New cabinet must now prove its worth

The private sector has given the thumbs-up to the economic team of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha led by MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, who was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs.

At the same time, opinion polls show the public in general have confidence in the new government, the same way they indicated approval for the National Council for Peace and Order's (NCPO) quick action on issues such as illegal parking, motorcycle taxi services, illegal gambling, street pavement and forest encroachment, exploitation of foreign migrant workers, overpriced lottery tickets and the dark influence wielded by mafia-like figures.

MR Pridiyathorn Devakula: Leader of the economic team.

However, the issues that were dealt with by the NCPO during the first three months after the May 22 coup, with mixed results, are not the real issues. Economic problems, national reform and reconciliation will test the capability, wisdom, integrity and leadership of the government led by General  Prayuth.

On the economic front, the outlook for the rest of the year does not look promising and this will have an impact on the economic situation next year, unless the government has taken quick action to kick-start the engines that drive the economy.

The GDP growth projection for this year has been again revised, down to 1.5-2 percent according to most research houses, including the Bank of Thailand. Export growth too, which was earlier anticipated to drive the growth engine, has not delivered according to expectations. The forecast now is for a dismal 1.2 percent, against 5 percent growth earlier projected by Kasikorn Research.

There is, however, one sector which can help drive the economy – that is the tourism engine, which has been sputtering due mainly to the imposition of martial law, which has scared away many tourists from Europe and the US. The new government should think about revoking martial law, which could well convince the tourists to return in droves.

The private sector is struggling and hoping that the government will start spending on mega-infrastructure projects, which they hope will give a boost to the slowly recovering economy.

Given the economic challenge and the time constraints, if the interim government is to remain in the office for only one year as stated before the country goes to the polls, the government really has no time for honeymooning.

Fortunately, the NCPO appears to have fully realised this shortcoming. It was reported that the council has already spent more than 350 billion baht from the 2015 fiscal budget on urgent issues and projects such as the outstanding payments owed to rice farmers under the rice pledging scheme, about 90 billion baht, and the flood prevention projects of Bangkok's City Hall.

In his weekly "Returning happiness to the people" address on Friday, Prime Minister Prayuth asked the public and critics not to pre-judge the generals in his cabinet and to give them a chance to prove their worth, with a promise they would be removed if they do not deliver as required.

Former rector of the National Institute of Development Administration Sombat Thamrong Thanyawong questioned whether the generals and civilian bureaucrats in the cabinet have the necessary skills to take a pro-active role in running the country. He also wondered they have the initiative to try something out of the box, since they have been accustomed to taking orders throughout their long careers in government service.

Such comments are not unexpected, and should even be welcomed by the government - which now has the chance to prove the sceptics wrong.

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About the author

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor