Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Graft's not as bad as critics say: Thai PM

AFP , BANGKOK

Thai activistsprotest a proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US in Bangkok yesterday. As a recent government poll showed that 90 percent of Thais believe that corruption is rampant at the national level, the activists called the government's free-trade negotiations both hasty and damaging to the interests of poorer Thais. The talks begin today in Honolulu.

PHOTO: EPA

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra admitted corruption within government ranks but dismissed "babbling" critics who claimed graft had reached new highs, a newspaper reported yesterday.

Thaksin said he would tackle corruption within junior ranks of government if he won a second term in elections expected early next year, but dismissed claims by a former premier that the problem had reached a historic high.

Anand Panyarachun told a seminar last weekend that corruption was becoming so widespread that it could ruin the country.

Thaksin, who ran a huge business empire before becoming prime minister, turned on his detractors who accused his administration of being implicated in a series of conflicts of interest.

"They just kept babbling away and since the election is nearer more of them will come out of the woodwork and will lash out at me whenever a microphone is put before their mouths," Thaksin was quoted as saying in The Nation.

Thaksin said he would focus on police and corruption within the civil service if he won re-election. "Their welfare will be looked after and loopholes for corruption will be dealt with."

Thaksin has launched a war on corruption and announced a six-year goal to stamp out so-called "dark forces," a move that his opponents dismissed as a publicity stunt.

Thailand's revered monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej earlier this year called on the public to stamp out corruption within a decade following concerns over the effect it could have on the fast-expanding economy.

Corruption has been part of Thai life for decades but critics say there has been no concerted attempt to stamp out bribery, extortion and the sale of political positions.

Nine out of ten Thais believe corruption is rampant at the national level of politics, according to a survey by the National Economic and Social Advisory Council now headed by Anand, twice briefly premier in the 1990s.

A survey of foreign businessmen by a Hong Kong-based consultancy this year found they believed corruption in Thailand was less widespread than in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and India but worse than South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

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