Thais pursue free information

March 12, 1999

Decades of elitism and cronyism in the Thai education system could be swept away by an official information act that is forcing universities, schools and the country's conservative bureaucracy into a new era of openness.

Fourteen months after the law was passed and three months after the implementing body was established, it is in education that the legal test cases are coming thick and fast.

The first request for official information came from a law lecturer, who sat a PhD scholarship exam, failed and demanded to know why. The Sukothai Thammarithirat University was forced to disclose his and the other candidates' results.

The law is set to not just shake up entrance procedures but open new fields for academic research.

A Thai economics student taking a PhD at the University College of Swansea asked in October to see records dating back 30 years that are held in the vaults of the central Bank of Thailand. Despite protests from the bank, his request looks set to be granted.

Surasee Kosolnavin, director of the new Official Information Commission, is responsible for granting the release of the bank documents.

"It is an idea of transparency that will change Thailand," Mr Kosolnavin said. "Until now the system has worked to protect the establishment and preserve confidentiality within the bureaucracy. Many laws in the criminal and civil codes protect official information."

The law calls for all official information to be publicly accessible, unless it compromises personal privacy or national security. This could mean disclosure of everything from exam results to conditions of Thailand's bail-out package from the International Monetary Fund.

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