PM's flood of anger

PM's flood of anger

As people in Ubon Ratchathani and other flood-ravaged provinces in the Northeast suffer and grieve, the least they can expect from the prime minister is sensitivity to their plight. They should also be able to anticipate adequate emergency relief measures from his administration.

But Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has failed them in both of those respects. Instead, the premier has been busy in the past few days defending himself and rebuking those who have criticised his government's slow response.

Such knee-jerk leadership is a dismal response at a time when the government is facing credible accusations that its failure to remain vigilant and offer timely public warnings exacerbated the flood crisis.

Late last week, as victims in the Northeast were bearing the brunt of flooding, Gen Prayut was visiting a tourism festival on the resort island of Koh Samui in the South, where he was pictured cooking at a stove. Observers questioned his sense of priorities, pointing out he should have been at the disaster scenes in flood-hit areas. Only by witnessing the scale of the crisis in person could he organise effective response measures.

Since Monday, the premier's chief response appears to have taken the form of anger at his critics. He also lashed out at those who blamed the flooding on the government.

Things got worse on Monday when he redirected his ire to target flood victims and other people calling for cash handouts from his administration. He rebuked them for not understanding the bureaucratic procedures of fund disbursement and for being addicted to freebies.

Yesterday, he was still insisting that relief funds could not be disbursed immediately as regulations had to be adhered to. The premier is simply demonstrating that he prioritises red tape over the needs of flood-hit citizens.

Clearly, the PM has failed to think outside the box and comprehend that the victims need immediate help. Thirty-two people have died and up to 400,000 households are under water in flooding that has ravaged 32 provinces since late August. The suffering is deep and widespread. Victims have no food, no drinking water and no roofs to sleep under. The cabinet could use the state central emergency fund to boost the relief budget but has failed to do so.

The poor response of the state forced actor Bin Bunluerit to call for public donations that reached more than 230 million baht as of yesterday. His act spurred the government to launch its own fundraising event on television last night.

When the waters finally recede, the government will have to come up with compensation programmes and other measures. In order to do this properly, Gen Prayut needs to understand exactly what his government has done wrong. And he could start by listening to the critics.

Many have pointed out that the state failed to deliver timely warnings, leaving people with insufficient time to prepare and/or evacuate. The flood response was also criticised for being highly centralised, making it hard for local administration organisations to help. Moreover, mixed messages from the government have created confusion among the public.

Many also blame the government's National Water Resources Office for failures in monitoring water levels, delivering warnings and executing relief measures. A review of how this agency operated during the recent flooding is urgently needed.

The core lesson of this calamity, however, is that people in the flood-ravaged areas need an efficient leader, not an angry, defensive old man.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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