Thursday, December 29, 2011

How do we stop them from stealing flood-relief fund?

The government says it plans to spend Bt800,000 million in post-flood relief and rehabilitation. The first question from a skeptical public is not how it is going to be spent. It’s how much of it will not be spent on the flood victims.
Thais have got used to stories about money from huge projects requiring large amounts of tax money being pocketed by politicians and bureaucrats who are so versatile in exploiting the legal loopholes that despite all efforts trying to keep corruption out of the way, they could always find a way of stealing the public’s money.
Premier Yingluck Shinawatra, whether she wants it or not, now gets an offer from the business community to help monitor the way the flood-relief budget is being disbursed.
In fact, the Counter-Corruption Commission (CCC) has on its own come up with a new tool to make all deals between government agencies and their contractors more transparent. For the first time, any firm that has won a contract from a government agency for over two million baht will have to fill up forms that detail their income and expenses and all financial items that are directly related to the deal. In an unprecedented move, the CCC even demands that the contractor show the “bottom line” of each government project. That means the public will under the new set of rules be able to ascertain how much profit (or, in that unlikely scenario, loss) the contractor makes, and why, and how.
At the same time, the “Anti-Corruption Network” which comprises the country’s biggest and most influential business, banking and industrial associations as well as other non-government organizations, has proposed to the Yingluck government to undertake three major steps to ensure transparency in the use of the flood relief budget.
First, the government must make public all details of projects that come under the scheme on a website to underscore the sense of accountability on the part of the government.
“Real-time” details about each project’s financial status, the median prices and profiles of the contractors must be made available to the public. The previous practice of producing such reports three months after the project was kicked off won’t be acceptable anymore.
The second requirement that the public wants implemented to ensure a high degree of accountability is that the government must put in place an audit mechanism that will check on every item of the project. Apart from the government’s audit agencies, the government must open the way for private-sector’s monitoring groups that should be allowed to participate in the process in an open and transparent manner. Anyone found guilty of breaking the budgetary spending rules must be punished.
The third part of the proposal is for the Cabinet to promptly set in motion the CCC’s new rules in checking up on all deals between government agencies and private contractors.
Do we know how our tax-money could be siphoned off to private pockets? The tricks and secret deals are no secret. The solution is how to keep track and snare the big fish.
Corrupt politicians and bureaucrats would try to circumvent the rules and regulations by resorting to “ special purchase practices” which under the long-established rules can waive the basic requirements of setting the “median price” for each tender for government schemes. In other words, under-the-table deals can be made and dirty money can be passed without being detected.
Duplication of tasks by concerned government agencies could open the way for corruption – and without an efficient evaluation system, the flood relief fund could be easily misspent.
Equally scandalous is the well-known practice of a politician or official farming out “projects” under the post-flood reconstruction scheme to their own dummy companies or cronies who have access to “inside information” on upcoming tenders for government contracts.
How effective this move to plug the loopholes against all those dirty hands in power remains to be seen. But one consolation, at least, is that the private sector has never been so aggressive in protecting the people’s tax money.
It is also the first time that the public’s distrust of how the Establishment spends our money in the name of helping our fellow countrymen becomes a matter of serious public and urgent concern

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