While the anti-amnesty bill protests showed us that the public won’t put up with certain abuses of power, a recent report by Transparency International showed that 65% of Thais still think corruption is acceptable if they directly benefit from it. We caught up with Mana Nimitmongkol, director of the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) to discover how he’s battling to fight this deep-rooted national problem.
What is the main task of your organization?
Our main role is to negotiate with the government to create laws that can reduce levels of corruption, which have definitely been getting worse since the cases of vote-buying in the 1981 election. It has caused tremendous damage to the country. We have also recently tried to broaden the role of the organization to address public attitudes as well. We’ve realized that this fight can’t be won in a lifetime. It will take generations. 
 
Why is it getting worse?
Corruption is a vicious circle. Politicians buy votes. When they are elected, they use their power to put their people into government offices who will then give them back money through government projects. This practice used to take place under the radar before, but these days it is widely accepted. 
 
People always see politicians as corrupt, but who are the real bad guys in this system?
There is small and large-scale corruption. The former can happen anywhere, usually by public servants who ask for money directly from people just to get normal paperwork done or because you’ve made some kind of mistake, as has been exposed at the Customs office. The latter is driven by politicians who receive huge chunks of money from big projects. If the government officers refuse to accept this, they are forced out of office by the politicians. So government officers are key.
 
Have you ever directly experienced corruption?
No and none of my colleagues in the organization have either. But we have heard a lot of stories from friends and people who approach us for help.
 
What has been the biggest success that ACT has managed to achieve so far?
It must be the construction and factory license. We received many complaints from people facing corruption when they requested a house, building or factory license from the Industry Ministry. Officers were asking for up to B10-20 million to approve the licenses. But after a year of negotiations with the administration they finally created a new set of legislation where applicants must receive their license in 30 days. The number of complaints dropped drastically. We’re now pushing for an Integrity Pact that requires independent committees to review the budgets of each of the government’s mega projects. The government is hesitatant to agree. This clearly shows their insincerity in fighting corruption. 
 
How can the public help?
The anti-amnesty rallies were a real phenomenon. People never took to the streets this fast and in this many numbers before. The parliament passed the bill at 4:25am on Nov 1 and the next morning there were thousands of people out protesting against it. I can only say that people need to keep doing this.