As a probe into attempted extortion by politicians vetting a 2021 budget bill is under way, public tolerance of graft is wearing thin and there are growing expectations that those in the wrong will be exposed and punished. There is no place here for bad apples.
Earlier this month, Sakda Wichiensilp, chief of the Groundwater Resources Department spoke up about the attempted extortion of five million baht by some politicians who were scrutinising projects proposed by his agency in exchange for the budget being granted without being cut.
Courageously, he turned down the illegal demand, exposing the extortion attempt to media which in turn caused a major stir. The budget fiasco speaks volumes about the prevalence of graft, which arises even in institutions meant to serve as a mechanism for checks and balances.
Several House sub-panels have been established to examine the bill of the 3.3-trillion-baht budget slated for the next fiscal year starting in October.
Since Mr Sakda exposed the corrupt politicians, the House committee on laws, justice and human rights has taken up the case. Committee chairman Sira Jenjaka said it would be announced this week if an inquiry would be set up. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Democrat Party have also joined the bandwagon. In fact, all political parties should begin looking into the case to see if any of their own MPs have acted in a similar manner.
According to media reports, the panel plans to summon Mr Sakda to testify this week.
Mr Sira said if the panel does establish a probe, he did not think it would take long to find evidence of wrongdoing. It’s understood that Mr Sakda has a recording of the conversation between himself and the MPs who allegedly tried to extort money from the department.
“If the House committee on laws agrees to initiate a probe, it would set in motion the first step towards finding the truth,” said Mr Sira.
Earlier, Deputy Finance Minister Santi Promphat, who chairs the House committee overseeing budget scrutiny, insisted the House sub-committees have no power to revise budget allocations already approved. The minister insisted the sub-panels could not reap ill-gotten gains, meaning no politicians could make such deals.
But his explanation is not enough. On the contrary, it’s well-known that the budget scrutiny process can offer some politicians a chance to fatten their pockets. Many politicians can direct projects to their own constituencies. When Mr Sakda spoke up, society gave him overwhelming support.
There is wide speculation that the politicians implicated in the alleged graft are those in the coalition bloc. It’s believed that government MPs are able to intervene in the process, standing a good chance of accessing the state budget.
It’s a shame that even when the country faces such difficult times brought about Covid-19, elected MPs — who are meant to act as the people’s representatives — still resort to thinking only of themselves and their own personal gains.
The Sira panel should be expanded to probe other cases of blatant political wrongdoing.