Govt gifts are of little worth
Like previous governments before it, the Prayut Chan-o-cha government has come up with a raft of "seasonal gifts" to make people happy during the festive period, starting this week.
The gifts are from four major ministries -- Transport, Interior, Energy and Natural Resources and the Environment.
Some are the same old freebies handed out every New Year, as well as, at the Songkran festival, disguised in new wrappers. They include the waiver of expressway and tollway fees, which are aimed at facilitating travel for those leaving Bangkok for the provinces. State-run electric rail operators are extending service times, while fares for the MRT Purple Line are being reduced.
The Energy Ministry proposed a one-baht per litre discount on biodiesel B10 and gasohol E20 from Dec 25 to Jan 10 and a price freeze on other petrol until Jan 2. It also promises to freeze fuel tariff (FT) rates from January until April.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry proposed cutting interest rates at government-owned pawnshops, as well as improving services such as land surveys, for instance, which are to be completed within 50 days.
On the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's gift list is a promise to speed up land allocation to those in need, in addition to free admission to learning centres under its jurisdiction.
The idea of giving gifts is all right, but it would be much better if the government focused on gifts with long-term impacts instead of short-term treats.
In fact, all ministries and state agencies can give valuable gifts to the public by improving their daily operations and making sure that principles such as good governance, integrity and justice are well-observed. The FT freeze, for instance, should not just mean a four-month price freeze. Instead, all stakeholders should be involved to make the FT calculation process more transparent and fair for all.
It is important that the Prayut government refrain from unethical practices, such as abuse of power, and make more effort to tackle real world problems like poverty and income disparity. While the government has launched a number of poverty-combatting schemes over the past few years, none have made much of a difference as none tackle the root cause of the problems. As a result, disparities remain a big problem.
The Prayut administration needs to look back at the promises it made when it was in the process of forming a coalition in July. It promised to prioritise measures aimed at tackling economic inequality. So far, it has given only lip service, which explains why there has been no real progress.
The Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research (Pier), a think-tank under the Bank of Thailand, recently released a report which superbly reflects inequality in Thailand.
According to the report, one-third of Thai bank account holders have a balance below 500 baht, while the combined deposits of the top 10% of depositors account for 93% of all deposits held by commercial banks in Thailand.
In responding to people's needs, the government needs to start looking beyond short-term "painkillers". The current socio-economic structure, which has widening disparities, needs to drastically change. In politics, the government must prove that it is fair and ensure that justice is served, so Thailand can avoid the violent confrontations which has plagued it in the past few decades.
That would be the most valuable gift the government could ever give to Thais.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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