A chance for honesty

  As Thailand emerges from the current flood crisis, the country is focused on efforts to rebuild and recover. While this process will be challenging, it also presents a unique opportunity to internalise good governance measures within the recovery efforts _ measures that can have a dramatic impact on getting the country back on track.

      Elephants from the Ayutthaya Elephant Kraal help clean the grounds at Wat Phra Si Sanphet near King U-Thong statue in central Ayutthaya after the floodwaters receded last month. It will indeed be a mammoth task for the government to properly supervise the vast rebuilding and rehabilitation projects across the country.  Taking advantage of this opportunity will ensure a comprehensive and effective recovery programme. It will also create conditions that will strengthen the public's trust in Thailand's institutions and make its public sector more responsive, efficient and accountable.

 A close look at countries that are governed well shows that governance is more about designing a well-oiled government machine. No machine can run by itself and no government can either, no matter how dedicated its political leaders or how skilled its career employees. What is also needed are citizens who actively participate and take on the responsibility to keep government open and honest.


 In today's complex and interconnected world, governance requires citizens who are well informed and are willing to actively engage with government institutions and service delivery agencies. This is what is called "citizenship" and those who commit themselves to continued oversight of the government that governs them are called "citizens." As Thomas Jefferson, one of those who helped design the American government acknowledged, the government won't function without "an informed and active citizenry". It is, he said, "the bulwark of democracy".

Let's come back to why governance is important for Thailand _ first, what does it mean? We can perhaps understand it as a framework controlling how decisions are made and executed. As a system, governance can include the constitutional and legal framework under which governments work, rule, regulate and control the exercise of power in a fair, just and transparent manner. It should also include easily accessible rules and regulations controlling how power is exercised, mechanisms for citizen participation, and the processes by which governments are monitored, evaluated and held to account for their performance.

In our context of flood recovery, good governance means arrangements that ensure that the communities most directly affected are consulted and participate in decisions on recovery and rehabilitation spending. Decisions should be based on open and informed discussions of options which build on these consultations, accurate and understandable public information on what benefits the people, transparent reporting on how public money is being spent, and whether the spending that is being done is reaching targeted beneficiaries.

This is especially important because the recovery effort involves a lot of money, which if not transparently managed can give rise to corruption and misallocation of public resources, or at least the perception that this risk exists.

More narrowly this would translate into putting in a system that:

1.) Ensures that recovery and rehabilitation projects are designed appropriately so that the technical specifications for projects are not articulated in such a way that they can only be met by specific suppliers or vested interests and with channels for citizen consultation and feedback.

2.) Makes sure that project execution is conducted through an open, competitive and transparent tendering process that focuses on value for money and quality of outcomes _ with information on the procurement process and prices published for communities to be able to monitor the performance of government agencies.

3.) Institutes a monitoring and evaluation system that ensures projects meet their objectives and reached the project beneficiaries; and 4.) Quickly and effectively sanctions corrupt and nepotistic behaviour.

In other words, good governance can ensure that each hard-earned baht from taxpayers is put to the best possible use in support of the recovery strategy _ in a way which is transparent, timely, and targeted. Furthermore, it's a chance for the government to demonstrate that the immense trust which citizens are placing in them to work for the betterment of the country is well placed.

What are the challenges? As a high-middle income country, good governance is within reach-Thailand has both the capacity and ability to institute, plan and execute a reconstruction and rehabilitation programme that "builds back better" and forms a benchmark for good global practice.

Thailand has a capable bureaucracy, resilient institutions, and a stable fiscal position which will enable the country to finance these recovery efforts. However, three main challenges must be addressed to instill good governance measures and achieve a successful recovery:

First, efforts must be coordinated. This means fostering effective institutional coordination between agencies to ensure integration of projects. This will require some creative redesign of current institutions.

Second, transparency must be enhanced. This means opening up the public procurement process to external monitoring and scrutiny while applying appropriate procurement methods to the respective categories of goods and services procured.

Third, a strategic and integrated approach is necessary. This means addressing the short term needs while keeping the medium-to-longer view on complementary policy reforms needed to foster resilience, innovation, promote skills development, enhance value added, and improve Thailand's competitiveness in the fast integrating global economy.

Today, as the world celebrates the International Day for Governance and Anti-Corruption, each country has the opportunity to reflect on how to improve governance to support growth and well-being.

In Thailand, these measures must be seen as central to a successful flood recovery effort. While the crisis has left both citizens and government with a great deal of rebuilding to do, we remain optimistic that Thailand will emerge from this disaster with institutions which have the public's trust and confidence, a more resilient infrastructure, and a more competitive economy, governed by a system which promotes honesty and integrity.

Juree Vichit-Vadakan is Secretary-General of Transparency Thailand.
Annette Dixon is the World Bank's Country Director for Thailand.


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