On the RECORD
Somkiat Tangkitvanich has made a name as the country's leading telecommunications expert. Speaking to NATTAYA CHETCHOTIROS for the first time as the newly promoted president of the Thailand Development and Research Institute (TDRI), he has expressed disappointment with the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC)'s performance and vowed to keep tabs on the controversial rice-pledging scheme.
Somkiat: Keeping tabs
With the 3G wireless licences supervised by the NBTC whose inception you helped push, are you happy with the commission's role?
I can say it's very disappointing that the NBTC does not care for the interest of consumers as much as that of businesses. For example, when there were complaints about expensive phone bills, the agency looked to the businesses for information rather than consumers. It also did not care to set up a monitoring unit which could also hasten cooperation with consumers. If we are to change the NBTC's thinking and policies, we have to think about what people want. Our sole concern tends to be about the economic side of the telecom sector.
There's plenty of room for improvement. There are many things the NBTC has not done which would benefit consumers. The rules do not serve the interests of consumers. The NBTC members' roles are disappointing although many of them are younger than the commissioners of the [defunct] National Telecommunication Commission which was more attentive to people's complaints. The NTC asked the private sector to help solve consumer problems but the NBTC has not done that.
Its work appears beneficial to business operators. Good governance is lacking. The NBTC has problems. It has done little in the way of inviting public participation in its policy formulation as required by the regulations. Where public participation was sought, the sessions were organised in a rush and the input from the sessions was not put to good use.
Did you come across any irregularity in the NBTC's work?
Almost every procurement project was carried out through a special method, which tended to become the main method. When I took part in drafting the [procurement] law for the NTC, I had my worries. Even when it was still the NTC, there were a lot of budget matters and operation fees worth tens of millions of baht which the agency had to deal with. So a law was passed governing the (NTC) procurement projects. But the (NBTC) chose the special methods.
Moreover, there was improper spending such as the organising of the half-day 3G Count Down event costing 7 million baht. It raises concern that if such a practice continues it will bode ill for the transparency of the NBTC. This could prompt consumers to seek the removal of the commissioners. If the bidding for the 3G licences do not attract competition, more people will be dissatisfied and they could petition the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
It is really disappointing that the young commissioners who are supposed to work to reform the organisation are more interested in retaining their status.
Now to the rice-pledging scheme, how does the TDRI plan to monitor the policy?
I'm not the rice expert and can't go into details of the policy. However, we're lucky to have former TDRI presidents, Ammar Siamwalla, Chalongphob Sussangkarn and Nipon Puapongsakorn, here to help us. We will consistently follow up on the rice-pledging policy and convey our suggestions and criticism and even recommend solutions.
The government might be in the middle of trying to figure a way out of the problem. It will be quite troublesome if the policy persists.
Even though it is a politically successful policy because some farmers stand to gain from the scheme, it will lead the economy into a dead-end with swelling public debts.
There will be no warehouses left to store the pledged rice which keeps increasing and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperation will face a liquidity crunch.
If this goes on, the economy will falter and the government won't survive.