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Minister acts to stamp out sleaze

THAILAND

Teachers are forced into vicious circle of corruption and bribes, reports Dominic West.

IN Britain there's fast-track promotion, but in Thailand teachers are employing the "fast-buck" method, spending thousands of pounds bribing their way up the career ladder.

Scores of junior and middle-ranking teachers at Thai state schools admitted to researchers that they had to pay up to pound;800 for a transfer while those pushing for senior positions needed to fund kickbacks of up to pound;3,300.

The study of promotions carried out by Somkiat Pongpaiboon, an adviser to the National Teachers' Union, found that bribe payments were so large that teachers - who typically earned less than pound;200 a month - were forced into a vicious cycle of corruption in order to make the money to land better jobs.

Education minister Somsak Prisanananthakul said elected provincial promotion panels were to blame with members paying teachers for their votes. Once elected they could then milk those seeking transfers or new jobs.

Mr Somsak said the problem went right to the top with education chiefs paying as much as pound;16,000 for a seat on a ministerial panel.

The union's study found some school executives were lavishly entertained and given free holidays in order to win their support. Many of those winning seats are thought to e allied to corrupt politicians keen to extend their grassroots support.

Teachers - especially those in rural provinces - are respected and are viewed as particularly influential in the run-up to provincial and national elections.

The education ministry wants to clean up the teaching profession just as the government is trying to clean up politics. A new election commission kicked out dozens of vote-buying candidates running for the senate.

The national primary education commission has also complained to the government about transfer bribes.

Teachers have told the commission that bribe payments are calculated according to the distance between the teacher's old job and the desired one.

Chalor Kongsutthichai, secretary-general of the commission, said: "The rates depend on the location of the schools they want to move to. If the schools are located downtown the rates will be higher."

Corruption is so widespread that auditors inspecting the government's loans programme, designed to help poor secondary students, found teachers had been abusing the system to benefit from the low interest loans.

One teacher applied for loans using the names of his pupils and then took their cashpoint cards to withdraw money. Others, including state officials, faked loan applications to tap into funds.

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