Economy, equality and climate top 2020 wish list
Dawn of a new decade brings renewed hope that politicians can shed their tainted image and work together to solve both domestic and global problems
With 2020 upon us, boosting the grassroots economy, a depreciation of the baht and a clear vision for the country's digital economy are on many businesses' wish lists this year.
However, among civic groups and the public, there are hopes that corrupt politicians will be sternly dealt with, ethnic minorities will receive a fairer deal and climate change will be prioritised.
Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the government should inject capital into the grassroots economy and SMEs, and speed up tax refunds to help businesses increase liquidity.
"I suggest the government agencies organise seminars in secondary cities to invigorate those local economies," he said.
Charoen Laothamatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said the government should devalue the baht because its 8% appreciation has hit rice exports hard, especially when faced with Vietnam's stable currency.
"In 2019, our rice exports are expected to fall from 9.5 to 7.8 million tonnes. I hope that the baht will depreciate to 32 baht per US dollar," he said.
When asked about the currency dipping below 30 baht per dollar on Dec 30, Mathee Supapongse, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Thailand, said better market conditions and more balanced flows will resume after the New Year holidays.
Panachit Kittipanya-ngam, president of the Thailand Tech Startup Association, pointed to the need for a plan to work out the nation's transition towards a more digital economy over the next five to 10 years.
"We need a tangible strategic plan like Singapore and South Korea," he said. "It should be short and clear, so people can understand where the country is heading and what they should do, as well as how they can connect with others professionally using new platforms," he said.
Mr Panachit cited Singapore's example of announcing plans to export accounting and legal services across Asia ahead of time.
"People in these fields know they will need to learn foreign languages," he said, adding this strategy gives everyone time to prepare for the transition.
"We have to think and find ways to be more competitive. We can't just take the easiest path. Identical grilled pork ball stalls along the same road won't cut it any more," he said.
He expressed concern some workers were still reluctant to use tools such as Seekster, a job matching application, for fear of having to step out of their comfort zone.
Nattaphon Suepsakwong, the first Hmong MP and member of the Future Forward Party, said he hopes the government will improve its attitude towards ethnic minority groups and tackle the problem of forest encroachment in accordance with their way of life.
"The Forest Community Bill, which took effect on Nov 25, requires us to register our whereabouts within 240 days, otherwise we will be legally 'invisible'. Moreover, we have to renew our entitlement every 20 years. This will entrap and dispossess us of our homes. Prior to this law, we owned them de facto even though we didn't have documents to prove it," he said.
Chalida Tajaroensuk, the director of the People's Empowerment Foundation, said her group is calling on the government to behave transparently in its handling of all cases, especially the alleged forest land encroachment of Palang Pracharath Party MP Pareena Kraikupt.
"I don't have personal bias, but the government is perceived to be acting in favour of Ms Pareena. I demand that the government treat her like an ordinary person under the same law. Otherwise, it will backfire on her and the government," she said.
Moreover, Ms Chalida urged the government to protect illegal Thai workers abroad, such as the "little ghosts" in South Korea.
"If they work here, they can't earn more than 15,000 baht due to our stagnant economy. But if they take chances abroad, they can earn 50,000-70,000 baht and send money back to their family members," she said.
Meanwhile, Nanticha Ocharoenchai, an environmental activist and founder of Climate Strike Thailand, said she hopes politicians end their war of words and join forces to tackle the climate crisis.
"I know that politics is complex, but I wish they would stop bickering and fighting for power because time is running out for climate action," she said.
Ms Nanticha said she wants green space and clean air because Bangkok falls short compared to other major cities.
"When I see anything green, it makes me feel human. I want to live in a city where I see lush parks in every five minutes, not stumble on broken pavements," she said.
Penchom Saetang, the director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand, urged the government to step up measures to tackle air pollution as metal and plastic factories continue to release particulate matters.
"The authorities must enforce environmental rules with an iron fist. Moreover, Thailand should adopt the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register so the public can see the pollutants emitted by each factory," she said.