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18-05-07, 03:31 AM #1Paknam Web Online Staff
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History will judge Surayud govt's missed opportunities
History will judge Surayud govt's missed opportunities
Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanont has missed a historic opportunity to put Thailand's house in order. And history will judge his government harshly.
As an interim leader appointed by the military after the coup, Surayud does not have the luxury of being able to right all the wrongs that his conscience calls for.
Yet the luxury he does have, which matters the most, is a mandate to make things happen without any regard for electoral popularity.
As we have seen, Surayud has been letting the opportunity slip through his fingers fast. Instead of focusing on the big issues, such as introducing bold new economic initiatives, pushing for hard-hitting education and healthcare reform, or plugging the loopholes in the check-and-balance system in the new constitution, he is wasting his time on petty policies that have little relevance to Thailand's foundation for growth and prosperity over the next 10 to 20 years.
As we observe the 15th anniversary of the May 1992 tragedy, which was the result of a democratic setback and military dominance in Thai politics, we might look back to compare the challenges that faced former prime minister Anand Panyarachun then and Surayud now.
Anand did not agree with the coup staged by Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon against the then Chatichai government in February 1991. But when he took office as the appointed interim PM, he relied on his 20 years of experience as a diplomat and 14 years of experience as a business executive at Saha Union to embark on a reform agenda that would have an impact on the country 20 years later.
First, Anand locked horns with the military, demanding that he be allowed a free hand in picking his Cabinet. Reluctantly, the military concurred. He went ahead to form a strong Cabinet with such names as Amaret Sila-on, Nukul Prachuabmoh and Phaichitr Uathaveekul.
"Anand understood the bureaucratic system, knew all the good people in the public and private sector and realised what goals he would like to achieve in a short timeframe," said a lawyer who is an admirer of the Anand government.
Anand focused on the big issues, from Asean free trade to Aids prevention, from environmental regulations to privatisation. All of these helped the country move toward stability and prosperity.
He liberalised the auto industry, tearing down the tariff barriers that protected an ugly oligopoly that made the public pay high prices for low-quality products. Despite the efforts of succeeding governments, the auto and related industries are now one of Thailand's biggest industrial sectors and a major source of export revenue.
He introduced a new constitution that changed the way people interact with the state. Citizens no longer serve the state, but the state is accountable to them. Citizens have a right to know what officials do and to hold them responsible for their actions.
Anand broke down the telecom monopoly. With the nascent telecom revolution, administrators had converted the public telecom monopoly into private monopolies - one for Bangkok and one for upcountry. Anand, though heavily constrained by what had already been done, managed to dilute this monopoly and introduce the competition that still benefits us today.
For the first time, Thais heard the term "khuam prongsai" or transparency, which Anand coined and demanded in all state projects.
"One of Anand's first priorities was to ensure that we never undermined (but actively strengthened) the confidence of foreign investors in Thailand. He recognised the importance of keeping the confidence of the international trading community, because everything (including democracy) flows from economic stability and prosperity, and foreign investment and exports," said Hasan Basar, managing director of Bangkok Public Relations Ltd, who helped coordinate the Anand II government's international public relations campaign.
Surayud has not learned from Anand's experience at all. His biggest mistake, when he assumed office in November last year, was his failure to demand a free hand to pick his own Cabinet. He also failed to ask the military to return to their barracks.
He is now paying the price for his mistakes. The spectre of a dominating military regime has constantly overshadowed his Cabinet and painted a confusing picture of who is really in charge of the country.
Switzerland's Institute of Management Development recently downgraded Thailand's international competitiveness ranking from 29th place to 33rd. It cited a lack of "government policy directions" as one of the major causes of Thailand's eroded competitiveness.
While most Asian economies are growing at a rate of 6 per cent, Thailand is trailing the pack with an expected growth rate of around 4 per cent or less this year. Vietnam now gets better press coverage than Thailand.
"Because he has spent most of his career in military service, he doesn't seem to have a good grasp of the economy or how things function in the modern system. He doesn't know a broad network of good and capable people who can advise him and work for him on important policy agenda," said an observer of the Surayud government.
Instead we have seen all the government's energy and resources poured into vain attempts to exorcise the ghost of the ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who is fighting back tooth and nail.
The first major policy initiative the Surayud government came up with was trying to ban the advertising of alcoholic beverages. Then it cracked down on the menace of "coyote girl" dancing. Then it invested its energies in exposing the massive corruption at Suvarnabhumi Airport that led to cracked runways and inadequate toilet facilities. It reacted to the Shin Corp-Temasek deal with threats to take back any national assets involved. It has put great effort into re-spelling Don Muang (airport) as "Don Mueang" - as if travellers are not confused enough already over whether to board their flights at Don Muang (or Mueang) or at Suvarnabhumi.
A series of other policy errors have also hurt Thailand's image enormously. The Bank of Thailand's introduction of capital controls in December 2006, to rein in the strengthening baht, has seriously damaged the country's credibility.
With its revisions to the foreign business law and the introduction of the Retail Business Law, the Commerce Ministry has sent out confusing signals over how it will deal with foreign investors. The Public Health Ministry has launched a crusade against the international pharmaceutical industry by threatening to impose more compulsory licensing on patented drugs.
There are pros and cons to these policies, but somehow the Surayud government has not been able to make a strong enough case that any of them are good for Thailand as a whole. In the meantime, foreign investors and businessmen are grumbling about the government's lack of clear direction.
The road to democracy is lined with bomb threats and counter-coup rumours. There are calls for Surayud to step down if he fails the leadership challenge.
This type of news jeopardises both foreign investment and exports. Malaysia has already far overtaken us in terms of foreign direct investment, and the loss of GSP tariff privileges will be hugely damaging to our exports to the US. Vietnam is fast catching up, drawing away foreign direct investment that should have come to Thailand.
Ten or 20 years from now, we will look back at the Surayud government's term and regret the lost opportunity to lay a foundation for Thailand's further growth and prosperity.
Anand might have enjoyed the advantage of not having to worry about a naughty Chatichai, while Surayud has been at a loss over how to deal with the power and money of his exiled predecessor. But that is no excuse for him to make bad decisions on the reform agenda that matters most for the country.
18-05-07, 09:05 PM #2
Re: History will judge Surayud govt's missed opportunities
".. knew all the good people in the public and private sector .."
Please tell me where they are!
"..Anand broke down the telecom monopoly.."
And gave his successor the means to start rorting the system
I spent a few years in the military, and as a public servant and I can honestly say that if I put all the collective brains together of those wasted 20 years I doubt that one of them had an original idea, or the backbone to go out on a limb.
It been said before in other threads that they have lost the plot.
Disinfranchising foreign investment at both the personal and commercial levels is probaly going to be their single biggest mistake. not jailing Thaksin their second, and not showing stong leadership combines with them all.
What a pity, I was so happy to see Thaksin go!
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