The Choice
Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Imagine an illiterate rural farmer with financial needs. He has no collateral so the financial institutions cannot grant him a loan. With no other choices, he turned to a predatory lending network the so-called “loan shark”, soon he was in a cycle of usury debt and exorbitant interest rates. When he couldn’t pay back the money, he was forced through litigation and the threat of violence to become a judgment debtor. Sued for bad debts, he was forced from his land and lost all his assets and livelihood. This is just one of the numerous cases in Chaiyabhoom province, where the land of 495 judgment debtors was taken possession by judgment creditors, after these farmers had taken loans for job opportunities aboard. It was found that 56% of them made a contract of compromise with no idea of the consequences of such contracts, 38% of them didn’t even go to defend themselves in court. They consented to illegal loan agreements and suretyship contracts, without realizing the vicious outcomes of this type of contract. The lack of legal knowledge and inaccessibility to justice for the poorest and vulnerable was the problem we were aiming to solve. “Loan shark” and the loss of agricultural land are linked. Loan providers always exploit or fraud borrowers by concealing unjust acts, for example, they normally force borrowers to sign blank contracts that allow the lenders to falsify the amount. They will foreclose on the debtors’ land under the mortgage or sale with redemption right contract. Loan shark is a cycle of usury debt and exorbitant interest rates. A survey (Ministry of Finance, 2016) found that 6,979,870 low-income earners suffer from loan sharks, worth roughly USD 2,495 million; causing a grave burden to the country. The Legal Aid Center for Debtors and Victims of Injustice (LADVI) is an agency in the Ministry of Justice with mission of helping the vulnerable suffering the loan shark crisis. Granting loans with an annual interest rate of more than 15% is a criminal offense. Loan sharks, mostly people with influences, charge a monthly interest rate of approximately 60%. They violently collect illegal interest. The use of violence triggers many social problems including divorce, crime, loss of land/income. One survey found that 30% of debtors lack legal knowledge; 49% not knowing about the court system; and 52% ignorant on the execution of court decisions. A survey on access to justice shows that, 25% of them do not know how to seek assistance, 10% lack funds to hire a lawyer and 5% lack confidence in the justice system. Loan shark is a fundamental problem affecting both the society and the economy of the country. The main aggravating factors are the inequality caused by the poor’s ignorance of the law and the lack of access to government services. Therefore, we need to have measures to both prevent and eradicate such problems.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
1.We have created "The Choice" which is an innovative learning material for difficult topics covering life skills, law, and access to justice system. It was designed for people of different educational background to learn such topics through interactive and learner-friendly ways. 2. We have established a network which includes governmental bodies, educational institutions, financial firms, social services, and the general public. This network has implemented "The Choice" into practice in order to provide underprivileged citizens with an opportunity to develop themselves and learn self-defense. 3. We have constructed a mechanism of justice provision from the government to the communities. This was done to help underprivileged citizens who have difficulties in understanding law and accessing legal system to acquire prompt justice.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Increasing the educational opportunities of the poorest and most vulnerable in society can be done through the dissemination of knowledge by arranging training and workshops as well as the distribution of literature. However, these are limited, one-way communication. Therefore, since 2014, LADVI has been searching for a new method of legal knowledge enhancement. As a result, we have created a board game, using integrated learning by playing, namely “The Choice”. The Choice is a learning process that opens opportunities to target different ages, genders, occupations and life experiences. It enables users to build their own set of knowledge, gain wisdom, and at the same time have fun. At the conclusion of the game, coaches let users brainstorm and share their experience. Then, the users can adapt or apply the knowledge gained to their real-life situation. With the aforementioned problems: loan shark; loss of agricultural land; and attendant crimes, the Government and the Ministry of Justice became aware that the root cause is the lack of knowledge and ignorance of law. Thus, the government should find a resolution using all of its capacity and its agencies aiming for the ultimate goals: giving the poor and vulnerable groups access to justice; providing legal knowledge and help to develop their lives towards a sustainable way of living. To achieve such goals the government created many different strategies. The Choice is one of them. The Ministry of Justice initiates the strategy in a central unit, then spreads or implements the idea to regional and local areas via its agencies. Using 77 Provincial Justice Offices and 7,785 community justice centers together with volunteer justice networks in every community nationwide the essential information is disseminated. Volunteer justice networks and their communities will support the government’s assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable by providing them with important knowledge about the law and justice processes as well as how to access to government services. Additionally, these networks provide feedback and support to the government agencies by supplying information from the vulnerable groups such as the effects, legal violations, crimes or social problems which occur from the loan shark or malpractice in the community. In order to make The Choice an effective tool to improve the vulnerable or the under-educated persons’ knowledge, simplified information is included in the game. This includes life skills, critical thinking skills and law in everyday life, how to manage their debt, how to spot an unfair contract, how to make their life plan, financial planning, health planning, or even the community blue print. All of this knowledge would help to make them able to protect themselves from creditors who want to take advantage of them, protect themselves from being exploited and stop the infringement of their legal rights. While playing the game, target players can be categorized into three groups: ‘the teenage group’, the ‘at risk group’, and the ‘problematic group’, so that they can learn appropriately. Knowledge regarding the law and the justice process will prevent them from losing the case, their property being confiscated or being declared bankrupt when the creditors take the case to court. Furthermore, in parallel with learning by playing the game, the concept of the rule of law and sustainable economy are embedded through the coaching in the game by game leaders. It also helps lead to a reduction of debt from both formal and informal borrowing.