Rural economy top priority for govt

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THE NEW Prayut Cabinet will face multiple challenges amid the backdrop of key weaknesses, especially the lack of effective ministerial coordination, a sluggish rural economy and rising income inequality, according to academics and business leaders.

Responding to the latest Cabinet reshuffle, Nipon Poapongsakorn, a distinguished scholar at the Thailand Development Research Institute, yesterday urged the new Cabinet to patch up its weakest link – lack of coordination between national security and economic policies.

“There is no good coordination of security and economic policies, and this will result in a negative impact on small businesses and people’s living standards,” said Nipon.

He pointed to how previous Cabinets had used harsh measures to deal with migrant labour on security grounds without taking into account the impact of their actions on the economy and businesses. Another example was the poor management of labour in fishing industries, which resulted in a labour shortage for small fishing operators. Next were the government’s actions to manage street vendors, which hurt the incomes of grassroots citizens. Also, the Education Ministry is implementing research and development policies that do not take into account relevant economic issues.

“Each minister in the past took his or her own way, so in order to solve it Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has to coordinate their tasks,” Nipon suggested.

Ministers at the Labour and Education ministries have to work closely with the economic ministers, he added.

He warned that investors still lacked much confidence in Thai politics as revealed by sluggish private investment. The government should start to work with politicians in the run up to the general election. It is time to lift the political ban, said Nipon while referring to a slowdown in private investment growth in the third quarter at 2.9 per cent year on year.

“The export recovery may drive Thai economic growth from 3.5 to 4 per cent, but average growth in neighbouring countries is 6-7 per cent,” he said. He pointed to Malaysia, saying the country has a smaller labour force but still its economy grew 6.2 per cent in the third quarter compared to Thailand’s 4.3 per cent.

Regarding the new team of ministers at the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry, Nipon said he did not think they could succeed in increasing the price of farm products such as rice and rubber, as the global market decides the price level of those products. He said the former agricuture minister had worked hard but PM Prayut had appointed new ministers only to appease people who were complaining about low price of farm products.

Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade of Thailand, said the private sector considered many new faces in the Cabinet as capable. However, the new Cabinet has to speed up its implementation of economic policies, like investment in infrastructure projects, pushing the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), expanding broadband Internet coverage and promoting the economy at community level.

Stanley Kang, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand, shared similar views, saying the government had talked and advertised a lot about the EEC but laws and regulations were not yet in place. “As Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak remains in the Cabinet, we expect them to follow the same policy, but ministers have to hurry up with investments in infrastructure projects,” said Kang. He expected the new team of ministers at the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry could improve the rural economy. Kang also voiced concerns over the recent strengthening of the baht in comparison with regional currencies, which could adversely impact Thai exports.

Kobsidthi Silpachai, head of Capital Markets Research at Kasikornbank, said that he wanted the new Cabinet to carry out tax reforms in order to address the issue of inequality of income. He said high tax rates for high-income people led to brain drain while a high tax rate on durable goods imposes a burden on grassroots and middle-income groups, who borrow money to pay for the goods. He also called for prioritisation of reform in education with a focus on quality. The issue of corruption also needs to be addressed, he said.

“We need to seriously deal with corruption, or else much of the allocated budget will be wasted on bogus projects that do society little good,” he added.

Regarding economic portfolios, Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak appears to have further consolidated his role in managing the economy to win more support from the grassroots population ahead of the upcoming general election.

As the economic growth rate rose to an annualised 4.3 per cent in the third quarter of this year, the highest in 18 quarters, the new Prayut Cabinet is expected to push for more public-private sector cooperation to uplift small enterprises in rural areas. Local government budgets amounting to billions of baht will likely be used to drive a new round of growth.


Source  :  The Nation Multimedia

Does the junta want to win farmers’ votes?

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politics November 26, 2017 01:00


WITH 23 million people in nearly six million households, it’s no wonder that the farming sector is attractive to politicians who want to win their votes.

Although the junta has not confirmed that it will contest the coming election, the latest set of questions tossed around by its leader, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, has made people think twice about the issue. One of the questions he asked people was whether it was the junta’s right to support a political party, raising speculation that the junta might even set up its own party.

Prayut has just reshuffled his Cabinet for the fourth time. With the election drawing near, it cannot help but make people think that these changes, especially at the Agriculture Ministry, really have something to do with the election.

The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry has long been known among government executives as the “grade A” ministry, not only because of its huge budget, but because it deals with rural masses who could become a good political base.

As a result, major parties have long vied to wield power at the ministry. In recent coalition governments, it has been dominated by major parties.

