PM appoints five advisers on economy

Covering up lacklustre cabinet, Democrats say

BANGKOK POST REPORTERS

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has confirmed the appointment of five advisers to his economic ministers - a decision given the thumbs down by the opposition Democrat party.

"The prime minister has appointed five qualified people. They will help take care of the economy," Mr Samak said in his weekly address on NBT, formerly Channel 11.

The advisory team is led by Virabongsa Ramangkura, an economist and former finance minister.

They will work with ministers in charge of the economy, including Chaiya Sasomsab, who is the new commerce minister, Mingkwan Sangsuwan, who becomes industry minister and Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee.

Mr Samak said the five advisers did not want to be cabinet members as they preferred to keep their huge personal incomes from the private sector and not declare their assets.

The new advisers have been criticised for having possible conflicts of interest as they have the opportunity to get inside information from the cabinet while they sit on the boards of private companies.

Mr Virabongsa argued that the Prem Tinsulanonda government had a similar group of advisers and that many panels had included board members of private companies who had permission from the prime minister of the day to attend cabinet meetings.

Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC), said the appointment of the advisers did not violate any law.

The constitution and the NCCC law prohibit conflicts of interest only for the prime minister, cabinet members, House members and senators, he said.

Mr Virabongsa said earlier that the government needed to work out medium- and long-term plans for energy sources as oil prices would pose more threats to the economic structure. Proper planning would allow state enterprises and investors to adjust investment plans.

The new cabinet line-up also saw Chalerm Yubamrung out of the cabinet. He was replaced by Pol Gen Kowit Wattana as new interior minister.

Mr Chalerm said he was not angry with the prime minister and had declined an offer by Mr Samak to support him for the job of deputy speaker.

Democrat party deputy leader Korn Chatikavanij said people should not pin their hopes on cabinet to get the country out of an economic crisis.

Under the politicians' and party financiers' quotas used by the People Power party, people inexperienced in economic administration could become ministers.

The quota system and the decision by Mr Surapong to keep his portfolio despite being involved in the digit lottery case which the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions has accepted for trial were affecting the confidence of local and overseas investors, Mr Korn said.

The appointment of Mr Virabongsa was aimed only at covering up the new cabinet line-up, which investors and the private sector had doubts about.

Mr Korn said investment growth was only 4% in the second quarter, down from 7% in the first quarter.

Thanawat Polwichai, director of the Economic and Business Forecasting Centre at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the commerce, industry and deputy finance ministers were mostly political figures and could not restore confidence at once.

The commerce minister did not have any outstanding profile in trade and the new industry minister was adept at marketing, he said.

Mr Thanawat said the Commerce Ministry should implement price controls and boost people's incomes through export promotion.