Two years wasted on reform blueprint: The Nation

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha salutes members of the Royal Thai Army after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha salutes members of the Royal Thai Army after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on 1 Aug, the paper says many proposals from the National Reform Steering Assembly are simply too vague to be of practical use.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The military junta has wasted more than Baht one billion (S$40.75 billion) over the past two years paying 200 political opportunists to produce a vague, outdated and redundant "reform agenda".

Established in October 2015, the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) has representation from the military, civil service and non-governmental organisations, as well as politicians whose ideology aligns with the ruling junta.

Most members are politically conservative and would prefer to see Thailand less democratic and less progressive. That's what they came up on completing their missing last week.

The noble aim of reform is here reduced to a pretext.

After an anti-democracy movement colluded with the military to create chaos and thus justify the coup of 2014 that toppled an elected civilian government, the coup makers arrived without a set reform agenda. Two months passed before the notion was officially addressed in the interim constitution as one of the junta's three prime missions.

The interim charter established the National Reform Council (NRC), which identified 11 areas in need of reform in a formal reform blueprint.

Seeking to extend military rule, the NRC rejected the first draft charter two years ago, before being dissolved. Some members, notably the most obviously pro-junta ones, were then appointed to the new NRSA.

The NRSA served as a think-tank on issues related to the reform agenda. In other countries, reform usually involves moving forward, making progress. In Thailand it means looking inward and entrenching the military in politics.

NRSA vice-chairman Alongkorn Poonlaboot said the assembly's job was to carry on the work of the NRC by turning its blueprint into an action plan. To do so, it has presented numerous implementation plans, including new regulations to implement its agenda. The original 37 agenda items had by July 27 expanded to 190 proposals.

Almost 70 per cent of the proposals involve "fixing what's broken".

Another 20 per cent focus on building on existing strengths. The rest entail creating something new.

Alongkorn noted that there are now clear structures and procedures, plus supportive administrative mechanisms like the National Legislative Assembly, to push forward the NRSA proposals.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has so far endorsed at least 176 of the proposals, but the independent NGO iLaw has complained that, rather than warranting celebration once it was completed, the NRSA's work represented no meaningful reform despite 22 months of effort.

Of the "hundreds of plans" for national reform the assembly presented, more than half are hazy and intangible, iLaw says. The NRSA submitted 131 reform reports covering more than 1,300 issues, but only about 320 of them - less than a quarter - were "concrete" enough for quick implementation.

It seems as though the assembly members did not understand what they were talking about while meeting for two years.

They produced little more than meaningless political discourse, some of which ignored what the junta was actually doing in the streets. While the junta was suppressing democracy and gagging dissidents, the assembly said in a report that the government promoted the "political culture of democracy".

It is ridiculous to talk about democracy under military rule. Some agenda items, notably regarding media reform, are even more absurd. Rather than promote press freedom, the reformers suggest more state-imposed regulations.

Quite apart from the woeful waste of taxpayers' money, we are now being saddled with a reform agenda that would take the country backward instead of paving its path into the future.

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