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PM erupts after questions about ‘cruel’ charter

Posted by pakin On February - 3 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

A month after promising to become a ‘good guy’, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday reacted furiously when asked by media about the highly-discussed charter draft and his administration.

“Tell me how this draft is cruel,” the premier said at his weekly press briefing when asked of his thoughts of comments by the Constitution Drafting Commission chairman Meechai Ruchupan, who said that the ’more cruel version of charter’ would be active if this draft is voted down in a national referendum.

“They talk about the new authority of the Constitution Court. They say it will be overwhelming. But tell me, who else will end all the crises?” Prayut continued. “The Court could do nothing prior to May 22 [2014], and I had to come to put an end to it. Did I ever want to?” he exclaimed.

The premier’s mood in the morning was already soured by the media questions in regard to the water management plan, but PM Prayut stopped short to say anything, when asked what set him off. “Stupid. Try finding an answer yourself (rather than asking everything). Aren’t you all already smart?” Read the news. I do, and that’s why I know things,” he uttered in a verbal tirade.

A source close to the premier said that Prayut was irritated by news on the charter draft and election, as well as reshuffle of permanent civil servants, especially military officers.

On the same day, Government Spokesperson Maj General Sansern Kaewkamnerd asked media to lift their working standards and reform themselves.

They should also not let people with hidden agendas manipulate them to spread distorted information, that will only destroy the Kingdom’s images, Sansern said.

The media should also be more careful with reporting, he said.

“For instance, discussions on the charter draft via the media were shallow, without attempts to understand that it is designed to prevent [political] conflicts,” he said.

Expert warns of dangers of Article 44

Posted by pakin On January - 25 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Move to vest absolute power with PM could have long-term effects

The post-coup Article 44 was included in the 2014 interim charter with the aim of giving the prime minister the option of wielding absolute power in a bid to find solutions for issues of importance.

But given its absoluteness, critics have viewed the use of it with scepticism, and its fruitfulness remains in question in the eyes of those watchdogs and individuals affected by its application.

Article 44 grants absolute power to Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha in his capacity as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order. It is an absolute authority in ordering and retraining people or performing any act, whether legislative, executive or judicial.

Enacted after the lifting of martial law last April, Article 44 has been evoked by Prayut to deal with a variety of issues, from reorganising lottery prices to removing officers alleged of corruption.

“Article 44 is [designed] to grant the government the authority to deal with problems which that could hardly be solved or solved at a slow pace [if tackled using regular laws],” said Prayut last June. “That’s why [a special] law is needed. Some problems need urgent solutions and some need integrated law enforcement for solutions.”

As monitored by The Nation and the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform, Prayut invoked this power 54 times between December 2014 and January 20. Three orders were issued in the name of national security and nine were issued to enforce laws and implement measures to reorganise society.

There was also an order to set up a new agency, two orders to improve the economy, seven orders to adjust administrative processes and 28 orders to appoint, shift or suspend officers.

Despite the government’s effort to do this in a legal manner, there are doubts over whether the practice truly aims to accelerate solutions and is merely designed to allow the premier to end critical issues. For instance, instead of seeking a royal endorsement as usually practised, Prayut signed order No 26/2015 last September to revoke the police rank of the former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

Many people are concerned this absolute power could be wielded without discussions with relevant parties, like when Prayut signed order No 17/2015 last May to declare five special economic zones that resulted in the acquisition of land in the designated areas.

The order was declared out of the blue, said Chompunut Kraekonwong, whose mother’s crop fields in Tak’s Mae Sot district have been expropriated following the order. Chompunut’s mother and some 90 other farmers can still make a living in the fields, but they have no idea when that will end.

“We have learnt that the authorities will turn our farmlands into industrial districts,” Chompunut said “But we were never asked if we want that to happen.”

Local people would gain little to nothing from the industrial zones, she explained. She said that as a borderland, the economically advanced Mae Sot would be flooded with Myanmar workers on one-day entry visas once the SEZ was activated. Increasing construction would affect fertile lands, which locals inherited from generation to generation, she said, adding that locals were concerned.

Chompunut said the committee for the Mae Sot Special Economy Zone had promised to provide between Bt7,000-Bt12,000 per rai as compensation, but had decided to rely on compensation figures calculated by the Irrigation Department. The exact amount of compensation remained undecided, she added.

“No matter how much it is, it will never be a substitute for the land that has fed our lives,” she said.

Chompunut and other affected locals have written to several governmental agencies, including three letters toPrayut via the Damrongdhama Centre, and were told the matter would be reconsidered by relevant agencies. “And we’ve seen no progress so far,” she said, adding: “We can’t see how the Article [44] will ever benefit the country. [The authorities] can stimulate the economy in other ways without affecting people. We should also be the ones contributing for such development.”

