In the past it was customary for a Chinese businessman to receive protection from influential Thais in return for payments; in the early sixties Prime Minister General Sarit is alleged to have diverted 140 million Baht from public funds into his own bank account, and a recent study revealed that 75 percent of Thai MPs received commissions from development projects in their constituencies.
One question that preoccupies many a newcomer is whether one should be prepared to grease any palms in order to achieve one’s objectives. It is difficult to provide a satisfactory answer. As a foreigner you should steer clear of passing brown envelopes under the table during negotiations. Such actions are unlikely to smooth the way and could land you in deep trouble if you are bidding for a government contract and the Counter Corruption Commission comes to hear of your activities.
The best solution is to find a reputable agent who can handle any payments that need to be made. If you try to do this yourself, you will invariably get it wrong. Every organization operating in Thailand-whether local or foreign-has its own Mr., Mrs., or Miss Fixit who has good contacts and knows exactly what to do to make the wheels run smoothly.
The problem of corruption is regularly aired in Thailand, and attempts have been made to combat political corruption, in particular. At a recent election some of the contests had to be rerun because they were shown to have been rigged. Also, some of the country’s more perspicacious leaders realize that foreign investors may shy away from countries that are institutionally corrupt.
One reassuring piece of advice comes from a former British Ambassador to Thailand. “You should also know that some of the most successful Western firms in Bangkok have never ever resorted to illegal payments precisely because there are so many legal ways in which these delicate matters can be resolved to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.”