Paper trail that leads nowhere

 You lose, or have stolen, something of value. Your duty is to trot along to the local police station, and report the fact. After some time (a phrase deliberately chosen for its flexible interpretation), you will emerge with a police report.

And the question is, why bother?

Sometimes you have to do it because other parts of the bureaucratic machinery will not into creak into action without the impetus provided by a police report. Any official document like a driving licence, passport or bank book, anything that has your name and a number of some sort on it, will not be replaced unless you first report the loss to the police.

Sometimes you need it for the insurance. So you list lost property with insanely inflated values because you equally insanely hope the insurance company will believe anything a policeman writes down.

And sometimes you need it to cover your backside. Like when you lose the office keys and although you are too paralytic to remember which bar you were in, or what her name was, next morning you have a crystal clear recollection of losing them on the skytrain between Siam and Chidlom.

Let us first deal with this epistemological problem that the Thai police throw at anyone who has lost something. Since each station is responsible for events only within its precinct, they are unwilling to issue reports unless your property disappeared in their bailiwick. So they will always ask where you lost it.

But if something is lost, then inescapably, you don’t know where it is. If you did, it wouldn’t be lost.

This is why, when reporting missing property, you should never ever say you lost it on a bus or train, because the police station at one end of the line will argue that you must have lost it at the other end and you must report it there. All Thais seem to know this, leading to an amazing number of reports of items gone missing almost on the doorstep of police stations throughout the city.

But even if you do remember where you lost it, you wouldn’t report missing property in the hope or expectation of getting it back. The system is simply not designed for that.

Look at the piece of paper that you leave the police station with. This is a handwritten carbon copy in Thai. This, as long as the factual errors on it are no too glaring, will be enough to get you a new ID card or to make an insurance claim.

But neither it, nor the original in the police ledger, will do any more than that. The information is hiding on paper, not available for access in a database.

Suppose someone walks into a police station with your missing property. Whatever action the police take, it will be the same whether you did or did not report the loss. If it’s something with your name on it, no problem. If it’s something with some other identifying mark, like a laptop or a phone (which could be traced to you if had reported it and there was a database with this information) (which there isn’t), then good luck. And if it’s something fairly anonymous, like a piece of jewelry, then hard luck.

Have the police not heard of computers? you may ask.

Of course they have. Every officer in the building has one (except for the one writing police reports longhand, of course). And at the end of their shift, they unplug them, and their printers and other peripherals, and the next shift brings in a complete new set of hardware.

Because this is all the personal property of the officers, not standard equipment issued by the Royal Thai Police to enable officers to do their job.

This is quite bizarre. Do teachers have to buy their own personal blackboards and trundle them from classroom to classroom? Must supermarket check-out girls buy their own cash registers?

And because they are their own computers, they feel, with some justification, that when business is slow, there is nothing wrong with checking out the latest coyote video clip, or placing a bet on next week’s Premier League games, or maybe even accessing subversive websites like Prachatai. Courtesy of the police station’s internet connection, of course.

It is often argued that police corruption can be stopped if police officers’ pay is improved. Maybe they wouldn’t need the backhanders so much if they didn’t need to buy their own tools of the trade.

Comments

This is a situation that used

This is a situation that used to amaze me, too. Why has such a centralized government not got a computerized database system? In the States the problem used to be diffuse responsibility for data and a jealous, proprietary attitude on the part of the data 'owners'... no acknowledgement that the data was and is the property of the actual people whose lives it describes, just what bureaucracy 'owned' it.

Corporations didn't like that so they changed it. It's all centralized now, with the NSA even storing all the emails and phone calls made by all Americans for the day when there are computers fast enough to crack encryption and to analyse it.

But back to Thailand. Why does such a centralized, imperial system not have a central database of vital information concerning its citizens?

I think the answer is that the facts have no value in Thailand. There are no kourt transcripts, for instance, because the judges know what the verdict is going to be before the trial takes place. What's the point in writing down all the jawboning? I's just window dressing anyway.

And if there's no paper trail, then know one can know who's responsible for... anything. So as long as you get away with whatever it is at the time it happens, you're home free for all time.

And the Thai system puts credentials rather than expertise at the top. So most ministries are likely run by incompetents with lots of diplomas who couldn't oversee construction of the databases if they wanted to, which they don't, for the reasons above. Their 'underlings' probably could do the job, but doing so... doing anything... on their own is simply unthinkable.

What it comes down to is that data are facts, and facts are not only unimportant in Thailand, but they've got a certain grubbiness about them, representing as they do what's actually happened rather than the official story of what's happened, and that makes one want quickly to wash one's hands, and brain, after coming into contact with them.

The police come off the

The police come off the streets and out of the schools, our of the families. Their propensity for corruption is deep-rooted and hardly likely to diminish no matter who buys the equipment. They don't seem to mind paying 60K for the latest 9mm.
As an aside, listening to Suthep yesterday blast the Red Shirts, citing how police discovered gun powder residue on two who were killed - proving that they, of course, were shot in self-defense - was a sad update on situations brewing here.

citing how police discovered

citing how police discovered gun powder residue on two who were killed

... and you believed him/them?

I don't pay attention to Abhisit/Suthep any more. They haven't got an idea between them, are nothing but negative... when they aren't lying flat out.