By WICHIT CHAITRONG
THE SUNDAY NATION
THE CABINET reshuffle may not create change for the better, as private investors still have questions about political stability and consumers remain in a debt trap, economists said.
Political analysts have different impressions of the move, with some saying the junta may have learned a lesson from putting people into the wrong jobs, and others believing that the reshuffle will not see substantial change.
As Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha plans to revamp his Cabinet, amid suggestions that three ministers will be sacked, economists are not positive about the country’s outlook.
“Consumers are cautious about spending, as they are not confident about their future income,” said Viroj Na Ranong, an economist at the Thailand Development Research Institute.
This has a chain effect, with private investors reluctant to make new investments because they fear sluggish demand for their products.
Viroj said that Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak had pushed hard for public investment and expected that private investors would follow suit, but this hope has not yet materialised.
“The big question is concern about political stability,” Viroj pointed out. He said many people thought that the coup in 2014 would create confidence and lead to high economic growth, but three years had passed and this had not happened.
Although exports and the economy had recovered, growth was at a slower place than in neighbouring countries, he said. For some export items, the growth was caused by a windfall rather than a competitive edge.
For example, the rise in exports of frozen chicken was partly because many other countries suffered from avian flu, he said.
‘Too many generals’
Nada Chunsom, dean of NIDA Graduate School of Development Economics, said Prayut should have appointed professionals to Cabinet portfolios, but instead had appointed too many generals to his team. This was a mistake in the first place, she said.
“Many investors have adopted a wait-and-see strategy, as they want to see where the political road map will lead,” said Nada, referring to the government’s promise to hold a general election next year. They are also waiting to see what the 20-year national strategy will be after the government recently set up committees to draft one.
“Government infrastructure projects have not much progressed as planned [and] this has also adversely affected investor confidence,” said Nada.
But firing the Transport Minister who supervises many public investment projects may not help much, she added.
Consumers remain cautious in their spending because personal debt remains high, she said. Household debt was equivalent to 78.4 per cent of gross domestic product in the second quarter this year.
The government also is facing a tax-revenue shortfall, leading to a continued budget deficit. The Finance Ministry has not succeeded in collecting more taxes, she said.
Nada added that the Industry Ministry has not been able to help local manufacturers upgrade their procedures, which is not an easy task.
An informed source has said that Prayut may fire three ministers – Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith and PM’s Office Minister Omsin Chivapruek.
‘Beyond their expertise’
Political analysts have different views regarding the potential reshuffle.
Chamnan Chanruang, an independent political scientist, said he thought the change in the Cabinet could come because time has proved the military does not have what it takes to run the country.
The military men may be bright, as getting into cadet school is not easy, the scholar said. But they have not been trained in politics or public administration, he stressed.
“[Inefficiency in administration] was clear and it has shown perhaps [the military] does not know what they are doing. It’s beyond their expertise,” Chamnan said. “Ministers may only lay out and pass down policies. But they must be specialists, have expertise, and have networks of people in the field in order to achieve favourable results.”
Although the reshuffle was coming rather late given the fact that this was the last year of junta administration, the scholar said it was better late than never. The government needed more civilians who had expertise, he said, and the best way to save the country was to hurry and return the power to the people by holding an election.
Pramuan Aimpia, deputy spokesman for the Democrat Party, too, believed that the junta had learned the lesson that some work was not appropriate for the military, as they had not been trained to run the country.
Citing the reform that is a major agenda item for the NCPO, Pramuan said that the government, too, needed to reform itself, firstly by learning how to put the right person into the right job.
The Democrat politician urged Prayut to have courage to remove inefficient people from the Cabinet. Veteran political critic Sukhum Nuan-sakul saw the matter differently. It was too quick to jump to the conclusion that the junta would actually replace their fellow military men with civilians, he said.
“This is only a minor reshuffle, not a major one where we will see significant change,” the political scientist predicted.
“I still believe strongly that the military will stick it out together until the end. If there is really to be any change, maybe the persons taking the posts will still be old faces from the bureaucratic sector rather than highly capable people from the private sector who could actually help.”