In 2017, JFCCT hold a seminar to Exchange Information on Corruption Prevention and Corruption Suppression with NACC and have formally met annually to share experience and learning.
The Conclusions from that seminar, JFCCT reported that in just about all cases, corrupt practices always takes at least two parties. Private sector need to continue to do our part to reduce corruption.
So JFCCT continue to :
- Make members aware of the various effects of corruption, and move away from the view that some corruption is OK as long as the economy continues to do well, or that someone may ‘miss out’ if they do not engage.
- Engage in meaningful and not just token ways in anti – corruption organisations. Take responsibility to achieve outcomes.
- Bring to members’ attention legal and policy changes
- Provide recommendations on measures to reduce corruption.
- We are developing an anti-corruption Code of Conduct.
However, JFCCT is not an enforcement body but we can (and do) aim to make an impact. For example promoting the Rule of Law and really understanding what it means is one way to support respect for the laws in force in Thailand.
In addition, on 9th December 2022, JFCCT Chairwoman, Vibeke Lyssand Leirvag meet the NACC, alongside Prime Minister General Prayut, Pol. Gen. Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit President of the NACC and others related organization on the occasion of the Zero Tolerance “Ending Corruption: Key to Boosting Investment in Thailand”.
Leirvag was pleased to share the arguments from JFCCT on the negative effect corruption caused to Thailand and its competitiveness for both existing and new investment, as well as sharing a series of concrete recommendations for government and private sector to work together to improve the ease of doing business. These steps included improved protection for whistle-blowers and witnesses, better education, stronger investigative powers as well as courts more empowered to enforce stronger penalties.
“JFCCT try to share the relevant toolkits with our members and guide them as best we can, so that they embrace the information,” Leirvag said.
In an recent exclusive interview, Ms Leirvåg presented her point of view and suggestions about ways to anti-corruption.
Of primary importance is doing away with the mindset that ‘a little corruption is acceptable’ Leirvåg suggested.
Nowadays, Thailand has a long and difficult journey ahead to fight corruption. This will require the participation of all parties, the government, academia, the public and the private sectors, said Leirvåg.
The current Thai government has worked to improve the issue of corruption, but the situation needs to be addressed more, and much remains to be done, said Leirvåg in an exclusive interview.
Ms Leirvåg added that Thailand could do much better and it was time for the government and the political establishment to walk the talk, not only talk. “We also need to set goals and work as a team towards real and effective zero tolerance for corruption.”
According to Leirvåg, it is the general mindset that needs to be changed; without the change it will be impossible to increase transparency and rid the country of graft. “That mindset needs to change. There should be zero tolerance for corruption if we are serious in moving ahead.”
While public surveys have been held, many have answered that fighting corruption is impossible and therefore some grey zones are acceptable, also that a little corruption is OK as long as the wheels of business keep turning.
Thailand’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in the 2022 Report improved by nine places to 101st out of 180 countries and the overall score also improved from 35 to 36 out of 100. The CPI had been on a slide from 99th in 2019 through to 110th in 2021.
Early education is key
One of the points Ms. Leirvåg raised is the fact that children are not taught from an early age that corruption is wrong. She believes that malfeasance can be stopped if people are educated starting in kindergarten. Ms Leirvåg hails from Norway where children are taught at an early age that stealing and telling lies are wrong. Norway ranked fourth and scored 84 out of 100 in the 2022 CPI report. Children look up to grownups as role models, but when role models don’t play their role right, the educational system must step in and point the way.
Ms Leirvåg is managing director and founder of Felicia Design, a high-end jewellery manufacturer in Thailand and has lived in the Kingdom since 1989. She was elected chairperson of JFCCT last year, becoming the first woman to hold the position.
Asked to compare the difficulties of doing business in Thailand with other countries, Ms Leirvåg said she did not think doing business in Thailand was more difficult than elsewhere overall, as all countries have positive and less positive sides. Thailand still has a lot going in a positive direction and by working together it is possible to tackle challenges like corruption.
The Thai premier made a commitment on International Anti-Corruption Day last December that Thailand would work towards zero tolerance for corruption.
“The work towards zero tolerance has to be a joint effort by all parties. We have to work together to tackle graft problems instead of pointing fingers at each other or other stakeholders. Ms Leirvåg encouraged success stories to be shared, not only wrongdoings.
