Friday, September 26, 2008

The Nation, Ugly Cabinets, Economic Policy, and More Hypocrisy

Cabinet 'ugly' even by lowest standards (Editorial)

The Nation

The most disappointing selections made were the picks for key economic portfolios. Critics not only question Suchart Thadathamrongvech's ability to steer the Thai economy through the current global financial crisis, but also the rationale behind the selection of Pracha Promnok as industry minister. Chalerm Yoobamrung is back in Cabinet, this time as public health minister. Santi Prompat is back to head the Transport Ministry, which will see him in charge of several investment projects.

Pornsilp Patcharintanakul, the deputy secretary-general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade of Thailand, said that the Somchai Cabinet was very similar to, or even worse than, that of the Samak government, as most of the ministers have been appointed following the quota system.

This unattractive Cabinet line-up left us wondering why we are unable to find capable people to run the ministries during this crucial time. Is the problem that more qualified, capable people are fed up with the system and the level of competency of existing politicians?

What rubbish! Notice how The Nation never proposes who it thinks should be at the helm of economic policy nor does it ever dissect why these ministers are ugly except only to rant on and on about it being part of a quota system.

The Nation needs to take lessons in government. In a democratic society, the winning coalition chooses who it wants to run economic policy. If the ministers are unqualified, state the reasons why they are unqualified instead of bleating on about quotas and political connections to one faction or another faction.


By Thanong Khanthong

The Nation

Suchart has been a surprise. He has taken over the leadership of the Puea Thai Party. The People Power Party might be trying to groom him for a bigger assignment to come. But Suchart has not yet had enough experience nor developed the ingredients necessary to oversee one of the country's most important portfolios. Having spent most of his career in the academic world, Olarn went on to serve briefly as a deputy finance minister in the Samak government, and he has enjoyed a stronger political profile.

Given the ugly face of the Cabinet's economic team, the general sentiment in the business community is that "Okay, we'll give you another chance to run the country. But you mind your own business and we are going to mind ours. If we were to wait for your leadership to guide us, we might go broke."

Those in the business community complain that they have not had any dialogue with or cooperation from the government over the past three years. But even without government leadership, the Thai business sector has managed to stay afloat by cutting costs, improving productivity and looking for new export markets. The outcome is that the Thai economy has been growing at more than 5 per cent and export growth has shot up at double-digit numbers.

It is a miracle that our country can still enjoy a degree of prosperity under the current political situation. We have the private sector, which is working hard and trying to be innovative while operating under an unfriendly environment. The competitiveness of Thailand's private sector can be judged by the competitiveness of the export sector and also from the relatively strong balance sheet of the companies. Most big Thai companies are enjoying their strongest balance sheets ever, with manageable debt.

The financial sector has also gone through a reform following the 1997 crisis. Now Thai banks and financial institutions have been in good health generally thanks to improved risk management, better accounting standards and sounder regulations from bank supervisors. Data and information in the credit market have also become more transparent. Loan classification is also clearer.

Thanong basically rants about the same topic using the same logic as in the editorial. He probably wrote pieces.

Notice the contradiction in the piece. On one hand he argues that economic public policy has been a disaster, yet points out how successful the private sector has been.

How does on qualify and quantify what is a good economic policy and who is a good economic minister?

The Nation refuses to say.

I reckon, however, that if you had 10 Nobel Prize winning economists and the heads of the most profitable companies on the planet making Thailand's economic policy, The Nation would find some way to disqualify them because of tertiary connections to Thaksin.

The way The Nation judges what is good and what is bad economic policy has no basis in empirical evidence, nor does it even provide the standards by which economic policy should be judged.

So who is Thanong to judge what an ugly cabinet looks like especially when you consider that his own methods of analysis are bunk?

The Nation and Thanong should be honest. They want the PPP to be ousted by any means necessary and want the Democrats to take over. Like the PAD, they won't be happy until that happens.

One thing I do guarantee, though, is when that day does come, you won't be reading any criticisms in The Nation about factions, quotas and/or ugly cabinets.

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