There is a clear line of responsibility for the current panic and the coming crisis in the shortage of electricity. Accountability flows directly to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her cabinet. Even before it took office in 2011, the government knew it needed a national energy policy. Until now, ministers have danced around the issue to the point where they have now put the country at risk of a power shortage at the worst time.
The most recent decision came in June of 2011 following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Coming to the climax of a hard election campaign, leaders of every political party took a stand: No nuclear power plants. It was not without detractors. Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi, then a Pheu Thai Party spokesman, warned that if electricity shortages loomed, the public should not complain.
Politicians have that unique property of turning shame into the blame of others. The public not only has a right to complain, it has a legitimate case. By his own words, Mr Plodprasop knew that an energy shortage would occur. Blaming the public for his own and his government's shortcomings is both shocking and disappointing.
This newspaper noted the lack of a national energy policy years ago, and then again as Ms Yingluck prepared to assume office. Last week, however, she, Mr Plodprasop and other ministers were treating this grave failure with light, token photo ops _ ministers in shirt sleeves, the premier in a tuk-tuk, appeals to the public to be just a little warmer in the hot season to conserve energy.
Even these token steps have no apparent goal or explanation. Is the country to turn up the air-conditioning thermostats, and if so to what temperature? Is a show of sleeves even necessary? Citizens are hardly so daft as to wear heavy clothing as the weather grows hotter.
What they deserve, however, is a government working on comprehensive steps to deal with the growing demand for energy. What they received last week, with no end in sight, is sound bites. No wonder conservationists and environmental groups are concerned. They see the government exploiting a so-called emergency to spark a stampede of rubber-stamped bills through parliament to build power plants that are dirty, ill-placed and use the wrong fuel.
That assumes, however, a conspiracy of the type this government seems incapable of producing. The simpler explanation is that Ms Yingluck and ministers have repeatedly kicked the energy issue down the road. They have hoped inexplicably and irresponsibly that it would disappear or solve itself. Mr Plodprasop's attempt to blame the country for the government's failure is as unsustainable as the coal-fired power plants the energy minister proposes to build at top speed.
Ms Yingluck and ministers must explain how they will guide the country through the so-called April crisis, when the Yadana gas fields in Myanmar shut briefly for maintenance. Then they must explain how citizens and businesses can help to conserve energy. The government, of course, must lead in all conservation efforts; no citizen can be expected to take energy-saving steps if the government won't lead by example. After that, Ms Yingluck should lead or direct a mission to produce a national energy policy. Such a programme is long overdue.