Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PM should dump silly populist policies and work on long-term solutions

PM should dump silly populist policies and work on long-term solutions

Talks in the financial markets deal mainly with the future of the global economy.

Conversation now focuses on the political will of politicians in the US and Europe, in fixing their problems.

In the US, the Republicans are now being urged to lend their best supports to boost the economy as they can, rather than being the vultures waiting for the economy to go downhill for a victory in the 2012 presidential election against the Democrats.

The focus is also on German and French politicians, believed to take the biggest role in reviving the euro zone economy. They are being urged to put the regional integration before national agenda.

Whatever the developments will be, Thailand would be affected, positively or negatively. For a cushion, we need solid domestic fundamentals and that is also possible if politicians put long-term sustainability before short-term interests.

The flooding disaster, if anything, demonstrates Thailand's acute need for long-sighted leaders. The involvement of the Navy and the Ministry of Science and Technology sheds a light at what we could achieve, if our leaders see the needs for integrated action.

Like many in the tropical zone, Thailand is prone to floods and droughts. Mitigation efforts are in greater need given the climate change, which accelerates changes in the weather. For years, many provinces suffered from floods during May to October while in the rest of the years others experienced droughts. Needless to say, it shows how poor Thailand is in water management.

An official at the Royal Irrigation Department admitted that dams and reservoirs nationwide can store only 10 per cent of annual rainfalls. The rest just go downward to the Gulf of Thailand. A new investment scheme is necessary if the excess water is to be channeled to the drought-prone areas. Given the climate change, scientific data is necessary to support where the new investment should be destined to. The Agriculture Ministry's input is a must to know the types of crops and their water consumption, in each area. The Public Works and Town & Country Planning Department must help in designing which area is best for what activities.

We also need input from the National Economic and Social Development Board, if such planning and investment accords with the long-term future of Thailand. Last but not least, it is politicians' commitment.

To date, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has stressed her wish for that. But it is half-hearted to get convinced if this would be successful.

The biggest doubt lies with her commitment. Though her Pheu Thai Party has the majority voice, the government fails to mobilize national supports given the ambiguity of several economic policies. It's not a good start to push on with the rice-pledging scheme, given past experiences of frauds and wastes.

No benefits are to be reaped from the suspension of Oil Fund levy on non-gasohol fuel products and diesel, or the first-car buyer scheme. In a year, both cost nearly Bt40 billion - enough to finance the construction of the Purple Line mass transit route. Wouldn't it be best to spend on something that is here to stay and good for the economy and environment?
Yingluck is impressive with her eagerness to involve in the flood relief campaign.

Experienced Cabinet members were delegated, and she has cancelled all overseas trips. At daily press conferences from a disaster control centre, she supports all.

Yet, if she is serious in fixing the vicious cycle for good, a lot more is necessary. Convincing her party to dump wasteful spending programmes, designed for popular votes not long-term sustainability, would be the priority and the most-daunting task. She would turn a heroin, though, if she could steer for a national agenda which must contain a clear financial commitment.

If historical records can show anything, it is human's readiness to learn and improve. With the commitment, villagers may complain less next year when another seasonal flood returns, as there is light at the end of the tunnel. If not, Yingluck just proves that she could best be like her short-sighted predecessors, whose names would be forgotten (if not condemned) after departure from the political scene.
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