promoting community
awareness rather than going after corrupt officials, which would
create enemies for the PCCC from the start. This "soft"
approach does appear to have borne modest fruit, however.
Earlier this year the Sukhothai office received an award from
the NCCC for its campaign to promote community participation in
counter-corruption efforts, which resulted in numerous
whistle-blowing reports over irregularities in procurements and
construction contracts made by the Provincial Administrative
Organization (PAO). PCCC officials in Lamphun linked their
anti-corruption awareness campaign with the results of local
elections earlier this year in which the public exerted "social
sanction" by voting out of office sub-district and municipal
politicians involved in fraudulent payments for "guaranteed"
longan fruit exports to China. Similarly, Lamphun voters ousted
the veteran PAO President who faced charges of budget
irregularities.

--------------------------------------------- ----
New Constitution Enshrines Pilot Project
--------------------------------------------- ----

9. (U) The pilot project will ultimately applied nationwide,
the NCCC's Pakdee told us, because Thailand's new Constitution
adopted in 2007 calls for establishing a PCCC in every province
in the country. Parliament first needs to pass an implementing
law, for which there is no timeline yet. Until that law is
passed, the eight pilot PCCCs will continue to depend on the
national headquarters for their budget, support staff, and
certain decision-making authorities. Other operational
challenges for PCCCs include:

-- overcoming the public's preconception that the PCCC's task
is to investigate and exposing existing corruption, not prevent
new corruption;

-- maintaining credibility in the eyes of the public by keeping
pace with the rising number of corruption complaints filed as
the awareness campaign takes hold; and

-- convincing the public that combating corruption is not just
the responsibility of the PCCC, but requires active
participation by all sectors civil society.
MORROW

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