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Thailand Pins Hopes in Corruption Fight on New Legislation

Thailand's government hopes new legislation will curb official corruption. But some business-risk experts say the chief concern in fighting corruption in Thailand lies in political will and government stability.

Thailand is enacting tough legislation in a bid to curb corruption in public office. The new laws offer more flexibility in prosecuting suspects in a country considered one of the more corrupt in Asia.

Professor Pakdee Pothisiri is a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. He says the new legislation should overcome shortfalls in earlier anti-corruption laws. He says one important step is the new law allows anyone with knowledge of corruption to file a case with his commission.

He is confident that and other changes will strengthen the fight against graft. "I believe so because of the new constitution and the organic act that is about to pass into law and also because of this national anti-corruption strategy," said Professor Pakdee. "What we call for [is] all the sectors to work with us in dealing with the corruption."

Under the current law, only those directly affected by corruption are able to file a complaint.

A survey by the Hong Kong firm Political and Economic Risk Consultancy ranks Thailand just ahead of Indonesia as being the most corrupt in Asia. Singapore and Hong Kong are considered least corrupt.

The firm's managing director, Bob Broadfoot, says corruption in Thailand has fueled political instability over recent years. But Broadfoot doubts whether the legal changes will significantly reduce the problem.

"They may have passed what they said back in 2007, [but] how many changes of government have happened since 2007 because accusations by one side or the other by corruption? That has nothing to do with the magnitude. This has to do with corruption as an issue that can force political change and that is what investors care about," he said.

Broadfoot says foreign investors are reluctant to enter Thailand because the business environment is unstable politically and socially. The leaders of military coups in 1991 and in 2006 said they acted to overthrow corrupt governments.

Broadfoot says the main corruption problem in Thailand lies with politicians rather than the country's civil servants.

"The civil servants in Thailand are, by and large in a lot of the departments, they are doing a pretty good job, they are getting respect," he said. "But there is very, very little respect for the politicians."

The new laws are being passed as the Thai government begins spending $22 billion to stimulate the slumping economy. The anti-corruption commission's Pakdee says the government needs to implement risk-management practices to make sure corruption does not siphon off that money.