Futility at finish line in race for governor
Baseless, directionless, clueless, senseless and hopeless is the Bangkok governorship.
- Published: 17/02/2013 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
The problem is the messy organisational structure of not just Bangkok, but Thailand as a whole, which fosters gross inefficiencies and allows for far too many hands in the cookie jar.
Proposals to solve traffic congestion comprise a major part of candidates' platforms, but the roads aren't even under the jurisdiction of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). They belong to the Transport Ministry. Meanwhile, the police control the traffic, but the Royal Thai Police force answers directly to the prime minister. So who's actually in charge when it comes to traffic?
The roads in question _ whether Sukhumvit, Lat Phrao or Silom _ are clogged by cars parking on their sides at certain times of day, eating away at the driving lanes. Taxis are the major culprits. Take Silom and upper Sukhumvit at night for example _ both are heavily congested because taxis park in the driving lanes with impunity to wait on fares.
In fact all manner of vehicles _ public and private buses, vans, taxis, motorbike taxis and boat taxis _ could be regulated better, but that means fighting through the web of local godfather interests, which are connected to local political interests, which are connected to national political interests, which are connected to political party interests, which are connected to national godfather interests.
It is all about connectivity, and you need to be in good standing with all those interests to have any chance of winning the Bangkok governor's race, or any political office for that matter.
So the question of who's in charge is a funny one. The answer is: everyone and no one at the same time.
The skytrain falls under the BMA's jurisdiction, while the subway is under the Transport Ministry, and responsibility for line extensions can fall either way. Some schools fall under the BMA while some are under the national government; the same goes for hospitals.
Footpaths fall under BMA, but are run by the powerful city inspectors department, which collects rent from vendors. Take Nana district for example. The reason these vendors are relatively organised in the sense that everyone knows their designated space, similar to Siam Square or Chatuchak, is because they have paid and registered for said space. That's why we don't see one vendor fighting another over a prime spot.
How are they going to be removed when they have paid and registered?
Policies such as making Bangkok greener, free school lunches, free buses and others are fine, but they are mere window dressing and do not address the real issues. The Bangkok governor ought to be the city's leader, not its babysitter.
The reality is the Bangkok governor and the BMA have very little power to effect real change in the capital. This is because the organisational structure of Thailand has administrative bodies, agencies and bureaucracies crisscrossing and overlapping like a sweaty, drunken Roman orgy with three dwarves and a bearded lady at the height of a Mediterranean summer.
The difference is the Romans knew how to organise; we don't.
Truth be told, Pheu Thai nominee Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen has the best chance of affecting real change in Bangkok. After all, he's handpicked by the man who runs the national government. That's why the candidate's catchphrase is rai roi tor _ which can be interpreted as a commitment to "close the gap between the national government and the BMA in order to get things done". That's why his campaign is full of the boldest promises. And it's a good thing that he's leading in the polls. If he were behind he might start promising to solve the Middle East conflict or find a cure for the common cold.
But see, collaboration is only the solution if the inability or unwillingness to collaborate is the real problem. It's not. It's but one symptom of the disease.
The core problem is the messy organisational structure of Bangkok and Thailand that fosters gross inefficiency and allows for far too many hands in the cookie jar. The country is stitched together haphazardly and pillaged vigorously by all the different agencies, local and national.
The blueprint needs to be redrawn with the word "decentralisation" stamped at the top. Give the capital city and each province the power to be responsible and accountable for their own progress and prosperity.
In Bangkok, the governor is elected democratically but the functions of the city are in an overlapping mess with the national government. The provinces may elect their local administrations but the governors are still appointed. Meanwhile, neither Bangkok nor the provinces run their own police force.
The blueprint of Bangkok and Thailand still has many feudalistic features.
Of course, such decentralisation can open the way to more corruption. Locally elected district administrators in the provinces are prime examples. But parents can't baby their child forever. Such parenting would inevitably result in the child being dependent, irresponsible and unaccountable.
Make the capital city and each province stand on their own two feet and make them responsible and accountable. Some may rise and some may fall, but all would have the grown-up duty to determine their own destiny.
Then the job description of the Bangkok governor would not be that of a one-legged marathon runner in a rubber flip-flop. The Bangkok governor's race would actually be something worthwhile and the Democrat's grudgingly nominated MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra could finally get off that bicycle.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at email@example.com.
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
- Position: Political and Social Commentator