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The main idea of The Choice is to teach people by simplifying complicated matters of law into easy-to-understand data through an informative and enjoyable method. Additionally, The Choice was approved by the National Research Committee as an innovation, under the theme “develop in order to improve the countries’ stability and sustainability”. The Choice simulates the life of 8 debtors in urban and rural communities, which helps players have a better understanding of law, regardless of their background through easy-to-understand language. Due to the game’s playing format, it can be played by a large group in a relaxed, informal atmosphere which helps players have a deeper understanding. While playing, players may consider, brainstorm, analyze and exchange their experiences. The content of the game covers many areas: law in daily life; financial planning, and the principles of sustainable economy. At the end of the game, game leaders will consolidate the ideas learned from the game, with the aim that the players can apply the knowledge and ideas from the game to their real world daily lives.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The goal of the game “The Choice” is to be an empowering instrument for the poorest and most vulnerable of all communities; therefore, the plan is set to introduce the game to the whole country by 2018. We plan to train our network staffers, including officers in 77 Provincial Justice Offices nationwide, to be a coach or game leader, based on “training the trainers” model. Then, by 2018, officers of all the Provincial Justice Offices will be encouraged to introduce the game to their community volunteers. Moreover, tertiary educational institutions, including 23 universities from all regions, have made "The Choice" the primary activity of their student councils. The councils are directed to engage students in the local ways of life and to introduce the game to the local communities. Besides, a number of primary and secondary educational institutions such as Assumption Convent, St.Louis Suksa, Santa Cruz Convent, St.Joseph Thiphawan have included the game in their curriculum since 2015. “The Choice” team is working through networks; first by looking for partners with similar missions and by co-operating to increase the numbers of game coaches to launch the game to the target group of our partners’ organization or use it in the form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). “The Choice” initiative is now co-operating with government agencies including Thailand Institute of Justice, Learning Institution for Everyone, Bank for the Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives, and Government Savings Bank. LADVI has been teaching how to play and apply the lessons of the game, as of now, to 48 groups of people with different age, levels of education and occupations. The groups consist students, monks, teachers, factory workers, Bank of Thailand officers, customers of diverse financial institutions etc. There have been 19,812 people legally educated by the game from 2014 to 2017.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The Choice’s concept comes from the outcome of research of justice policy with the objective to solve loan shark issues and from the polls of debtors who have requested help from the Legal Aid Center for Debtors. It was concluded that an effective and sustainable way to help people is to enhance their understanding about loan shark systems and the adverse effects if they become a debtor of such predatory loan system. To enhance their understanding, an effective and attainable tool is needed to create awareness, to be a medium to target affected groups. To respond to these needs a new tool was innovated. Beginning in 2014, we cooperated with game designer to create a board game. It began with research, interviewing local communities and urban communities affected with loan shark problems. We collected data and looked for the approach to tackle the issues and needs of those affected. Using this feedback from people, the scope of the game was outlined. The concept design was guided by the research and input, and brainstorming with experts to find an appropriate way to develop the model and named the game, The Choice. Then, the game was trialed and examined by the target groups such as students, general population, law experts, finance experts and game experts. To play the game, players must play the role according to the character of the game and lead life successfully and cautiously. Players must also find solutions according to simulated circumstances. During the game, players will have the opportunity to choose the level of investment: less risk or high risk or choose to gamble. Players will accumulate possessions/goods in case of emergency and find out if the simulated situation leads to a good or bad outcome when leading the simulated life. Also, while playing, coaches will give guidance and recommendations. By playing the game, players will learn the knowledge of law and how to plan their life. More than that, it tells them how to reach-out to the government agencies related to the justice system. How to plan your life? How to invest? How to lead life sustainably? Whoever gets a high score according to the goal wins. After the game finished, coaches will let each person explain their lessons from the game. Each game circle will exchange their lessons from the game and coaches will give more guidance/information. Since 2015, we have had the strategy to continue the sustained spread of this knowledge. We created the network of co-operation with related agencies that dispersed across the