The phrase “out of the blue” was also used to describe the issuance of order No 21/2015 that resulted in Lt-General Pongsakorn Rodchompoo being dismissed as deputy secretary-general to the National Security Council (NSC) on July 23. He was transferred to an inactive post as an adviser to the PM.

“Till today, I don’t know why I was transferred,” Pongsakorn said. “At the NSC, I was working on terrorism issues, such as pushing for a more integrated immigration data base in the region. But with my current position, I can do nothing further on that.”

Now a subcommittee member in the drawing up of a 20-year national strategy and an adviser to the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) committee on local administration, Pongsakorn admitted that his current positions involved about only 20 per cent of his full capability.

“I feel it is a pity. There are not many NSC officers capable of working on terrorism issues, and now there is not even a senior [officer] pushing them,” he said. “There should have been discussions with officers over where they would have liked to be reassigned.”

Legal academic Ekachai Chainuvati warned that using Article 44 in such a manner ran the risk of turning it into an abusive power as it could not be reviewed judicially.

The power was also deemed dangerous to any person who wielded it, Ekachai said. “As Prayut has a soldier background, his character tends to favour quick, clear, and immediate decisions. But it’s impossible forPrayut, and everyone else, to know everything,” he said.

He continued: “I believe he receives proposals from agencies, but it’s he who has to take sole responsibility when issuing orders.”

Despite Prayut‘s best intentions, an academic said, Article 44 might not be the best solution to deal with national-agenda matters. For instance, the public may believe it helped curb corruption, but there were existing options to solve problems without the need for such power, the academic said.

Ekachai said Article 44 could not be used alone to tackle national reform, as the process required a broader consensus from all sections of society.

The impact of the article could even stretch beyond Prayut‘s reach, he said, as its impact would remain until there was a new law or order to revoke it, and Prayut may no longer be premier.

The use of the article showed that society was tolerant of state authority, he said. It also indicated that society accepted “an end justifies the means, no matter what it is”. “To simplify that, it means that it is acceptable to do whatever [is decided] to achieve desirable goals. As a legal academic, I can’t accept that.”

Meeting today on state rubber buy-up

Posted by pakin On January - 20 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Cabinet backs purchase from farmers at BT45 per kilo as aid efforts stepped up.

THE GOVERNMENT will call for a meeting with related agencies, including the Finance Ministry, Bureau of the Budget, and Council of State, today to discuss the Bt4.5-billion budget allocated to help rubber farmers.

Agriculture Minister General Chatchai Sarikalya said the Cabinet yesterday approved the measure proposed by the Ministry to use the budget to buy rubber directly from farmers for Bt45 per kilogram. The purchase would be conducted from January 25 onwards.

“We have not yet finalised the actual demand for rubber raised by individual ministries. However, we are trying to encourage all ministries to allocate their normal budget to support the rubber purchase domestically,” he said.

However, chairman of the Rubber Council of Thailand, Uthai Sonlaksab, was not enthusiastic about the plan. He said the government might not be helping the rubber price by contributing Bt4.5 billion to purchase 100,000 tonnes of rubber at Bt45 per kilogram.

He said the market price of rubber was increasing gradually and would go beyond the purchase price set by the government.

“We have seen the price of rubber increasing in the marketplace from the end of last month. The price of smoked natural rubber jumped significantly from Bt32 per kilogram to Bt39 due to less stock of rubber in the market and the end of the tapping season for rubber plants,” he said.

“What we want to see is the government encouraging the use of rubber domestically, which can be processed into many products for value added. This should be done under this NCPO-installed government. We need to accept that the lower price of rubber is not caused only by outside factors. Both Thai merchants and exporters have also dumped their rubber prices,” said Uthai.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday opened Government House to be a meeting venue between eight government agencies and private companies manufacturing rubber products. The move will allow ministers to have initial discussions with the private sector in finding a solution for the purchase of rubber, in line with the government’s measure to assist rubber farmers. The rubber products being displayed by the government have been divided into seven major categories, rubber products for: tourism, for agriculture, transportation, military, medical and cosmetics, accommodation and consumer goods, and rubber products for industry.

He said that rubber product manufacturers needed to concentrate on product quality and competitive prices. Such activities would help raise the standard of rubber products in the domestic market, rather than importing similar products from neighbouring countries.

“I would like to urge the private sector to purchase rubber domestically. Rubber product manufacturers should also conduct surveys to find out the actual demand for rubber from government agencies, such as for military vehicles and machines so that they will be able to manufacture and supply the right products demanded by the government agencies,” said the Prime Minister.

“We need to check out the real volume of rubber demanded by local manufacturers. Similar measures should be launched as those that assist the rice farmers.

