Less-than-impressive scorecard

Less-than-impressive scorecard

Representatives of the private sector have reservations about the government's six-month performance

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited Suvarnabhumi airport to address the novel coronavirus outbreak, one of the key issues faced by the government.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited Suvarnabhumi airport to address the novel coronavirus outbreak, one of the key issues faced by the government.

A perfect storm is set for the second Prayut Chan-o-cha government as it braces for a censure debate near the end of this month amid a host of downside risks at home and abroad.

The cabinet has set a schedule of Feb 25 to 27 for the no-confidence debate in parliament, with a vote on the censure motion on Feb 28, Gen Prayut said last Tuesday.

The cabinet settled on dates that mean the debate will finish before the House is scheduled to go into recess on Feb 29, the prime minister said.

The opposition had earlier called for the debate to begin on Feb 19 or sooner.

Representatives of the private sector have reserved their opinions of the government's performance since it has been in office for about six months.


Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said the government did not have a clear chance to prove its economic capability during the past six months, as it had to solve a handful of crises that cropped up.

Moreover, internal conflicts within the coalition government have stirred up some trouble for the economic environment, especially continuous delays in fiscal 2020 budget disbursement that slow down public expenditure.

During these tough times when international tourism markets are weaker than usual, spending by government agencies should be a dependable income source for the private sector.

"During the first six months, the government was tripping over its own feet because of internal conflicts," Ms Supawan said. "Sure, there are some noticeable developments, yet it is hard to please everybody.

"The key issue is a lack of communication, such as when the baht was stronger, related agencies should have assured us with more information about what they were doing to curb the losses."

In terms of crisis management, the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak has prompted the government to release aid measures for the tourism industry. But this might not be enough for the longer term, as consequences are expected to amplify starting from next month -- especially if the pandemic spreads further.

The strengthening baht and US-China trade row are pressing concerns that Thailand has faced in the past six months.

"I would like to give the government another six months to improve their performance," Ms Supawan said. "Right now, the situation makes it hard for them to move on at a faster pace."

Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said that in evaluating the six-month performance of the Prayut government, he would award a passing score with remarks that a lot of points need to be improved.

"I will let the government pass by a hair's breadth, as we have seen a lot of efforts to retain tourism growth amid the crisis," he said. "But while those challenges, led by the coronavirus impact, are suffocating local operators, the government has to work harder and come up with more effective and practical measures to prevent a further slump."

Dillip Rajakarier, Minor International group chief executive, said the government should be more proactive in dealing with crises, especially the coronavirus pandemic that has been hampering the tourism industry.

Mr Rajakarier expects the government to roll out all necessary and reliable measures, especially a strategy to win back tourism confidence.

"Because bad news travels fast, the government should beware of communication which can influence the decision of travellers," he said.

For example, at the beginning of the epidemic, when a top executive in the government reportedly admitted that the country could not stop the virus from spreading, this message suddenly sent shock waves of panic through the international community.

But the impact of the coronavirus is not as big a threat to the tourism industry in Thailand when compared with the closure of two airports during the nation's 2008 political crisis.

Issara Boonyoung, honorary president of the Housing Business Association, said that overall the government has been able to steer the House of Representatives forward despite a marginal majority.

There are, however, a host of negative factors making it harder for the government to do its job.

The headwinds Thailand has to face include the global economic slowdown, the country's sluggish economy, the prolonged US-China trade war, domestic political problems, drought conditions and now the coronavirus pandemic.

"The government has attempted to drive the economy with many measures, but the economy is not in a positive trend, as external and internal factors have dampened economic outlook," Mr Issara said.

Meanwhile, Phanid Maneerattanaporn, director of the construction and administrative department at homebuilder Landy Home Thailand Co, said people in the provinces are the most worried because they face many problems.

"The economic slowdown and the drought make things very difficult for them," he said. "The government should do anything to help them, rather than playing political games."

Bus riders wear face masks for protection against dust particles. Somchai Poomlard


Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), said the coalition government should seek more cooperation with political parties to reduce internal conflicts and mobilise government policies smoothly.

"It's been almost a year after the general election, but the FTI has seen many conflicts in the coalition administration because each party has its own policies, but we have yet to witness how those policies can be pushed forward for the country's economy," he said.

The FTI wants clear-cut economic policies for the government to promote.

"For the automotive industry, the government should push electric vehicles (EVs) because it is the inevitable trend for eco-friendlier mobility, so the government should listen to opinions from companies planning to invest in EVs," Mr Supant said.

The FTI also wants a long-term plan for economic development because it will help the business sector make decisions in alignment with the government's roadmap.

"The government has launched short-term measures such as many stimulus packages, but that approach is not sustainable," Mr Supant said.

Visit Limlurcha, president of the Thai Food Processors' Association, said the business sector wants to see the government's stimulus packages beef up the country's economy in the long run.

"Now, we see only short-term measures to solve problems on a case-by-case basis," he said. "We also agree with these measures, but they will not boost the country's economy to grow in the future."

For the agricultural sector, the government aims to upgrade traditional to modern farming in line with the smart farming concept.

"The government should have strategies to promote and help local farmers during the transition period, but it should change slowly because most local farmers are familiar with traditional methods with low accessibility for higher technology and know-how, including higher expenses for new machinery," Mr Visit said.

He said the government should find ways to promote important farm products of Thailand with marketing plans for farmers and how to develop such projects for future achievement.

The business sector wants to see this project create incomes for local farmers, not for large companies.

"All we have seen is the government's efforts to solve the country's economy under the pressure of the global economy," Mr Visit said. "It is not easy for every leader amid the bearish situation from both external and internal risks."

Ghanyapad Tantipipatpong, chairwoman of the Thai National Shippers' Council, refrained from commenting on the government's performance, saying only that officials should focus on strengthening domestic economic growth and the competitiveness of Thai entrepreneurs, particularly for exporters who are instrumental to the country's prosperity.

According to Ms Ghanyapad, the competitiveness of Thai entrepreneurs has been weakened significantly because of the baht's continued strength and relatively higher production costs than those of other countries, notably Vietnam.

"The government should focus on tackling the root cause of the problem, not the end," she said. "The government's attention should be placed on addressing existing laws and regimes that are still deemed hurdles to the ease of doing business. State investment, meanwhile, should be made with speed and maximum effectiveness, not only to provide convenience to people, but also to lower production costs."

Ms Ghanyapad said Thailand already has in place a 20-year national strategy plan as the nation's long-term development goal. But strategies are yet unclear on how to develop and upgrade the country's agricultural effectiveness and handle climate change and environmental issues, which are expected to result in more serious natural disasters such as drought and toxic haze.

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