When Thaksin Shinawatra wielded power a decade ago, the Agriculture Ministry was overseen by his party’s ministers: Somsak Thepsuthin and his vice minister, Newin Chidchob, followed by Sudarat Keyurapan and others.

It was also at this time that the ministry became political, with a number of populist projects introduced – from the “million cow” project to the “million rubber tree” project – to win popularity among the many farmers.

As a result of these policies over many years, Thai Rak Thai and its successor Pheu Thai have been able to maintain popularity among the rural masses. This highlights how significant the ministry is in terms of creating a strong political base.

The latest Cabinet reshuffle, if anything, has suggested a renewed effort by the junta to reach these masses. The new ministers and vice ministers, Krisda Boonrat, Luck Wajananawat and Wiwat Salayakamthorn, are all high-profile figures who have long been working with the farmers.

Krisda was a former permanent secretary at the Interior Ministry, which works directly towards improving people’s living conditions and security at the grassroots level. Over the past 30 years, Luck has worked as a banker for the poor at the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, the largest lender to Thai farmers. Wiwat, meanwhile, for almost all of his life served the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and adopted His Majesty’s self-sufficiency philosophy to initiate self-sufficient agricultural education centres nationwide.

Although the junta has not yet confirmed that it will enter politics, by sending people who have worked closely with the masses it is strongly suggesting that it wants the approval of farmers … if not yet their votes.

The only question that remains is whether the junta would be able to give them back something more sustainable than populist projects, rather than just try to take their votes and use their support for political purposes, as past governments did.

Source  :  The Nation Multimedia

A culture of ethics and compromise is key to political reform that lasts

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Anek Laothamatas

politics November 26, 2017 01:00


AS THE political reform blueprint progresses the focus has become clearer, with concerned parties having agreed that what is more important than the election is how Thai people can step across conflict and a coup – and the answer pretty much lies in a strong political culture that needs to be promoted and rooted.

The political reform committee, appointed as one of the 13 committees under the new national reform law, this week invited leaders of key parties to share with it their views on Thailand’s future politics and the reform blueprint.

The first day of the week started with Chartthai Pattana’s director Nikorn Chamnong who was first to meet with the committee, before being followed by Bhumjaithai Party’s leader Anutin Charnvirakul, Chart Pattana’s advisor Suwat Liptapanlop and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Chair Anek Laothamatas presented them in turn with five key political reform issues that the committee has addressed to guide reform in the blueprint.

While wanting to give support to free and fair elections, the committee wished also to promote Dharma-led democracy where compassion and morality wouldbe adopted to lead the regime, introduce mechanisms to address conflict, decentralise power and, last but not least, promote a healthy political culture as a solid foundation for future Thai politics.

Anek later said the invited parties had agreed with all the points, and suggested that political culture, though a long-term process, would be key to helping lay a foundation for strong politics in the country.

Anek said the committee has been developing the plan for transforming political culture, so that it could be put in place, and it’s something “educational” and “time consuming”.

However, he said, concerned parties need to join hands and nurture it following their roles and duties. He added that several requirements for developing a stronger political culture already exists, pending further utilisation, and suggested “compromise” as an example.

During the meeting, Anek noted his observations on that front. The invited leaders agreed that to reduce conflict and division, they would help reduce their stated “conditions” in order to participate in “negotiations” so that the country could move forward. They said if the conflict and division continued, they wished to see peaceful approaches to deal with it.

They also said they agreed with new rules and laws that have been set, and agreed that they would accept the election results. Whether to join the government or not, the “conditions” could be discussed later, Anek quoted Suwat as saying, recounting his mention of popularity as one of the factors in their decisions.

“With such compromise, what we can see now is that the ‘political temperature’ has reduced,” said Anek.

Anek said Democrat leader Abhisit particularly stressed that point, calling for introduction of a set of political ethics standards.

Abhisit had said that the best political reform was not through laws, but through political ethics and guidelines to follow. Anchoring behaviour in ethical norms and standards may take time to develop, and time is the biggest challenge in Thai politics.

Nikorn also agreed. He said while the election was important, political culture, decentralisation and others were no less so, as they were actually fundamental to politics.

The noted political reformer suggested the committee reprioritise its work in the blueprint.

“After listening, I have realised that ‘political reform’ is [implementing] critical changes in the way we do things, with concerned parties taking part based on their roles and duties. People need to take part, and on alert, having not just rights, but duties to perform. The politicians, meanwhile said they didn’t want to see a coup again, and they too should take part,” said Anek.

The committee will meet with Pheu Thai’s heavyweight, Sudarat Keyurapan to hear her views on Tuesday before holding public hearings and submitting the plan to the government next month.

Anek Laothamatas