Though he is easily recognised as a tough talking graft buster, very few people know Klanarong Chanthik also as a family man who loves music, animals and sports. And despite all the attention he receives almost daily from Thai and foreign media, the 63-year-old barrister-at-law is a rather shy man. During a two-hour interview at his home, Mr Klanarong’s naturally polite and attentive demeanour never deserted him. Although his English is passable, he preferred to give the interview in his native language, through an interpreter.
Mr Klanarong’s white terrier, Khao Suay (Steamed Rice), provided a noisy welcome and the only noticeable security, staying close by his side as she kept an eye on her master’s visitors. One of ten dogs at Mr Klanarong’s residence, Khao Suay is his favourite.
“I came from a middle-class family,” he began. “My father was a civil servant who retired as deputy comptrollergeneral of the Ministry of Finance. My mother was a nurse. I have been married to Ms Panthipa for 38 years and we have one son and two daughters.”
The youngest one, Sunissa, joined the interview and helped translate. Her mother, who also joined the interview, is a businesswoman. The family lives in compound of three buildings located off Phaholyothin Road in Bangkok with 16 other family members. “I have been here for 52 years,” Mr Klanarong declared.
Articles that mention his name and accomplishments have been published in many countries around the world, including Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.
Mr Klanarong explained how he began his anticorruption crusade: “After the Office of Counter Corruption Committee (OCCC) was established, the chairman at the time asked me to join the organisation. I started as young official and worked right up to secretary general. Later on, His Majesty the King appointed me secretary-general of the newly-established National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC).”
In all, Mr Klanarong has spent 35 years working for the government, 27 of them specialising in exposing and punishing corruption. He retired in 2003, but was reappointed as a member of the NCCC after the September 19 coup under the new government.
“I love this job and believe that I have achieved a lot of good for the people of my country. Of course, after so many years of investigating corrupt people, I have made and I still have enemies. But I don’t worry because I’m just doing my job,” said Mr Klanarong, adding that “no one ever offered me a bribe. Never!”
He said that during his tenure many people have bothered and tried to intimidate him. “I was followed, received threatening calls and someone even sent me an envelope containing excrement. At the same time, however, many people called and encouraged me on my mission to expose corruption.” Mr Klanarong continued: “I used to have two military bodyguards assigned to me by the government. They came from the Armed Forces Security Centre (AFSC).
He then explained that under NCCC regulations, as the secretary-general he was eligible to have bodyguards provided for him, but the protection was not extended after his retirement in 2003. Since his reappointment to the NCCC he has declined security personnel. “Recently the AFSC offered me protection, but I refused. I don’t need bodyguards,” Mr Klanarong said.
A universal problem
On weekend and holidays he often can be found at the Phaholyo thin compound, watching television, passing the time with his two young grandchildren or playing hisGerman-made Hohner accordion. He proved his talent and skill on the spot during the interview by playing several Thai songs.
Mr Klanarong said that his election as a Bangkok senator earlier this year was one of the happiest events of his life. “I got approximately 146,000 votes, which was the third highest in the constituency and the fourth in the whole country,” Mr Klanarong said, adding that he would like to be a senator again, whether elected or appointed.
Turning to the problem of corruption, Mr Klanarong said: “The cause of corruption in Thailand or anywhere originates with the individual, in their thoughts and actions. It is a universal problem – not only in Thailand.” The German-based organisation Transparency International recently published its annual Transparency Index for the yeat 2006. Out of 163 countries surveyed, Thailand occupies the 63rd spot in terms of the prevalence of corruption.
According to him, corruption can be solved if, most importantly, every citizen realises how harmful it is. Secondly, the leaders of the country should set the example or model for everyone. They must focus on solving the problem without making exceptions for the power or influence of the persons involved, or how close they are to themselves. “The leaders have to be sincere to solve the problem,” emphasised Mr Klanarong.
“Corruption and narcotics are the two biggest dangers to the development of Thailand and the well-being of its people. These two evils go hand in hand,” he said. Yet, he feels that while many resources are directed to solving the drug problem, there has not been enough effort made to stop corruption. He added that the maintenance of a consumer society would destroy the traditional Thai way of life.
“We have to rely on the sufficiency economy, as is being urged by His Majesty the King.” Mr Klanarong also said he would like to be remembered as an honest and unprejudiced person, loyal to HM the King, the country and the people. “I deeply respect His Majesty the King and I would give my life for him. My motto is: Never be prejudiced and treat everyone equally, whether it is the prime minister or an ordinary citizen,” he said.
Klanarong Chantick is a heartening example of a devoted and modest public servant. He spent many years fighting corruption. We were introduced by a mutual friend, an army colonel who is also a judge at the military court. Mr Klanarong and I have some things in common. We are both animal lovers. He looks after a dog and I look after a cat. We both play the accordion, a piano accordion for me, and a button accordion for him.