Govt, business alliances silence locals' voices
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Except, this time, it is even more of the same than before. Let me elaborate.
Karen villager Wasana Nasuanborisut was blinded as a result of lead poisoning caused by a mine in Klity Lang village in Kanchanaburi. Despite opposition to mining nationwide, a new law will give more power to bureaucrats to grant mining concessions. Patipat Janthong
When Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha led the coup on May 22 last year, he set as his goals political reconciliation, political and social reform and the elimination of corruption.
It is still too early to pass judgement on whether those goals have been met. But indications so far appear to be negative on all fronts.
Politically, the Prayut regime is fending off charges of persecuting ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party following her impeachment by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
We may recall that the governments under the Shinawatra clan had been accused of perpetuating parliamentary tyranny, which, ironically enough, eventually brought their downfall.
Under the Prayut regime, we have the NLA, which has military personnel as about half of its members. Gen Prayut could argue until he is red in the face that he exerts no influence over NLA members, but few people would believe him.
On the social side, things may not seem as volatile; however, the undercurrent of discontent is palpable.
When Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister, he was criticised for running the country like a CEO running a company and treating the country’s assets as if they were his own.
Now we have a man holding absolute power over all state matters. Gen Prayut has recruited many from the armed forces to help him run the country, which was perhaps to be expected.
But he has also befriended many in the bureaucracy and the business sector. This is an alarming development because it has become increasingly clear that the military-industrial-bureaucratic complex has taken root and has a firm hold on the country at the expense of civil society.
Practically all decisions are now made at the top, leaving little room for those lower down the pecking order to play a role. Policies are seen as being made mainly to benefit the industrial and business sectors. An example of this is the favourable treatment afforded to mining companies.
The regime is currently considering a new minerals act that reportedly would give it total authority to grant mining concessions to bureaucrats, bypassing any oversight by the political sector, independent organisations or civic groups concerned.
Like all past governments, the current regime has paid scant attention to complaints that usually accompany mining operations almost everywhere in the country. Outcries over environmental damage, loss of livelihood and negative health impacts on local populations seem to have been lost in the corridors of power traversed by the men in uniforms and dark suits.
Likewise, the energy industry has been a major beneficiary of government largesse. The 21st round of petroleum concession bidding is set to be concluded in mid-February, despite the fact that the government-appointed National Reform Council has advised against it.
Meanwhile, many proposed development projects have raised suspicions that taxpayers’ money is once again being put at risk.
This kind of thing is nothing new; however, it is definitely worse than we could have imagined.
When Yingluck Shinawatra launched a 350-billion-baht water-management project without public input, many of us thought it was poorly thought out and too expensive.
Well, guess what? The irrigation chief recently revealed that a water-management plan was about to be approved with a price tag of 900 billion baht. It’s amazing how the cost of things suddenly skyrockets when you think you can get away with it.
And while we all can agree on the need to overhaul our rail infrastructure, it’s curious that discussions with China and Japan over projects to construct two new rail lines mainly have the industrial sector in mind.
Indeed, one of them will serve the Dawei industrial estate project in Myanmar which was initiated by Thaksin himself.
When you get right down to it, the only difference between this government and the one it replaced is that one held the tyranny of parliament and the other holds that of the gun.
So, eight months on under this regime, there’s not much to speak of on the reconciliation front, as the red shirts are still fuming in the wake of Ms Yingluck's impeachment.
On the reform front, people have been left wondering what shape the process will take as the military regime has sent a message that it is under no obligation to abide by recommendations coming out of the NRC.
On the anti-corruption front, there is no evidence yet to suggest that the national scourge has been tamed.
Unfortunately, it is clear that, as the government pushes on with its current political and social trajectory, the undercurrent of discontent will surface.
What direction it will take is anybody’s guess.
Wasant Techawongtham is former News Editor, Bangkok Post.
Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.