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NRC chairman in a candid mood as reform body races to finish its work

Jul 05. 2015
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By PIYAPORN WONGRUANG
THE NATION

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SHORTLY AFTER THE COUP, 11 key sectors were listed in the interim charter for reform, and the National Reform Council designated to come up with recommendations for the task. After almost one year in office, the NRC has been on a rugged road and is racing
Q: As a veteran economist, how did you view the country’s problems and what were the solutions on your mind before you took the chair of the NRC?
A: The critical problems in our country – political, economic, social, and even ethical – are still prevalent significantly because we have never been serious enough to tackle them. 
There are several reasons why this has continued, be it political stability and coups, among others. It’s no point blaming one another but we can learn from these factors – that our country’s problems have never been resolved completely. There has been discontinuity in the will and the means, and as a result, the problems have accumulated and become deep rooted. Then conflicts of interests have followed, so have conflicts of people’s thoughts and wishes. The gap then has been widened and exaggerated over time.
Our economic problem, for instance, has long been tackled but almost all the policies and measures seem to be for a short-term relief. For long-term measures, we seem to leave them untouched. This can be seen clearly in the case of inheritance-based tax. It is a critical tool that is supposed to help keep inequality at bay. But the fact is we have hardly been serious about introducing it. The rich become richer, while the poor become poorer and poorer. Several good policies and measures have hardly been put in place to help reduce the gap.
But in my view, what is the most |serious cause of the country’s problems is the lack of morals. It’s become more and more severe to the point that it’s hard to swallow. 
Is this what was on your mind to be resolved first?
I had intended to. I was first contacted and invited to take the NRC top post by the Moral Promotion Centre and that’s how I entered the office. But as the chair, I must facilitate every committee equally so that we can move forward together. To not be able take care of this issue myself is something I feel regret about. I consider it as fundamental to everything in our lives; our thoughts, our acts, and so on. Without it, the society cannot go on humanly.
When you first took office, how did you supervise it? And what were the challenges?
I tried to set up a structure and the logistics to get it moving. But I must say that we have been tied up too much with parliamentary procedures, something that an academic like me is not well familiar with. Reform work is much about in-depth analyses and synthesising bodies of knowledge. This is much academic based and needs brainstorming sessions, something that you may see from our seminars. But such activities have been carried out far less than the time we have spent in Parliament, voting on this and that. Reform work is actually not about winning or losing, but a consensus to move forward together. So, the two kinds of work are actually something that should not have gone together in the first place.
Secondly, despite having several knowledgeable members, several problems still need new knowledge to explain and answer, and we still lack that. 
Thirdly, the amendment of the interim charter has cut short our timeframe and this has severely affected our work. Now we have only a few months left to finish loads of reform work.
But what is the biggest challenge for me is that we have understood “reform” differently. We hardly talked to one another first, but pursued what was thought to be the right thing. At the end of the day, we have seen different agencies working on different reform plans.
The NRC has just recently met with the government to clarify the work, and we agreed that the government would focus on improving the efficiency of its agencies, while we would continue our work which has touched upon structural problems and prepare measures for changes in the future. But to change things at the roots, you must know that a great number of people may land in trouble due to the changes. But once touched, I believe that the problems, which have accumulated for years, will be resolved.
How will your plan materialise so changes can truly happen?
Currently, it’s now understood that fundamental reform is the NRC’s work. But as I said it involves a great number of people and that is the reason why only an absolute power can possibly help bring about change. To say that the work will be passed on to the next government is something that prompted a question in my mind: Would change take place given the lessons in politics that we had in the past? 
Centralisation of administrative power, for instance, is a longstanding problem of our country. It is actually fundamental for several other issues that if broken will, I believe, send a ripple through the others, and the government should act to create this ripple.
This point is very important. It’s not like the NRC is stubborn to push it hard. I think to pass or not to pass this on to the next government needs to be discussed seriously. Continuity of the work becomes a challenge for us all again, and if nothing is resolved, we could end up in the same old cycle again. 
How have you assessed the work and effort of the NRC?
We have tried to accomplish five or six reasons to reform 11 key issues stated in the interim charter. In considering this framework, I would say we have accomplished that. But if measured on society’s sentiment, I would say we have met with disappointment. 
We accept that we had some flaws from the beginning, significantly having no power to change things, but acting as an advisory body from the start. I can say that we have completed a comprehensive reform plan, but to accomplish the reform as people expect, I think it’s still a long way to go. To get the country reformed, we need several things, and we need monitoring and adjusting plans and implementations [of plans] over time, and the whole process, which may take years, is currently absent from our thinking.
For the NRC members, I must say they have done an incredibly good job, considering all the conditions that they have faced.

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