By Suthichai Yoon
Not surprisingly, Premier Yingluck Shinawatra's four main national "strategies" announced last week have caused no national sensation.
It’s not rocket science that the country badly needs to find ways to become more competitive, as she declared. Nor is it earthshaking to say that bridging the rich-poor gap is among the government’s top priorities. And to put stress on environmentally friendly initiatives won’t excite anyone these days. To be quite frank about it, I can’t recall the fourth major plank of the “national platform”. If it was a call for a serious anti-corruption effort, it wouldn’t be taken seriously unless the premier could convince the rest of the country that things are going to be for real this time around.
The announcement was meant to be a launching pad for a renewal of a genuine national agenda, but most critics took the government to task over the statement that it would triple per-capita income in ten years. The plan to borrow Bt2 trillion to lay down the country’s future infrastructure was also challenged for its lack of any real cohesion.
The blueprint was immediately questioned by Nibhond Puapongsakorn of the Thailand Development Research Institute for being ambiguous and unrealistic. He said such a major exercise to map out the country’s future should be a joint effort among professional engineers, economists, legal experts, technocrats and politicians, perhaps in that order.
But the big plan, announced with great fanfare by the government last week, is instead seen as no more than the exclusive work of politicians bent on spending huge sums in taxpayers’ money without much consideration for effective implementation. Most importantly, there is no suggestion from the government on how the progress of each project will be monitored and measured.
What Thailand badly needs, regardless of who is in power, is well known, but politicians in charge don’t seem to be able to come up with any satisfactory plans.
A real national agenda for the future of Thailand should include:
- Overhaul of the education policy;
- Putting the country on the path of innovation;
- A credible action plan to reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots – a gulf that has so far defied any effort to reduce it by all past governments;
- An anti-corruption campaign that works;
- A genuine plan to decentralise power from the Cabinet to the provinces;
- A serious action plan to revamp the bureaucratic system.
The main paradox is that while citizens demand that politicians granted a mandate to rule must get all these initiatives in order, it’s precisely these people in power who constitute the main obstacles to the fulfilment of these crucial aims.
All of these national objectives – without the fulfilment of which Thailand won’t be able to move forward in any significant way – are necessarily tough nuts to crack, requiring vision, sacrifice and accountability from the powers-that-be. These qualities, unfortunately, are exactly what are lacking among those seeking high office in this country.
Premier Yingluck insists that she is in charge of the government – and that her brother Thaksin hasn’t been running her Cabinet via Skype, as suggested by an article in the New York Times last week. Her statement would be made more credible if she undertook to draw up a genuine national agenda that really spells out her own vision of where the country should be headed – and, more importantly, how that action plan would be implemented under her direction.
Nobody expects her to follow her critics’ suggestion that she should show her independence and power by ordering the police to have Thaksin arrested – as was the case with Somchai Kunpluem, better known as Kamnan Poh, who had fled court verdicts for seven years before being cornered.
But she can demonstrate her leadership by coming up with a plan to build the nation that she can really call her own. A large number of people in the country are waiting anxiously for that masterstroke.