Thai military spending among the least transparent: Transparency International

An international think tank monitoring corruption has revealed in its latest report that Thailand’s defence spending is among the least transparent in the world, especially since the 2014 coup d’état.

According to the 2015 Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index (GI) compiled by Transparency International, Thailand’s defence spending is graded ‘E’ in an index with grades ranging from ‘A’ for best practice to ‘F’ for the worst.   

“Since the May 2014 military coup, there has been no independent scrutiny of defence policy by the legislature, a lack of budget transparency, and insufficient institutional measures concerning most aspects of the procurement cycle,” according to the GI index summary.

The index is subdivided into five main categories: Political, Financial, Personnel, Operational, and Procurement. For Procurement, Thailand gets straight ‘0’s for oversight, transparency, competition regulation, control of agents and intermediaries, due diligence and publication of contract details, among other subcategories.

In the Political category, the country also scored zero for legislative scrutiny, CSO engagement, publication and debate on defence policy, and existence of an anti-corruption policy for the defence sector.

The country fared better on the Personnel Category where it scored ‘4’, the best score, for separation of chain of command from chain of  payment and openly published pay rates and ‘3’ for having a well-established payment system.

The index points out that the Thai military’s procurement on average sees an increase of 30-40 per cent over normal market prices during the procurement process, where certain middlemen benefit through unregulated competition.

The GI report added “while pre-coup anti-corruption organisations like the National Anti-Corruption Commission still enjoy a quasi-legal status, they lack sufficient influence to curtail military involvement with the proliferation of organized crime in southern Thailand or ghost soldiers.”

As the current junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has not yet published the defence spending for 2015, it is likely that large portions of the allocation will be classified, the think tank summarised.

Transparency International urged in the summary that the government should publish an annual defence budget that includes detailed information on expenditure across all defence functions and that civilian oversight on defence policy should be established.

Earlier this week, Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, the current Deputy Defence Minister and former Army Commander-in-chief, admitted that the construction of Rajabhakti Park, a royal theme park featuring gigantic monuments of seven prominent past monarchs in central Thailand, was rife with corruption.

The project costing about a billion baht (about 28 million USD) was overseen by Gen Udomdej.

According to Khaosod English, he said that corruption is common in every sector, adding the individuals hired by the Army took ‘commissions’ of about 10 per cent from the budget for the park.

When further pressed by the media, Gen Udomdej said that he is uncertain whether the money was returned to the Army, but said that the damage is already mended because the ‘middleman’ on the project had already returned the commission as a ‘donation’.

On Wednesday, 11 November 2015, Matichon Online reported that the Royal Thai Army just reached a multimillion dollar deal to procure additional anti-aircraft missiles called ‘Starstreak’.

Mick Oliver, the Business Director of the Thales Group, a French weapons and aerospace conglomerate, told Matichon that the procurement of Starstreak missiles was made in addition to the 2012 purchase contract and that the additional missiles will be delivered to the Thai Army in early 2017.            

In April 2015, the Royal Thai Navy formally submitted a request to the Thai junta to buy submarines for its Submarine Division, which has not had a single underwater vessel for the last 63 years since the unsuccessful attempted coup d’état by navy officers in 1951.

According to Admiral Kraisorn Chansuvanich, submarines are needed to add to the marine defence capabilities of the Thai Navy since many of its neighbours, such as Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia, have submarines. The Royal Thai Navy has settled on a plan to ask for 36 billion baht (1.06 billion USD) to acquire three well-equipped submarines from China. It is now up to the cabinet to decide whether to approve the budget.

For the junta’s top brass, having submarines could add an ‘awe factor’ to the Thai military. Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, on 7 July told the press that “they [submarines] are not for battle, but so that others will be in awe of us.”