By WICHIT CHAITRONG
The use of the contentious Article 44 under the interim constitution – a power vested with the junta chief – was likely to be used more frequently to clear a path through regulatory obstacles, Kobsak Pootrakool, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, told a press conference.
“The government will consider applying Article 44 in the next two to three months in order to turn many proposals under the reform agenda into tangible practices,” Kobsak said.
His comments came after he chaired a meeting of the committee responsible for driving the national reforms.
Kobsak also met with senior officials from all ministries as part of his efforts to seek cooperation from them for the reforms – on the social, economic and political fronts - to be pushed through under the government’s controversial 20-year national strategy.
Among these aims, the government would pare the large public sector into a lean structure, he said.
For the next few months, the government will implement a so-called quick-win strategy for 30 projects to be pushed ahead, Kobsak said. These include initiatives such as allowing farmers to grow and make use of protected trees, such as for teak and Siamese rosewood timber, on their land, he said. The government will initiate about 110 flagship projects and activities related to the reform agenda, Kobsak said.
The government will also draft 80 items of legislation and amend about 100 existing laws that are deemed obsolete, said Kobsak.
“If the government needs to make changes to the current laws, it may opt to use Article 44 to speed up the process since the passage of legislative amendments via the National Legislative Assembly takes too much time,” he said.
After that, the government planned to start series of reforms before the next election early next year, Kobsak said. The first group of reforms would cover five key areas, he said.
Kobsak marked out the public sector as the first target for the reforms, with the aim of improving public services. He cited as an example a proposal to allow people to file complaints with any police station, instead of just the station where a criminal case has arisen, as is the current practice.
The government may also set up a higher education ministry as part of reforms in university education.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Ministry of Science and Technology would be among the first ministries to be reformed, Kobsak said.
Efforts to improve people’s living standards made up the thrust of the second area of reform. The use of social enterprises and community banks would be promoted, among other measures, Kobsak said.
In the third area of focus, the government would tackle corruption and set up a watchdog centre. A related measure would see the government would create a software application that enables people to report irregularities at government offices, Kobsak said.
He identified a fourth group of reforms as efforts to narrow the widening gap between rich and poor. Measures would include new taxes and a redistribution of land ownership. A fifth area of focus concerns the promotion of a form of democracy that encourages the participation of ordinary people. This would lead to what Kobsak called political decentralisation.
Asked about the approach for reform of influential ministries, such as Interior and Defence, Kobsak said the process would take time for the large ministries.
He claimed the junta-backed government had carried out a series of reforms but people could not remember them.
Kobsak’s comments appear at odds with what many people perceive as the economic and political realities in Thailand. This gap in perception is evident from the growing complaints about the government’s poor economic performance and a lack of civil liberties and associated widespread violations of human rights.
A group of political activists has called for an early election and demanded opportunities for people’s participation in public affairs. The oft-delayed poll has been put back to early next year. Critics have also taken aim at the 20-year national strategy as being among the tools the junta can use to maintain its hold on power.