“With this measure, the rice farmers were urged to reduce their plantation area for rice from 30-35 million rais to about 25 million rais. Rubber farmers should be urged to do the same by reducing their plantation areas for rubber to be replaced by other plants,” said Prayut.

An exhibitor, Sitanon Amatawet from Prince of Songkla University’s Science Park, was also satisfied that some officers from Thai Industrial Standards Institute supported the park in enhancing innovation of its rubber medical and cosmetic products. The park also gained support from the Budget Bureau in registering its innovations, he said.

However, Sathaian Techapanyarak from Yong Thai Rubber Industrial said he was only half-half content with the exhibition “We’ve talked to officers from the Industry Ministry and Science and Technology and they supported us.”

PM hands deadline to ailing firms

Posted by pakin On January - 19 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Seven ailing state enterprises have been given a March deadline to propose their revised rehabilitation plans after they failed to meet all the requirements and targets set by the government last year.

The State Enterprises Policy Committee (SEPC), chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, met Monday to evaluate the seven state enterprises’ one-year performance and implementation of the 2015 rehabilitation plans.

The state enterprises include the embattled Thai Airways International (THAI), the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Bank of Thailand (SME Bank), the Islamic Bank of Thailand, TOT Plc and CAT Telecom.

“The committee has seen some progress and improvement since the implementation of the plans but some key issues have not been resolved and some requirements have not been met,” said Ekniti Nitithanprapas, director of the State Enterprises Policy Office.

They are required to revise the plans to make them more concrete and propose them to the committee by March, he said.

Gen Prayut instructed the committee to stop giving “yellow card” and “red card” warnings to executives of state enterprises who failed to improve their organisations’ standings as these measures may put too much pressure on them.

Those who receive red cards are transferred from their posts.

The committee then resolved to give scores of “outstanding”, “good”, “fair” and “should improve” to executives instead.

Mr Ekniti gave details of each state enterprise’s evaluation.

Last year, THAI failed to meet its target of cost reduction.

The company could only cut expenses by 7.26 billion baht, compared to the 10-billion-baht target.

The national flag carrier is required to propose a plan to reduce sales agents and increase online ticket sales.

The company is also required to delay the purchase of unnecessary aircraft.

The debt-ridden SRT is required to make more clear in its plan the aim to increase the role of the private sector in its investment projects to reduce the state’s financial burden.

The agency has been ordered to present its sources of funding whenever it seeks cabinet approval for investment projects.

The committee reiterated the need for the SRT to find private investors for the development of its Red Line and the extension of the Airport Rail Link to Don Mueang Airport.

Mr Ekniti said the SRT has made substantial progress in dual-track development and has already opened bids for two projects.

As for the BMTA, he said the agency is required to revise a plan to purchase new buses and to accelerate the bidding for 489 NGV-fuelled buses by March.

The loss-ridden Islamic Bank of Thailand is required to speed up its plan to seek business partners and reduce non-performing loans.

The SME Bank is also required to reduce its existing 20-billion-baht non-performing loans.

Meanwhile, TOT and CAT are required to make their roles clearer in the telecom industry and their business direction amid mounting competition.

Mr Ekniti applauded the TOT for its successful reduction of expenses by 10 billion baht last year, much higher than the target of 6.87 billion baht.

Meanwhile, the SEPC approved in principle a draft bill for state enterprise supervision paving the way for the establishment of the “superholding” organisation to oversee potential state enterprises.

Prasarn Trairatvorakul, chairman of SRPC’s subcommittee overseeing the establishment of the National State Enterprise Corporation, known as the superholding corporation, said the corporation would be 100% under the Finance Ministry.

It will act as a shareholder of 12 state enterprises which have been corporatised such as the Airports of Thailand, PTT Plc and MCOT Plc, said Mr Prasarn, the former Bank of Thailand governor.

Under the bill, the 15-member corporation board consists of five people from the government, five civil servants and five experts.

“State enterprises are national assets so it is impossible for the government to be totally uninvolved in them but we will find some mechanisms for checks and balances,” he said.

However, the bill required accountability of the government if it caused any damage due to any intervention.

Also on Monday, Prime Minister Prayut insisted that the draft bill is aimed at reforming state enterprises to boost their efficiency, not to privatise them.

The bill seeks to improve performance of the boards of more than 56 state enterprises. Of these, seven are in urgent need of revamping, such as the SRT. These state enterprises have never before been reformed and their problems have remained unsolved, he said.

Gen Prayut also said some problems cannot be solved through punishment or dismissals, adding that some of the existing members of state enterprise boards should be given a chance.

Meanwhile, a source at THAI said it is considering resuming Bangkok-Seoul-Los Angeles flights, halted on Oct 26 last year, following the global oil price slump.