PM stumbles into pothole of scandals

What is more embarrassing: A young woman posting a photo of herself "taking a bath" in one of many potholes on the road to her village in Tak to send a sarcastic message for authorities to take action. Or a deputy prime minister spending 20.9 million baht of public money chartering a plane that can carry hundreds of people for his entourage of 38 for a four-day work trip to Hawaii?

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha thought the first incident was appalling.

In a rare display of self-consciousness, Gen Prayut gave a stern warning: "Don't ever let it happen again."

He said the photo of the 22-year-old Thai-Karen woman who successfully got the attention of local authorities regarding the poor condition of the road to her village in the remote Mae Ramat district, was disgraceful.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

The image has reached the United Nations, Gen Prayut complained during his talk on state enterprise policy last week. He said many countries took issue and said the Thai government was obliged to take better care of its people.

"Don't you feel embarrassed?" asked Gen Prayut who had earlier announced he would transform Thailand into a "developed nation" in 20 years.

I don't. Why should Thais feel bad if the UN realises some parts of the country remain underdeveloped despite the government's dreams of high-speed trains and regional connectivity?

Poor roads are a reality in Bangkok, not only in Tak. It's not even among the worst vices this country has to offer. Is Gen Prayut really so sensitive that he feels shame about such a minor incident?

Tak Governor Charoenrit Sa-nguansat offered a better example of how not to be shy about one's own problems. After he learned about the photo, which reflects the villager's misery, the governor ordered the Ma Ramat district chief to take care of the pothole problem.

District chief Wathit Panyakom was far from mortified. He not only sent a team to survey the road in question and ordered its urgent repair but praised the young woman for her creative protest. He even suggested that he would ask the woman, who reportedly works in Bangkok but pursues a degree in non-formal education in her home province, to serve as a spokesperson for the district once she finishes her study.

The young woman, as well as local authorities, would do well in Gen Prayut's vision of Thailand 4.0 in which human creativity and innovation will drive the economy instead of agricultural products and cheap labour.

If Gen Prayut truly understood his vision and was well-versed enough to carry it through, he would have taken the lead from the woman and told people to send information about potholes to designated authorities. He would have instructed officials to set up systems so that they can use the crowd-sourced data -- where potholes are located and how big they are -- to plan a fair and effective solution. He would have told officials to go about addressing the problem and encouraged the public to monitor progress and provide feedback.

That is how a prime minister version 4.0 or 5.0 would have reacted to the situation.

But of course, Gen Prayut is too thin-skinned to face up to the problem. The irony, however, is while he ordered people not to expose the country's woes in such a sarcastic manner again, one scandal after another has cropped up that should make him feel more ashamed than the fact that there are potholes.

Gen Prayut might be irritated but he did not seem very embarrassed by the fact that his nephew set up a company using his father's official residence inside the 3rd Army Region to bid for -- and win -- construction contracts worth more than 97 million baht from the base commanded by his own father. He did not appear too disturbed either that Wichian Puaksom had been tortured to death by military superiors while under military care either.

Gen Prayut promised to wipe out corruption before the end of his term, yet had nothing to say about his sister-in-law using an air force plane for free to transport dozens of her supporters from Bangkok to Chiang Mai where a disproportionately lavish ceremony was held to launch a weir that cost only 7,800 baht.

Gen Prayut chided the young woman who tried to bring attention to the damaged road that has caused so much hardship to people in her village, including accidents and injuries. Yet, he seems unfazed by his deputy's 20.9-million-baht chartered trip which reportedly included an estimated budget of 600,000 baht for food and drinks.

Shame on whom?

About the author

Writer: Atiya Achakulwisut
Position: Columnist for the Bangkok Post