Editorial: September 2018

 |  September 1, 2018

Accountability, responsibility, owning it —these are not common Thai traits.

When was the last time you heard a senior member of the government saying, “mea culpa”? I can’t even recall.

Everything is always someone else’s fault; the baht-passing of blame and responsibility becoming so widespread and insidious that I would dare to go so far as to call it a national trait.

Following this month’s article about the prevalence of victim shaming in society, something so many thousands of women in Thailand (and to be fair, worldwide) face, I began to see a trend emerging.

When a British backpacker was raped and murdered in Koh Tao a few years back, our esteemed Prime Minister himself stepped up (and mis-stepped) by implying that a less attractive woman wearing more than a bikini may not have suffered the same fate. Why are women, the majority of victims of rape and abuse, shamed and blamed when it’s not just the perpetrator, but society at large which needs to be called up? Education leading to a societal shift in gender and sexual attitudes, should be a national priority. As prime minister, Israel’s Golda Meir was once asked to place a curfew on women following a series of rapes, famously replying that if there should be a curfew, surely the men should stay at home instead. It is this level of shifting of our paradigm which is now needed. The blame game has to stop and actions taken to hold those responsible accountable.

We have all read that Thailand has the second highest number of road deaths in the world. This uncomfortable distinction, when featured in the media or commented on by authorities, is always blamed on bad drivers or alcohol. At what point do those responsible for our road safety take responsibility? The Royal Highway Department and the various municipalities who build roads on which so many die? The Land Transportation Department in cahoots with driving schools who hand out licenses willy-nilly, like candy to the unskilled and uninitiated? The Ministry of Education which doesn’t address this national threat in any of its syllabi? Or the Traffic Police who would rather collect fines than enforce the law?

Then there is the example of the blatant crime and corruption in places such as Bangkok’s Patpong, Pattaya’s Walking Street or Phuket’s Patong. Every night sin and crime are brazenly showcased for the entire world to see, indulge in and mock. Unlike most of Thailand, which is under strict moral enforcement, these areas sell alcohol around the clock, flagrantly display their illegal offerings, trade in fake goods and for those who exert a little effort, deeper and darker crimes are to be found just beneath the neon veneer. Once in a blue moon a crackdown is proudly splashed across newspapers as smug-looking policemen point fingers at low-ranking criminals. It isn’t even a poorly kept secret that it is in actual fact the police and their criminal cohorts who are running and raking money out of these places, yet why is no one — I dare to suggest the chief of police himself — ever held accountable?

And don’t get me started on the crippling household debt which has risen to untenable levels over the past decade, leading to billions in defaulted loans, and all the social woes from depression to suicide, which comes with it. Why is the government not addressing the root cause of the issue here: that it is, the lack of personal financial management in a rampantly unchecked consumerist society; the feeding frenzy of corporations and their free-wheeling marketing; and the total lack of oversight and assistance by the government, that has led so many down the financial rabbit hole?

Look at the recent scandals over the proliferation of fake cosmetics, health supplements and beauty products, which has led people to point fingers at (and the police publically calling in) the celebrities who have endorsed them. Instead of blaming the Food and Drug Administration for its lack of oversight or the police in failing to crack down on illegal seals of approval, it is the visible and largely hapless celebrities, who are being raked over the coals.

While it’s easy to blame the authorities for everything, the fact is that we are all to be blamed. Because this rot is ours. Talk about rot, we featured an article a year ago about waste, our reporter asking the mayor why we don’t have more rubbish bins across the city, a fair question considering the pungent piles of vermin-infested garbage found everywhere. We were taken aback when he asked if any of us had a garbage bin in front of our own houses, shaking our head confusedly in denial. You see, he explained, no one wants one near their own house so they move them elsewhere. He correctly pointed out that we are all complicit in our city’s lack of waste management control.

I could go on and on, but I think that you get the picture. Thailand is free-falling and what we need the most right now is for all of us to stand up and say, “I see the problem, it is my responsibility, I will do my best to fix it, and if I fail, hold me accountable.”

Hands up if you are ready?