Over the past few years, the economic and political news from both Western European nations and Thailand has been generally negative and driven with missed opportunities to roll back collusion and corruption in both the financial and political arenas. So it was unsurprising to me when I was contacted by a member of the Royal Thai Police requesting a donation of some ‘tea money’ to smooth the process of my application for citizenship of the Kingdom of Thailand. The request was made via telephone to my wife, a Thai national, by a female police officer from the department that had been dealing with my application. A figure of 40,000 THB was requested as an initial ‘sweetener’ to begin the application process.
As a long term resident of this country, who understood how ‘donations’ of â€˜tea moneyâ€™ can speed up the bureaucratic process, my initial reaction was to agree to pay the sum. My wife’s reaction was, surprisingly, against it! She said that for Thailand to change its culture of endemic corruption it had to start at the level of the individual. She said that she would contact her sister for advice regarding my case. Her sister contacted Ex-Member of Parliament (MP) Vilas Chanpitaksa, who presented the case to the Minister of the Interior to demand that my application be based upon its merits alone, and not on the amount of money that was given to officials in a police department.
I wish to state that I had never met or had communication with Ex-MP Vilas Chanpitaksa prior to this point. Fortunately, my wife had taped the conversation that she had had with the police official, and when this was presented as evidence to the Minister of the Interior, it was clear that my application was the subject of a money making scheme by this officer.
Upon taking up the case, the Minister of the Interior, Ex-MP Vilas was both shocked and disappointed that an application for citizenship to his country could be so twisted and abused by the greed of petty officials. In his eyes it was completely unacceptable that an application for citizenship, by a foreign national, made in good faith, should be demeaned by a person in the department dealing with the application, and by implication bringing shame upon the Royal Thai Police, his Ministry, and the Kingdom as a whole.
Under the direction of Ex-MP Vilas my case was investigated, and higher ranking police officers in the Royal Thai Police were made aware of the allegations. Ex-MP Vilas subsequent investigations revealed that over 100 other applications for Thai citizenship had been held up waiting on the payment of ‘tea moneyâ€™. In fact my case, and those of the 100 or so other applicants for citizenship, was brought up in the Thai parliament, where Minister of the Interior Ex-MP Vilas stated that through the actions of his ministry this corrupt practice had been uncovered and dealt with.
When foreigners and some Thais judge this country negatively and cynically state that things will never change here, then I would like them to remember this case as clear evidence to the contrary.