Monash Newsline  : People at Monash

Fighting corruption
By Mick Elmore

Information is the name of the age crucial for business and politics. It is a powerful tool in the hands of those working for justice and a fairer society. And it can be dangerous, as anti-corruption crusader Doctor Pasuk Phongpaichit has found in her native Thailand.

Dr Pasuk Phongpaichit.
To Dr Pasuk, economics is a simple matter: itís about improving the plight of the poor and fighting injustice. From there, however, it gets more complicated, with Dr Pasuk having to put into practice all the knowledge she gained from Monash University (BEc (Hons) 1969, MEc 1971) and Cambridge, where she earned her doctorate.

Now chairwoman of Chulalongkorn Universityís Political Economy Centre in Bangkok and a member of the governmentís research sub-committee of the Counter-Corruption Commission (CCC), Dr Pasukís published work has reached far outside the university to the very core of Thai society. It has earned the scorn of many powerful people and threats from a few.

In 1982, Dr Pasuk published her first study, From Peasant Girls to Bangkok Masseuses, arguing that girls are exploited to help Thailandís balance of payments. The book was controversial but the controversy pales in comparison to the reaction she and her husband Dr Chris Baker received last year with claims that illicit revenue from prostitution, drugs, gambling and the arms trade makes up nearly 20 per cent of the Thai economy. They backed the claims with statistics in Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailandís Illegal Economy and Public Policy.

"The problem is structural. The police force is badly paid, top-heavy, poorly trained, over-militarised. It needs a big change in structure, recruitment, training, and culture. Much the same can be said of the forestry department, customs, and some other offices," she said.

Dr Pasuk entered Chulalongkorn University's school of political science and then switched to economics when she won a Colombo Plan scholarship to Monash in 1965.

"Monash exposed me to a very democratic and liberal way of thinking, which made me appreciate the power of ordinary people," she recalled, citing the strong Australian trade unions as a good example of people's power to change things.

- Mick Elmore

Southeast Asian politics can be studied as part of postgraduate diplomas of politics, development studies or Asian studies. For more details, contact Dr Susan Blackburn on (03) 9905 2384.