This article originally appeared on the Thomson Reuters TrustLaw Governance blog.
Thailand lifted its state of emergency, and the February 2 elections have been annulled. Encouragingly, the leaders of the government and the opposition are signaling – albeit tentatively and obliquely – a willingness to negotiate an end to the country’s ongoing political crisis. But even if Thailand can extricate itself from its latest political quagmire, the next crisis is probably not far off if the underlying problems are not addressed.
More than any other issue, corruption has served to delegitimize successive governments in the eyes of competing segments of Thai society. In 2006, the military ousted an elected government and in 2008, the Supreme Court disbanded an elected government; in both cases, the stated justification was corruption. Likewise, allegations of corruption are among the paramount drivers of the anti-government protests taking place in Bangkok today, just as they were in the color-coordinated protests of recent years.
And this frustration with corruption is not limited to corruption in electoral processes or campaign fraud. Corruption is a daily phenomenon for many citizens and businesses, and people are fed up with it.
In a partnership with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, CIPE is supporting the development of the recently-established Papua New Guinea Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PNGWCCI), the first and only women’s chamber in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
CIPE arranged for the senior leadership of PNGWCCI to attend a CIPE conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka that convened a network of women’s business groups from across the region. At this conference, which the Papua New Guinean participants described as “inspiring” and “eye-opening,” PNGWCCI saw first-hand that women’s chambers can be hugely successful even in difficult national environments for women, and relationships were established with other Asian chambers that could be invaluable mentors for PNGWCCI.
The women from PNG told CIPE that “we came home more enthusiastic than ever!”
More recently, at a training program in Port Moresby, a CIPE delegation worked with the leaders and members of PNGWCCI to develop an organizational vision, strategic objectives, along with tangible short and medium-term action plans to accomplish them.
Papua New Guinea ranks among the world’s worst performers in almost every global indicator of gender equality, including gender-based violence, social inequality, political exclusion, and economic marginalization. The lack of prominent, respected, capable, and well-organized advocates for gender equality and women’s rights directly contributes to the sociopolitical and economic marginalization of women in Papua New Guinea.
In a partnership with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, CIPE is supporting the efforts of a pioneering group of women who recently established the Papua New Guinea Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PNGWCCI). These visionary Papua New Guineans seek to change the operating environment faced by women in PNG, and this week saw a major step forward in this effort. From February 17-21, a CIPE delegation conducted the first of several planned training programs for the leaders and members of PNGWCCI.
Corruption is a direct threat to a country’s democratic emergence and an obstacle to a country’s democratic development. In Thailand, for example, corruption was the stated justification for the military’s ousting of an elected government in 2006 and the Supreme Court’s sacking of another elected government in 2008. Competing allegations of corruption were the main drivers of nation-crippling unrest in the country.
In Thailand, as in other new and struggling democracies across the globe, if democracy is to mature and fully take root, more is required than just the ability to vote.
In countries including Russia, Thailand, Columbia and Serbia, CIPE is helping the private sector mobilize to take proactive steps to reduce corruption. These programs demonstrate the transformative impact that private sector Collective Action can have on a country’s fight against corruption.
Participants at the January IOD training included senior officers from some of the largest local and multinational companies in Thailand.
In late January, more than 30 senior officers from 17 major Thai and multinational corporations attended an intensive anti-corruption training program led by the Thai Institute of Directors (IOD). This pilot two-day training course is the latest groundbreaking step in the Collective Action against Corruption campaign, now in its third year, being led by CIPE and IOD.
With technical and financial assistance from CIPE, IOD has assembled a still-expanding coalition of companies and business associations committed to fighting corruption in Thailand. To join this coalition, a company signs IOD’s Collective Action against Corruption Declaration which lays out tangible and specific steps that a company must take to proactively reduce corruption-related risks on the part of its employees, managers, and vendors. But signing this document is no mere photo-op, because to remain a member of this coalition, a company must submit to an external evaluation to verify whether or not it is actually doing what it has promised to do.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague with IOD Chairwoman Khunying Jada in Bangkok
When the Thai military overthrew an elected government in 2006, and when the Supreme Court disbanded another elected government in 2008, corruption was the principal stated justification. Public perceptions and allegations of corruption can undermine government in Thailand to such an extent that democratically elected governments often lack public legitimacy in the eyes of competing (and color coordinated) segments of Thai society, who came out in droves to protest in red or yellow shirts depending on their political affiliation.
So the resounding victory of Yingluck Shinawatra in Thailand’s 2011 parliamentary elections – which marked just the second time since 1932 that a single party gained control of parliament – should not be perceived as a triumph of democracy in the country. Indeed, the only other time that a single party controlled parliament was in 2005 when Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra won by an even larger electoral margin. Less than one year later, he was deposed in a military coup. Clearly, the situation in Thailand demonstrates that the consolidation of democratic principles and practices in a country requires more than just the ability to vote, and corruption is among the paramount obstacles to be overcome.
With the long-term goal of reducing corruption and promoting transparency in the Thai marketplace, CIPE launched a project in July 2010 with the Thai Institute of Directors (IOD) to cultivate private sector support for national anti-corruption initiatives. Since then, CIPE and IOD have designed a collective action strategy for reducing corruption in Thailand, assembled a still-expanding coalition of companies and business associations committed to that strategy, and developed a series of training programs and certification processes that ensure that coalition companies are actually doing what they pledge to do on anti-corruption.
President of Burma U Thein Sein at the US-ASEAN Forum (Photo: The Nation)
In his speech at the July US-ASEAN Business Forum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, U Thein Sein explained that Burma “has embarked on a democratic path” and is “moving toward a new democratic era.” He went on to outline the reform efforts his country is presently undertaking, efforts that give reason for optimism following April’s dramatic electoral victories for Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy.
In addition to promises of regular and free elections, increased media freedom, and constructive engagement with leaders of ethnic minorities, President Thein Sein announced plans “to transform [Burma’s] centralized economy into a market-oriented economy.” At this same event, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that President Thein Sein is a leader “who has moved his country such a long distance in such a short period of time.”
Moving forward, a successful and sustainable transition in Burma requires that economic growth be widespread and that economic opportunities arise for more than the well-connected few. However, numerous key institutions that are necessary for the realization of this goal are either weak or completely missing in Burma today.
Paramount among these institutions are private property rights and the rule of law. If these institutions, which are fundamental for the development of a market economy, are not substantively reformed and strengthened in Burma, its economic and democratic transition will prove unsustainable.