Stopping corruption is a gradual process but it must start now
Rome was not built in one day, Ms Leirvåg said, “this is a journey and the journey needs to start at the top, meaning that the government must show serious willingness to fight malfeasance. It is impossible to expect Thailand to go from the current situation to the situation of a country being perceived as least corrupt. For many countries, including her native country Norway, this was a journey that took a century or more.”
The government needs to “walk the talk and not only talk.” In the past, governments have focused their efforts on establishing policies, but now it is time to take action and implement what they have promised. The premier has promised to work towards zero tolerance but dealing with corruption is a task for everyone including politicians from all parties as well as government officials, and of course the private sector, Ms Leirvåg said.
A general election is to be held soon and a new government will take office, she recommended that everyone joins together to set expectations up front, so that changes and serious goals to fight corruption, which would also improve the corruption perception ranking.
“We must accept that corruption exists, we must deal with wrongdoings and together find preventive solutions as well as educate and communicate the evils of corruption.”, Ms Leirvåg said. “All firms, big and small, Thai and foreign, public and private, should be working together to tackle corruption. Efforts should go hand-in-hand with government initiatives to stamp out corruption.”
Willingness to pay, means willingness to collect
With bribery, we usually point the finger at each other. “We say that it is the government, the firms and the public sector that made us pay tea money. However, if you pay the tea money, things will never change. It’s teamwork; you are willing to pay, so they are willing to collect. It will definitely be embedded deeper in the Thai culture and society. So if you stop paying bribes, they will stop taking them.
She also praised the new Anti-Corruption Law that criminalizes bribe-giving by legal entities and can make senior executives accountable under the new law, legal entities—including corporations—can be criminally liable for bribes paid to state officials, Thai and foreign, and officials working with intergovernmental organizations.
“However, all stakeholders need to be made aware of the laws” Ms Leirvåg said, adding that the foreign business community in Thailand has a role to play in informing and training their staff in anti-corruption work including understanding of the legislation.
Experiences with “tea money”
Throughout her years of doing business in Thailand, she has been involved many situations where paying “tea money” would speed up her company’s applications especially on permits and licenses.
However, Ms Leirvåg has steadfastly refused to bow to pressure and to pay bribes for her firm to obtain what it wanted. “I have had somebody telling me that if I paid under the table or gave him the money, he could speed up the process. I said no, I can wait.”
Saying no to bribery resulted in her firm’s applications taking longer time to process, but she is happy to wait. Understanding that her company would not agree to pay bribes, officials stopped asking.
Many foreign companies have complained that some rules and regulations which delay or create administrative burdens to their business could be potential risks of corruption. This includes rules and regulations that give authority to the official to use their own judgement to process the request from companies. She suggested that processes should as much as possible be fully digitalized as digitalization is one way to reduce corruption.
In Thailand, anti-corruption regulations and laws have been issued and are in place, but laws are not enforced, sometimes out of ignorance. The assumption is that paying a bribe can resolve the issue. It is important to emphasize the principle of rule of law and how to enforce the law effectively.
Organizations like the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has prepared policies and guidelines including for example about implementing internal controls (an essential aspect of a company potentially avoiding criminal responsibility where the company leaders did not know about a corrupt act and had put in place procedures to prevent it, Thai Collective Action Against Corruption (CAC) also has training clinics, and recently, OECD launched a tool kit for SMEs The Anti Corruption Network (ACN) also has measures. These tools must be better communicated to both the public and agencies, with training and implementation.
Most are available in English and other languages but if there is no communication about their existence, they are as good as useless, Ms Leirvåg said.
Asked about the role of whistleblowers, Ms Leirvåg said that this was a major challenge as most do not feel they are protected and feel pressure to be silent instead of reporting the wrongdoing. The government has to do more to protect those who report wrongdoing, she said, as well as having witness protection schemes.
The future workforce should be educated about zero tolerance for corruption. They should also be ensured that they will be protected if they decided to become whistleblowers. When they work in a business and they see malfeasance, only then will they feel safe enough to report it.
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The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT)
The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT) is the umbrella body for various Thai- foreign chambers or business associations operating in Thailand. It was back in 1976 that the entire foreign community of business people joined in an idea where the American Chamber invited members of the British, French, German and Japanese chambers to attend a meeting with the Prime Minister. A foreign business organization which came to be known as the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT) was formed.
We work with the Royal Thai government and various government agencies such as the Board of Trade, Board of Investment and the Federation of Thai Industries and many sector-specific agencies, and by way of advice and recommendation to foreign governments – for the benefit of the Thai economy.