community in order to help the poorest and most vulnerable. Agencies included: Provincial Justice Offices, educational institutions, Bank of Thailand, financial institutions, public community network. Also we collect feedback and data, evaluating, designing, and developing the game appropriately. We emphasize on assisting the poorest and most vulnerable who are currently affected. We are trying to create the mechanism for providing justice, beginning at the community level. We have a system at the community, district, provincial and central level for receiving requests of assistance from the poorest and most vulnerable who get unjustly sentenced. The working process will be aligned with the knowledge building gnostic which is learning by doing. The government had allocated us a budget to assist and support the poorest and most vulnerable; roughly USD420,000 in 2014, roughly USD500,000 in 2015 and roughly USD305,000 in 2016. Included in the 2014 budget, the amount of roughly USD49,000 was used for creating this innovative game; to collect the data, to train the trainers, to run the tests and to manufacture 2,000 game sets.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The Choice is a game of learning, where players must apply their creativity and positive thinking to figure out the solutions to problems. In the game, we learn about the lives of 8 persons both in urban and rural community who are the poorest and most vulnerable who are experiencing difficulties caused by loan shark. They explain their lives, causes, situations, impacts on their life, and solutions to get out of it in many ways. Also, as part of the game, role players related to solving loan shark problems take part including loan shark officers, police officers, finance officers, and officials from private enterprises. To ensure the game was realistic and applicable to the target group, experts from areas such as law, economics, finance, society developers, and game developers were involved to improve and develop the game to be more informative, interesting and exciting. The expected participants of the game are students, teens, and the general population. With the input from all these groups to develop the game, it is more complete and satisfying the need of the targeted groups and individuals. LADVI will use the game to teach the government agencies; provincial justice agencies, justice community help centers, financial institutions, and educational institutions. In turn, these agencies will distribute their knowledge swiftly, efficiently, and sustainably through networks in their community. Moreover, we have co-operated with networks of civil society such as Local Act, a farmer foundation, to be another network to equip people with the knowledge.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The mission of LADVI is to protect and assist the poorest and the most vulnerable in gaining equal access to justice. “The Choice” is therefore an innovative instrument to extensively disperse knowledge all over the country. However, the followings are our priorities that we deem extremely urgent to be rescued by “The Choice.” First, it’s the group of the poorest and the most vulnerable needing access to justice. These people are incessantly exploited through illegal borrowing contracts, information concealment, fraud, and confiscation of houses and lands. In 2014, the requests for help from the government reached 116 cases, with the amount of money involved of roughly USD 8,600,000. This crisis stimulated us to reach out with comprehensive problem-solving measures by granting support of law and access to the justice system, seeking new sources of funds and helping improve the life standard to those in need. In 2015, 242 farmers from Chon Daen District, Phetchaburi Province fell victims to loan sharks who granted agricultural loans with excessive interest rates. These exploiting creditors filed lawsuits against the farmers to confiscate lands and farming machines. So, we coordinate with law enforcement agencies to bring illegal loan agencies to justice. We also work with the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives to financially rehabilitate 508 farmers. Second, it’s the people risking borrowing from loan sharks. To effectively disperse the knowledge from “The Choice,” we have created the network of partners who will help us introduce the game to this target group. The risking people include farmers, company employees, and government officers. We operate by evaluating the questionnaire answers and collecting the empirical data periodically. We also concentrate on preventive and sustainable problem-solving measures by launching prevention campaigns to groups of high-school and college students, because they are more likely to be peer-pressured into the vicious cycle of loan sharks. So, we need to raise awareness to prevent such incident in the first place. Also, these young adults will be another hand in helping monitor and support their friends and family.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The law itself is a difficult and complicated subject, so we need to make it more accessible and enjoyable. In the early stages, when we put the game into practice, we found that the design of the game was not interesting. Then, we increased the numbers of the situation cards and made them more realistic. To get out of the difficulties they encounter in the game, they need to use the cards that they already purchased. The situation cards are another way to teach the rule of law as well. The coach needs a skill to clearly explain the rules of the game, so the coach needs to have a wide knowledge regarding law, finance, and sustainable life development. We also have experts within our networks who participate in the teaching and explanations. Some explanations are best done by cartoons explaining law, or info graphics relating to selling on consignment, mortgage, hire-purchase, borrowing and repaying loans, and introducing justice facility agencies. The game can be tailored to different target groups and how to approach them, for example, loan shark concerning capital, case procedure, awareness of thought and behavior. Then we can build the network of co-operation with related agencies to solve the problem. The content of the game concerning borrowing which contradicts with the teaching of the Islamic religion must be adjusted too. People of different ages pay attention to the game to different degrees. Therefore, we need a strategy to help these people including students and teenagers, through the conventional education system. We will implement a gaming competition element to the game involving scores and competitions between groups of students. It is expected to begin in 2018.