Monday, September 16, 2019

Devil is in the details of 20-year national strategy

Jul 09. 2018
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With the National Legislative Assembly’s unanimous vote to approve the National Strategy, the new law will have binding effect and impose penalties for non-compliance on future governments for the next 20 years.

From the looks of it, this is what the country needs in order to ensure progress in critical areas will not be disrupted or discontinued by political expediency, as in the past. However, closer scrutiny reveals some caveats we cannot ignore.

If the past is any guide, whenever we have a top-down strategy such as this one, sooner or later bureaucratic red tape raises its ugly head.

Take for example the way Key Performance Indicators are set for government agencies or state enterprises. The procedures involved in meeting KPIs are so arduous and rigid that they have become an annual ritual for the agencies, who are also deprived of any flexibility by the strict deadlines. This doesn’t bode well for the kind of creativity and flexibility called for by the ambitious Thailand 4.0 masterplan.

Let’s hope the implementation of the National Strategy steers clear of the red tape that has bogged down so many good initiatives. Although penalties for non-compliance may address some of the issues, they don’t guarantee smooth sailing. As any veteran state employee can attest, one sure-fire way to ensure that a KPI is met is to “sandbag” it. The harsher the punishment, the greater the incentive for the employees involved to “lower the bar” to avoid over-committing themselves.

Furthermore, in practical terms it’s doubtful whether the National Strategy Committee chaired by the prime minister will have sufficient resources to monitor or “micromanage” the nitty-gritty of any malfeasance that will be passed on to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for further action. Even without this additional herculean task, the NACC is already overwhelmed by cases filling up its pipeline.

The devil will be in the details.

Anan Pakvasa

Bangkok

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