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After 800 million baht ($23 million) of tax payers’ money had been spent on bomb detectors that don’t work, security forces in Thailand’s troubled Deep South have reverted to alternative and slightly less expensive bomb-detecting technology. Find out what they are using here...

In these days of international terrorism, and with rampant insurgency in its troubled southern provinces, Thailand wisely decided to beef up internal security by improving its bomb detection capabilities.

Here endeth the wisdom.

The Thai police, air force, army, Customs Department and Central Institute of Forensic Science opted to buy several hundred GT-200 bomb detection devices, even though these and similar devices had already been tested, deemed inefficient and banned by the US and UK governments.

The devices were acquired through agencies at prices ranging from 550,000 baht ($16,000) to 1.2 million baht ($35,000). Whether the price differentials were the result of differences in negotiating skills or differences in the sizes of brown envelopes is open to question.

However, after a total of 800 million baht of tax payers’ money had been spent on the GT 200s, the government finally stepped in and ordered that the effectiveness of the devices be tested. The results were alarming. During 20 controlled tests, the devices failed 16 times – a failure rate of 80%.

Not surprisingly, the government decided to ban the purchase of any more GT 200s and has ordered an inquiry into the purchase of the 818 units already bought. Also, the acquisition of a further 400 similar Alpha 6 devices worth 300 million baht has been put on hold until tests have been carried out.

The vast majority of the useless GT 200 devices were purchased by the army. In a brazen effort to save face, Lt. Gen. Pichit Wisaijorn, Commander of Thailand’s fourth army, insisted that the devices were still effective despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

However, Thai soldiers manning checkpoints in the south have switched to an alternative method of bomb detection. Now when they stop motorbikes, they dip chopsticks into the petrol tank to check for explosives.

Once famous for its battle elephants, Thailand is fast becoming better known for its many white elephants, including rubber saplings, fire engines, fighter jets or a submarine-destroying aircraft carrier in a region where no-one has a submarine.

Every year, the black hole of corruption sucks in billions of baht from the public coffers.  Every time, the media reports it. Everyone shakes their head in resigned disgust. And then everyone promptly forgets it. It's the Thai way.

What makes this time different is the obvious danger to human life for the sake of personal profit.

Unfortunately, this time, the media will report it. Everyone will shake their heads in resigned disgust. And then everyone will promptly forget it. It's the Thai way.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Paul Snowdon – February 20, 2010

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