Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Time is short – so why are reformers cancelling meetings?

Jan 26. 2017
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By Attayuth Bootsripoom
The Nation

Over the past two months, the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) has convened just seven times after cancelling a slew of meetings.

The assembly replaced the National Reform Council, which was dissolved after it voted to reject the previous charter draft in September 2015. Its main duty, according to the post-coup interim charter, is to “carry out reforms in different areas”.

 NRSA members are required to meet at Parliament two times a week, on Mondays and Tuesdays. (Thursdays and Fridays are reserved for members of the National Legislative Assembly.)

This month, however, the NRSA has met just three times – on January 9, 16 and 23. Meetings were cancelled on January 2 and 3 for New Year holidays, and on January 10, 17 and 24 to “allow assembly members sufficient time to fully perform their duty as committee members”.

Last month the assembly cancelled a full half of its meetings.

NRSA members are well paid, with salaries comparable in size to those of senators and members of Parliament. The assembly’s president receives Bt74,420 per month along with an additional allowance of Bt45,500. Ordinary assembly members get Bt71,230 plus a Bt42,230 allowance. That means NRSA members each make more than Bt110,000 every month – a handsome salary by any measure in Thailand.

Moreover, each assembly member is entitled to hire three assistants, consisting of an expert who is paid Bt24,000 a month, a specialist who gets Bt20,000, and an assistant who receives Bt15,000. The staff wage bill totals Bt59,000. Add that to their salary and we find that each assembly member is costing the taxpayer at least Bt172,460 per month. And this doesn’t include the Bt1,500 fee they collect every time they attend a meeting.

Many are now wondering whether NRSA members deserve such healthy remuneration for an apparently scant amount of work.   

There is growing scepticism too over progress in their assigned task of suggesting ideas for reforming the country. Their time in office is fast running out, with the promulgation of the new constitution looming. Yet despite the urgency, meetings are still being cancelled on a regular basis.

Of course it’s also possible that members’ workload is easing as their tenure comes to an end. The alternative explanation – that the frequent cancellation of meetings is due to members’ complacency and laziness as they “run down the clock” – would reflect dismally on the whole process.

To avoid such a perception, members of the NRSA must remind themselves regularly of the need to do all they can to justify the high rewards they are reaping at taxpayers’ expense. 

They should be aware that when they fail to work the number of hours required by the job, they are indulging in a kind of corruption.  

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