Notes From a Tainted Paradise
Third in the World, no less…
It comes as no surprise to learn that Thailand has the third highest road accident fatality rate in the world. It is 38.1 deaths per 100,000 people.
Only the two war-ravaged, lawless, failed states of Iraq and Libya have higher death rates than Thailand.
Assuming a population of 67million, and assuming I’ve got my decimal point in the right place, Thailand’s road fatality rates translates into 26,000 deaths on the road each year. That’s 71 deaths per day! Even I have trouble believing it’s that bad, but who knows? Certainly hardly a day goes by when I don’t read about one or more road fatalities in and around Pattaya, so maybe it is correct.
There are 77 provinces in Thailand, and considering Pattaya is only a small part of one province, it would only take one death in each province per day to add up to this terrible total.
A majority of these accidents are motorcyclists, but there are still a large number of fatalities in cars with drunks at the wheels, and the distressing numbers of accidents involving buses which invariably involve multiple fatalities. Bus accidents are sometimes due to mechanical failures but more often they occur when the driver falls asleep at the wheel.
I read the other day that the new chief of police is banning the widespread and illegal practice of setting up ‘unofficial’ roadblocks to extort money from unsuspecting road users. While this is good news, it does nothing to address the absolutely appalling road death and injury rates that have plagued Thailand for decades.
Until the authorities get really serious about clamping down on drunken driving and dangerous driving, often by drivers who have never taken a driving test and have no idea how to drive safely.
Corruption is so rife that those who are caught, invariably pay their way out of trouble, even if they have to pay ‘blood money’ to the families of those they killed. The worst that can happen is that culprits may spend a day or two days in Jail. The drivers’ licences, (if they have one) are not endorsed and they are never banned from driving.
There have been endless incidents of ‘hi-so’ drunk drivers causing multiple deaths on the roads, and getting off Scott free.
Even to this day, police at the scene of an accident do not routinely check if the driver has been drinking… Amazing, isn’t it?
I’m afraid that one of the many reasons for a lack of firm action by the authorities is because of the Thais fatalistic attitude to danger and death.They believe in karma – fate – and they believe that if is their time to die in an accident – so be it.
Through the years I have experienced several occasions when the car I was travelling in miraculously avoided an accident – often a head-on collision – by a hair’s breadth. You would think that the occupants of such a vehicle would be white and shaking.
Not a bit of it, every Thai who is involved in a near miss on the road is always smiling and laughing. It wasn’t their turn to die. The grim reaper had decided to let them off.
This belief in the inevitability of pre-destined death weighs heavily on the enforcement of traffic laws. If it’s your time to go, you will go, regardless of any man-made laws.
Is it Safe?
I had to laugh out loud the other day when it was discovered that an identified western man with a large backpack had been wandering around the military court building while the court was in session. It was the day that the court was hearing the charges against two men who are suspected of masterminding the bomb explosion at the Erawan Shrine, which killed 20 and injured 150.
The man, (nationality unknown), was only discovered on security video footage the following day. He was seen entering the court and walking to the fourth floor, the rooftop, the third floor and finally exiting the building after having spent around 10 minutes there.
But nobody was particularly bothered.
We were told that as the military court is located only a few hundred meters from Bangkok’s heavily visited Grand Royal Palace, the man probably wandered in to use the toilet.
Honestly…. You couldn’t make it up.
Talking about the Thai police and their gallant efforts to arrest the gang of bombers, it makes me wonder if anyone in authority has any inkling that the Thai police force is becoming the laughing stock of the world.
From almost the moment the bombing took place, senior policemen started issuing conflicting statements to the public as to who was behind the bombing. They seemed to change their minds by the hour and, as a result, few of us have much confidence in their claims that that they have caught the real culprit – the one who actually planted the bomb.
“He has confessed,” they proudly tell us.
So did the two poor, tortured Burmese labourers who were accused of murdering two British tourists in Koh Tau…..
Even more bizarre than the ever-changing versions of who the bombers were, (and why they did it), was the handing over of large monetary rewards to the cops who allegedly caught the bombers.
A few weeks ago the police chief handed over 3 million Baht, (£ 60,000), to the investigating officers for arresting the culprits – i.e. for doing the job they are paid to do.
When asked why some of the money wasn’t given to members of the public who provided the crucial tip-off, (i.e. the location where the bombers were living), we were told that it was up to the cops to hand over cash to the public as they saw fit. Well, we all know what this meant.
But that wasn’t the end of it. On 28th September, the police chief held a special press conference where he handed over yet more large wads of ‘awards’ money to Bangkok’s finest, this time, in front of journalists.
This second stash of money was apparently for their continuing gallant efforts. Our beloved cops now are awash with unearned, undeserved riches. Is this really the only way that things can work here?
And let’s not forget that early on in the investigation, when police theories were being thrown at us every five minutes and before any arrests were made, we were told by the police chief that the slow progress of the investigation was not due to police incompetence. It was because they had a shortage of ‘modern equipment’ – like the police in foreign countries have – to find the prime suspect captured on security cameras.
Yet they had millions of spare Bahts to throw at cops doing their duty and in any case, Thailand is not exactly an impoverished country.
While all these ‘good cops’ were being generously rewarded, we were informed that 18 ‘bad cops’ were transferred to inactive posts for falsely claiming they had thoroughly conducted searches in areas where bomb materials and a suspect were later discovered.
The officers were transferred for failing to follow an order from police central command: to carry out searches of property and “suspicious foreigners” in the wake of the 17 August bombing.
Responding to this order, the bad police had sent back all-clear reports, indicating no foreigners or bomb-making materials had been found.
Yet in later raids, good police and military discovered detonators, ball bearings, gunpowder, metal pipes, chemicals and fertilizers in apartment buildings located within those districts. They also arrested a suspect.
This is why the ‘good cops’ deserved their 3million Baht plus undisclosed large wads of cash.
The ‘bad cops’ were transferred to inactive posts. This means that they are still paid their salary but are not free to continue their normal illegal extortion scams which are necessary to augment their meagre salaries.
But don’t pity them too much; in a few weeks they will be back at their desks – when all the fuss has died down.
The Shocking Truth
A few days ago, a security guard was found dead lying next to an electricity pole in Samut Sakhon near Bangkok. He had extensive burns to the left side of his body and his pants were lowered. Part of the dead man’s left index finger was burned away.
The police quickly concluded that the poor man was electrocuted when he urinated next to the utility pole which was partially submerged in a canal….
There have been so many incidents of Thais – and foreigners – being electrocuted through the years due to ‘live’ electricity pylons, damaged lines, flailing live wires, badly wired houses and simply wading through flooded streets where the water was acting as a live conductor. I wonder when they are going to introduce some kind of electrical safety standards in this ‘Tainted Paradise’.
Our beloved military leader is quite right. He is always telling us that we westerners don’t understand Thais and Thai culture.
Who would argue with him?