Jury's out on coup's dividends
"I used to pay 30% in bribes for every project, now I only pay 15%. That is pretty good! especially considering that nowadays, unlike before, once you pay you are done," says Julpas Kruesopon.
That is one of the very tangible dividends of the coup, said Mr Julpas, an adviser to former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in a candid discussion of the post-May 2014 economy.
Prinn Panitchpakdi, country head of CLSA Securities Thailand, said that use of the word dividend in the context of the coup was particularly appropriate.
"Coming from an investment banking background the word dividend has a very particular meaning: it is the portion of a company's earnings that is distributed to shareholders." Just as shareholders expect an earning from stock by the end of the year, so too he suggested, we should expect an earning from our governments, Mr Prinn said yesterday at a Foreign Correspondent Club Forum.
So, what was the dividend? In one word, stability. While the military junta has to a large extent failed to use its discretionary powers to improve the country's business environment, it has provided a stability long absent in the body politic. "Now people know who has the power, and they know that if you are at odds with that power there will be consequences," said Mr Julpas.
If the junta has failed it is because it has not used its power aggressively enough, he said. "Sure some things have gone right, but I can't believe the government hasn't had the ability to jail Yingluck. My view is, if you are going to have a coup -- let's have a coup! You know, Trump would trade Melania for Section 44. Let's use it to the greatest extent of the law," he said.
The stability is there it is just that the junta has not done enough to improve the image of the country abroad. It has yet to show foreign investors that it is saying what it does and doing what it says.
"Donald Trump has bad PR -- and I say this because I worked for him a couple of years -- but the junta has horrible PR," Mr Julpas added.
Mr Prinn agreed that the coup has brought more stability, but was sceptical of the specific achievements of the junta. As a citizen, you have to be able to cut through the rhetoric; there is a lot of PR in the administration that doesn't track economic definitions, he said.
"I am worried by terms like S curve and Thailand 4.0", he said. "Once you get down to details there is very little that is digital and there are very few specifics."
"Few actions have backed the government's words," said Mr Prinn. "There is a lot of talk about wanting to encourage fintech, for example. The SEC said it wanted to license fintech companies, but so far it has awarded a single licence. The Bank of Thailand is a similar story -- and this is three years that we are talking about! The state is simply not promoting startups the way it claims to be doing," he said.
Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul largely agreed with Mr Julpas's assessment but said the real payoff would come after the election. When people choose their representatives and either confirm or oust the junta -- that's when the real outcome of the coup will tell, he said.