Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha recently sent an open letter to the country's top 20 moguls asking them to develop projects to help those suffering from economic hardship.
He discussed the letter during a televised address on Friday, inviting the upper crust to join his so-called "Team Thailand" to get the economy moving again. Critics misinterpreted the statement, lambasting him for "begging for money" from the rich.
In his letter, Gen Prayut denied the allegations, saying he wanted the rich to do more to ease the suffering of the masses. The premier called on them to propose tangible projects in writing by next week on how they can help more.
Requesting the captains of industry to help the country during a crisis is not wrong. In fact, he should have gone farther, asking that more people on the top of the national wealth pyramid pitch in.
It is indisputable that many business moguls have long reaped the benefits of crony capitalism. They have utilised greater resources in the country to create wealth, inevitably widening the inequality gap.
Thailand is among the 10 most unequal countries for wealth distribution. The top 20% of people own 80% of the wealth. Many studies have noted the country's extreme concentration of economic power.
Some of them have enjoyed the advantages of the political patronage system.
Gen Prayut's letter focusing on the 20 top wealthiest individuals implied the existence of Thailand's huge income gap. Still, it does not necessarily mean that these billionaires are villains. They have contributed greatly to the country and the economy, created a large number of jobs and developed many social projects.
But now is the time for them to pay their good fortunes forward. Even if every one of them allocated a billion baht, it would hardly affect their extreme wealth.
The Chinese ancestors of several billionaire dynasties successfully established business empires in Thailand without state support.
They have contributed a lot socially and economically.
As these super-rich possess great economic influence and expertise, inviting them to take part in the government's efforts to alleviate the effects of Covid-19 does more good than harm.
Unfortunately, Gen Prayut has given them an unclear signal for providing assistance. In his letter, Gen Prayut asked the billionaires to propose their own projects to help.
Some billionaires promptly responded. Dr Prasert Prasattong-Osoth, co-founder of Bangkok Dusit Medical Service and the country's 11th richest person, for example, said he planned to spend 100 million baht helping local officials dig ponds, waterways and artesian wells in Sukhothai province, where his business is located.
His planned project is good in and of itself, but if these billionaires take on problems individually and without a mutual direction, their efforts will fail to enact change.
Imagine if each billionaire offers 100 million baht to develop their own project. How can 20 projects with 2 billion baht in total funding address the needs of the 10 million people whose jobs are imperiled?
These business moguls should be called up to brainstorm how to help solve structural problems. They should focus on business continuity, not only for themselves, but also their suppliers and related supply chains. And they should all have the same underlying goal -- how to keep people at work and shore up those who are already out of a job.