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The Choice responds to the needs of the poorest and the most vulnerable who deserve to have equal access to justice. Debt-Free people will be aware and careful with their spending and will learn to save their money for their current needs and for the future. Knowing the fundamental law and their rights will help them not to be exploited. People in debt will learn to solve and manage their problem. If they feel that they have received unfair legal procedure, they would know how to access the justice system and ask for assistance. If they are being threatened, they would know the procedures and how to contact the justice system. Government services have improved and developed their work especially on equality in society, categorized in 3 approaches: The first approach is to adjust the traditional government services from a ‘top down’ approach to one providing knowledge from government officers, and adapt the pattern of The Choice to be more accessible for different groups of people. The second approach was for the state to pay for an expert to teach, which costs too much money, and it was too formal. To overcome these problems, the state transferred some of these duties to the networks of public community and educational institutions to work for the government because they work closely with the government and also know the problems. People can participate in the justice system where the Legal Aid Center for Debtors is the main agency that co-operates with the network. The third approach is the Ministry of Justice has established a mechanism to help the poorest and the most vulnerable of injustice in the community, local, and province. As the main agency working on this, the Ministry is able to respond in a timely manner and help solve the problems directly. 1106 north eastern farmers were placed charge of unpaid debt of USD1,635,177 covering the costs of fertilizers which they had previously been told that these were free of charge. The Ministry of Justice aided these farmers by providing them with legal assistance and lawyers.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
It is a fact that the poorest and the most vulnerable cannot access justice easily. One reason comes from government official’s attitude that debtors have consented to the civil case or the government official is involved with the creditor which creates a conflict of interest. Government officials may turn a blind eye and this creates injustice in society. Knowledge of the law helps people to know how to protect their rights. The Choice also shows, in addition to being a medium of teaching law, financial planning, and living a sustainable life, it is also implicit that everybody is equal under the law. We should all have fundamental rights according to the law. How to protect themselves when being infringed? The lesson that can be drawn from the game is that corruption is the root cause of disparity to access the justice system and we understand the impact on society from corruption whether direct or indirect and people will feel more likely to participate and help to monitor the government services for transparency. Learning through the game will help people to learn and understand the duty and responsibility of the government service provider. People can monitor the government officer’s work relating to providing the service and by complaining to the head of the government agency or other relevant agency to seek justice. Authorities are working closely by applying the game as an effective tool to provide knowledge to the people, this also provides a working integration with other government agencies to provide more channels to monitor the working of government agencies. Educating through games will help people to understand the missions and functions of the government agencies providing public services. People can monitor the performance of these government officials and if dissatisfied with their treatment, make a complaint to their superiors. The government agencies are working together by applying the game as a tool to educate the public. This generates network integration, interoperability among government agencies which enhance monitoring channels among the government agencies themselves. Thailand has an established system for complaints, the Damrongdhama Center of ministry of Interior, in every provincial center for helping the poorest and the most vulnerable. There is also the Complaint Center of the government. To measure the impact of the numbers of complaints and people asking for help with LADVI, we randomly pick cases and survey them for service satisfaction on an annual basis.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The data from LADVI since 2001 shows that the most vulnerable who came to ask for justice with the problem of debt 67% of them are women and 33% are men. The data indicate that women are mostly affected from injustice because they are vulnerable and tend to be threatened to repay the debt. Some women decide to become prostitutes in order to pay or delay their debt. This obviously creates problems in society. If the affected are girls and women, they will be specially protected by legal measures. For example, if a girl or woman is exploited by criminals, there will be co-operation between the related agencies to send information to the police department to investigate the case. There are security protection measures to help including procuring a residence in Bangkok or protection of the Department of Public Welfare until the problem is solved. Additionally, we can have measures to protect witnesses in the case that the creditor is an influential person and intends to commit a crime. Women are prioritized as the affected group of people. Within The Choice there are 5 stories of women out of the 8 stories who are all loan shark debtors.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice
Institution Type:   Ministry  
Contact Person:   Arun Suknuam
Title:   Administration Developing Unit  
Telephone/ Fax:   + (66) 2 141 5389 /+ (66) 2 143 8280
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   arunsukn@hotmail.com  
Address:   Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice
Postal Code:   10210
City:   Lak Si
State/Province:   Bangkok
Country:  

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