As the starting date for the Asean Economic Community nears, Thai MPs are preparing for 2015 in their own individual ways. One has begun to watch Indonesian drama via satellite TV and is reading the history of neighbouring countries, while another shares a meal with his Filipino friends weekly to learn more about their community.
Democrat MP Rachada Dhna-direk, a member of the House of Representatives committee on foreign affairs, said she was not studying any particular language but was more interested in foreign cultures.
“Watching Indonesian drama helps me understand the tastes and values of Indonesians more. I can see similarities and differences from [those of] Thais,” said the MP, who completed her master’s degree in the United Kingdom and earned a doctorate from the Asian Institute of Technology.
She has read books about the histories of the people of Myanmar and Laos as well as Xishuangban-na, an autonomous prefecture in Yunnan province, China.
Rachada said she told the people she visited about possible changes in Thailand once the Asean Economic Community gets under way. She told businesspeople, especially the operators of small and medium-sized tourism enterprises and hotels, to look for opportunities and alliances to expand their businesses. At least they would not be unduly pressured by major and foreign operators, she said.
Phitsanulok MP Warong Dechgitvigrom said there were more than 100 Filipinos in his province and he was happy to meet with them and practise his English skills while exchanging information and opinions.
“I’m not worried, but I think we should strengthen skills in the English language. I see the Asean Community quite positively. It will be open for the people [of all member countries] to travel and meet each other while broadening their knowledge and vision,” he said.
Warong said the government was too busy dealing with domestic politics and had not done much on issues related to the AEC. However, the media should work harder to educate and inform people about the coming changes and movements.
“For example, the AEC is too [remote an idea] for farmers. They don’t even understand the government’s policy on rice and its consequences. I’m afraid other countries might take advantage of us,” said Warong.
He is the MP who revealed graft related to the distribution of rice in the government’s price-pledging scheme during the recent censure debate in the House.
Pheu Thai MP Chavalit Vichayasuthi from Nakhon Phanom said he had pushed for the construction of a central hospital in the province as he realised there would be a lot more tourists visiting the border areas.
The hospital, whose construction was approved by the Cabinet in February, will be a central facility for the Indochina subregion and medical service by specialised doctors, he said.
Chavalit said that after the opening of the Third Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge last year, the value of border trade had increased by 70 per cent through an increasing number of tourists. However, the hospital needed patients to be transferred to other provinces such as Khon Kaen and Ubon Ratchathani to have access to specialised doctors.
Chavalit said he’d had meetings with doctors who are Nakhon Phanom natives and asked them who they wanted to come and work in the province. Good schools for the doctors’ children were among the requests and he also pushed for the projects.
Chavalit said he realised that languages are important and he and the local people had no problems in communicating with people from Vietnam.
“I cannot speak it, but I can listen and understand. I have local people to help, anyway,” Chavalit said, adding that he could sing some Vietnamese songs.
Pheu Thai MP Khattiya Sawatdiphol, a member of the House committee on military affairs, and Democrat MP Samart Maluleem, chairman of the House committee on Thai border affairs, said they had followed the news about Asean countries closely.
In the meantime, many House committees had seminars and visited local people as well as foreign countries to learn more about related issues. However, the preparation was more on an individual basis.
“There has not been so much [collective] preparation of MPs so far but each MP [is acquiring information]. They all have the potential,” Samart said after saying more trips would come during the parliamentary recess.
Khattiya, who was educated in the United States, said: “Everybody pays attention to the issues. We still have time to prepare. The MPs have no problem with language. Even representatives from the provinces can speak English.”
Pheu Thai MP Poowanida Kunplin, chairwoman of an advisory committee for House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranon on foreign affairs, said the language courses for MPs were being prepared and would be provided soon.
Initially, English and Chinese courses will be provided. However, all major languages of the Asean region will be available as members of the Parliament and officials need them while making agreements or cooperating with counterparts from other countries, she said. The projects will start soon, using the budget of 2013.
The House Speaker also had King Prajadhipok’s Institute provide training for MPs, senators and parliamentary officials to elevate the capability and competency of the whole organisation, she said.
Poowanida said the legislators were working on many laws that needed review, or legislation to meet with the agreements according to the Master Plan on Asean Connectivity.
“We intend wholeheartedly to prepare the best. We are going forward. But this is only a preparation period,” she said, adding the committee was gathering related issues, recommendations and planning preparation for the AEC.