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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Any chance of us taking a cue from Hazare?

Watch any news channel or browse through major newspapers and the name Anna Hazare will soon pop up. Here is a single man standing up to the might of powerful politicians in a republic that has become synonymous with corruption
A supporter of India's social activist Anna Hazare gathers among 
the thousands at Ram Lila ground in New Delhi yesterday, where
 Mr Hazare is on hunger strike to push for an anti-corruption bill.

Anna Hazare (pronounced ``un-nah ha-zaa-ray''), a 74-year-old bachelor, has been on an indefinite hunger strike to force India's parliamentarians to pass a bill that would likely make politicians more responsible for any kind of corruption.

One reason for the sudden surge in the support base for his protest is that the Indian public is finally fed up with the never-ending corruption scandals which have surfaced under the government of economics wizard Manmohan Singh. The Indian government has been embroiled in various corruption allegations: from the $38 billion 2G telecom scandal to the massive corruption in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games. Although many people, including some politicians, have been jailed in the 2G scandal, the big fish are still at large.

Frustration and disbelief among the working class Indians over the sheer scale of the corruption, and their daily bout with government officials who have to be bribed in order to get basic jobs done, are also reason enough for the movement to have gained such a momentum.

Mr Hazare himself has spared no publicity stunt to grab the hearts and minds of the  masses, especially the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, sending out short messages to people all across the cities asking them to join the rallies.

In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, who used non-violent means and hunger strikes to win independence from British rule in 1947, Mr Hazare has adopted this same methodology to force the government to push forward the ``Jan Lokpal Bill''.

This bill which has been in the making since 1968, has so far not managed to pass Parliament as it would directly impact politicians since the bill seeks to set up an independent anti-corruption committee comprised of clean government officials.

Although the Jan Lokpal Bill encompasses a lot of issues, the very name of the bill sends shivers down political spines, as it  has become customary for politicians to have Swiss, Singapore and other bank accounts with money stashed in various forms including cash and equity and even property.

Politicians in India reportedly rake in 10% of a project's value as commission to pass the deal, a far lower figure than the reported numbers here in Thailand, where figures are said to be around 30%.

Projects such as mass transit, airport, procurement of NGV buses, second-hand submarines that have a useful life of only a few remaining years and many other projects _ all have been reported on in the past. But no action has been taken.

As a Thai national, what strikes me is the fact that not a single Thai citizen has dared to stand up against such corruption in Thailand. The so-called National Anti-Corruption  Commission, the country's anti-graft body, seems unable to tackle the basic issue it was put in place to handle.

What's more worrisome is the fact that some people feel that as long as the government works for the people and the public benefits, people are willing to tolerate a certain degree of corruption.

People in Thailand could learn a thing or two from the ongoing protest in India, and possibly look at sorting out their differences with colours and instead focus on the real issues that matter to the people and the country.

Thai people have now become accustomed to protest _ be it the initial protest initiated by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) or the one that followed by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), or the current one that is being organised by the so-called ``Multi-Coloured'' shirts.

For all those trying to ``fight'' for the country, it may be high time that they forgot about their colour divide, and instead join together in a new protest group to fight the scourge of corruption.

If Thailand wants to develop into a democracy, it can learn a lot from India. The first thing the opposition and the protest group could demand is enforcement of the Public Information Act. All non-secret information should be available to all citizens and the state agency in charge of the information must provide it within 30 days of a request being submitted.

Such an act would make the public more aware of the ongoing corruption, which could then be used by anti-corruption crusaders. Alas, asking such a thing of the government _ or the opposition _ is like asking too much. None of them has the guts to swallow such a bitter pill.


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