NRSA under fire as civil servants 'capture' reform
Parties pour scorn on body's mindset
The National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) has been blasted for paving the way for the civil service to spearhead the country's development in the future.
The criticism was made at a forum reviewing the work of the NRSA, held at the Thai Journalists Association Sunday. It was attended by adviser to the Chartthaipattana Party's leader Nikorn Chamnong; deputy Democrat leader Nipit Intarasombat; former deputy secretary-general of the Pheu Thai Party Chavalit Wichayasuthi; and deputy dean of Rangsit University's Social Innovation College Suriyasai Katasila.
Mr Nikorn, who is also a former NRSA member, said about 200 NRSA members, or 70% of the total, come from the civil service, and they are the key players in directing the NRSA's work.
The NRSA's reform recommendations, he said, will be concluded in a report, which will be released at the end of this month, when the assembly's work comes to end. The document will be forwarded to various stage agencies.
It will cover 27 reform agendas under five areas -- state mechanisms, the country's foundation development, future economy, human resources and infrastructure.
The NRSA has put forth 190 issues for reform, 176 of which have been noted by the prime minister, Mr Nikorn said, adding that most concern civil servants.
Only a few issues concern drastic change, and this suggests civil servants do not dare to change much, he said.
He said he believes the NRSA is the regime's tool to test the water on several issues proposed to the public. Some issues, such as elections of village headmen and kamnans and media reforms, drew flak and were finally ditched by the government.
Referring to the 20-year national strategy, he said although the plan can still be adjusted, concerns lie in the the initiator of the strategy, the civil servants.
He said some NRSA members are also expected to sit on the constitution-based panels on national reforms which will proceed with changes to 11 reform areas over the next five years.
Mr Chavalit said the public should have more say in the reforms. After the coup, the civil service took control of everything, and questions should be raised as to whether civil servants are able to seek progress in today's world.
"Today, there is no investment by the private sector, only by the government. It needs to be considered that the civil service system cannot move the country forward," said Mr Chavalit, adding the country would falter if the situation is allowed to carry on.
Mr Nipit said there was no need to set up the NRSA because all the ideas were actually carved out by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
"Thailand is pursuing a quasi-democratic state and this is the way ahead in the next 20 years," said Mr Nipit. "We will not end up with a democratic path because everything has been framed under the constitution and the national strategy bill."
Mr Suriyasai said the NRSA is mobilising efforts to reform, but its capability is limited by the old thinking of civil servants, which has hindered reforms.
"If I have to evaluate NRSA, I have to say that in the past two years, they have been captured by the civil service," said Mr Suriyasai, adding the real power to oversee reforms is likely to lie in the committee for national administration under the frameworks of national reform, national strategy, and reconciliation as well as the cabinet and others.
The reform direction appears to serve the central authorities and reflect no-confidence on politicians, he said. Mr Suriyasai said he was worried that the 20-year national strategy would give wing to the civil service, while civil servants' ideology of reforms and that of the people appear to go in opposite directions.
He suggested political parties run pro-reform campaigns, adding it would be harder for reforms to take shape if there is a lack of cooperation by the parties.
"Calls for reforms originated from public sector, which is a positive sign for Thai politics. But if we turn a blind eye to it, there will be no way out for the country. Questions have now turned to how political parties would initiate the reforms," said Mr Suriyasai.
Meanwhile, the NRSA is hopeful the reform push would see tangible progress from next year. NRSA spokesman Kamnoon Sidhisamarn said the NRSA's achievement included taking over the work from the now defunct National Reform Council (NRC). It has pushed forward 190 issues for national reform.
Meanwhile, the charter stipulates a time frame for the work according to the reform plan.
"A reform may not yield results immediately, but by early August, measures [for the national reforms] will be clearer. And within one year after the promulgation of the constitution, I believe we will see progress," he said.