The Srettha Thavisin administration's decision to revive the idea of turning governors into chief executive officers (CEO) of their respective provinces has raised many eyebrows.
The plan, which was announced during a mobile cabinet meeting in Nong Bua Lam Phu in the Northeast on Dec 4, has been met with a lukewarm reaction, at best. In fact, many sympathisers of the ruling Pheu Thai Party are wondering if the "CEO-governor" model, which was first proposed about two decades ago, is still relevant to society today.
Details of the model, which sources say will be rolled out sometime in 2025, remain sketchy. What's clear, however, is that the general format of the model -- which seeks to promote integrated, area-based development -- remains unchanged from the model proposed by the tycoon-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003, when his Thai Rak Thai Party was at its peak.
It is understood that governors will be required to conduct periodic performance appraisals of all executives and senior civil servants in their respective provinces. They are expected to take care, manage and discipline their staff the way private corporations manage their employees.
There will be key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure provincial achievement and aid government decisions on budget allocation and development plans. Each province is to map out a 20-year development outlook, as well as provide details of current annual development plans.
To many, this is just old wine in a new bottle.
Some may argue that the system was implemented over a short period until Thaksin was ousted from power in a coup in 2006, which led to the dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai Party and ultimately, its resurrection as the People's Power Party and Pheu Thai.
When the model was briefly implemented for a trial period in Phuket, Si Sa Ket, Lampang, Chai Nat and Narathiwat, few people could spot the difference in performance between CEO governors and those appointed under the conventional method.
Furthermore, observers wonder what impact the push to reinstate the model will have on the effort to decentralise administration, which is being pushed by the Move Forward Party (MFP).
Many believe the CEO-governor model won't lead to decentralisation as touted by the party, as in its current form the model does not aim to push for local elections of governors.
In fact, MFP MP Parit Wacharasindhu was right in saying that the CEO-governor model is nothing but a tired rehash of an old Thai Rak Thai policy. Without the express goal of having people elect their own representatives at the provincial level, the model cannot be counted as pro-decentralisation.
It would be better if Pheu Thai publishes the result of its studies on the model during the trial period. It should convince the public that the model really works or at least, can make a difference.
Only by achieving genuine decentralisation can the government empower people and support meaningful public participation in the decision-making process.
It should also be noted that some key words like "good governance", "transparency", and bottom-up decision making do not seem to exist in Pheu Thai's vocabulary.
Needless to say, the CEO-governor model is hardly the answer to new challenges faced by the country. Claims by Pheu Thai that the CEO system is part of the push to achieve decentralisation are hypocritical.