The Greeks had a word for it, and that word was δωροδοκία; the Thais apparently didn’t have a word for it, so borrowed the English word “corruption”, only slightly mangling the pronunciation and adding a few tones.

The funny thing is, to someone raised in the West, corruption is all about secret deals done in smokey back rooms with dodgy handshakes, all kept very hush-hush. In Thailand, however, the blatancy of much of the corruption is almost laughable.

One recent case (of many, many, many) which springs to mind is the decision of the new government to buy a new iPhone and iPad for every member of parliament. Now, let’s forget that most MPs already have a mobile ‘phone, and some may lack the technical nous to use a tablet. The budget allocated for the purchase of the devices was 25% more than the retail cost of buying the absolute top of the range devices in both categories. The excess was undoubtedly destined for somebody’s pocket.

Another case was the estimated cost for building a few kilometres of elevated walkway. The estimated cost was, per kilometer, more than three times the actual cost of a similar, recently completed project. (And that project itself was almost certainly cost-padded for the benefit of someone or other.)

However, the recent actions by Bangkok governor MR Sukhumbhand almost defy belief. (MR are not his initials, they are rather a designation that show him to be of royal decent. He’s actually a great grandson of King Rama V.) Now, as governor of Bangkok there are plenty of issues to be addressed, from the dilapidated state of the pavements to, oh, I don’t know, the omnipresent corruption in official contracts. But rather than address any of these important issues, he decided that his priority was to extend the contract for running the Skytrain for a further 17 years until 2042, even though the current contract still has 13 years left to run. And he didn’t bother with anything so tiresome as a competitive tender. One can only applaud his advanced planning and forward thinking.

I had cynically assumed that MR Sukhumbhand had extended the contract apparently rather prematurely because he was a little short of cash and needed an instant kickback, and given that he’s shortly up for reelection, he needed to line his pockets now, rather than risk not being able to do so later. But a little chicken tells me that it’s not the governor who’s in line for a bumper payout: it’s a Mr. Big, who’s just gotten a little bigger.


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