Bribery in Bangkok

By new contributor Richard Rhodes. Richard lives in Thailand with his wife and children and runs an eco-frame business. If you feel like writing for us, drop us an email!

A question for you: In what country and in what century do you think 2/3 of voters would happily accept a bribe in return for their vote?


No, I am not talking about ancient Rome (where this was certainly the case). Well, according to a poll published this week, the same is true of Thailand in 2007. But however shiny those notes are, they won’t do you much good if you’re living in Bangkok. The capital could be under water in less than 15 years time. The maths is simple. A combination of sinking buildings and rising seas amounts to the city getting 13cm closer to sea level every year and the arrival bar is set at 150cm. Think New Orleans on a much larger scale.

What we call corruption is a way of life in Thailand, and everyone is free to join in.
I managed to pass my Thai driving test before I’d even taken it. The pedals in the test room just weren’t designed for someone with size 11’s. Luckily the equivalent of a £10 note had already secured the examiners signature before I’d entered the room. Of course I had already navigated through the squeaky clean UK system, so I wasn’t about to wreak havoc on the countries roads. Not that anyone would have noticed!

But it’s not all fun and games. The lowest level of administration in Thailand is the village. Each village has its own head, known as the Pooh (person) Yai (big). Usually uneducated with palms that need a lot of greasing, these guys also have a penchant for guns. A house we looked at buying was owned by a village head. We only met his wife. She was trying to buy him out of prison after he had shot someone in a bar one evening. And then there’s the island, where I partly own an eco resort. This is the Wilder East. A few years ago a village head was gunned down. This time, the village head makes sure he’s the only one doing any gunning. A small stout fella, with few teeth but a lot of gold in his mouth, he calls all the shots. How about some friendly competition for the boat service? How about a bullet in your head. No way to treat a lady (our bookkeeper was doing the asking).

So is there any hope for Bangkok? Will policies that favour long term large scale investment charm voters? Or will promises of instant satisfaction continue to win the day? We can only hope that parallels end with ancient Rome. An eastern Atlantis would best remain a myth.

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