State enterprise bill passes first reading

State enterprise bill passes first reading

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) yesterday passed its first reading of a bill seeking to enhance the efficiency and transparency of state enterprise agencies.

The bill calls for the setting up of a state enterprises policy committee known as the "superboard" and the establishment of a national holding company to oversee state enterprises.

It also requires the superboard, chaired by the premier, to lay down guidelines for state enterprise operations to ensure compliance with the country’s national economic and social development plan.

While the NLA agreed with the bill’s principles, several members voiced concern over the composition of the superboard because five of the “specialist” members will be handpicked by the cabinet.

They were concerned the specialist posts would be abused by politicians to interfere in a state enterprises’ affairs and called for mechanisms to be put in place to prevent abuse and political intervention.

Besides the prime minister and the five specialist members selected by the cabinet, the others are a deputy prime minister assigned by the PM; the finance minister; two ministers appointed by the cabinet; the finance permanent secretary; the secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board; the Council of State secretary-general; the Budget Bureau director; and the president of the national holding company.

The superboard is required by the bill to map out a strategic plan for state enterprises for submission to the cabinet and propose to the cabinet for consideration proposals on disbanding or merging state enterprises.

The bill also demands better governance and information disclosure to the public and greater transparency in the nomination process of state enterprise board members and in the evaluation of a state enterprise's performance. It calls for an evaluation process to ensure that all state enterprises operate as required.

Deputy Finance Minister Wisudhi Srisuphan gave assurances that the appointment of specialist members by the cabinet would not be tampered with by politicians.

He said the draft law provides clear-cut criteria for the selection of the five specialists and the cabinet would be forced to choose the board members based on the requirements.

He pointed out the potential members would also be screened by a selection committee, saying screening procedures were in place to prevent a conflict of interest and intervention.

As the NLA members debated the merits and the flaws of the draft legislation, state enterprise workers lodged a petition with the NLA president asking the lawmakers to suspend their deliberation and send it back to the cabinet.

Sawit Kaewwan, secretary-general of the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC), said the bill contravened the new constitution due to a lack of public input.

He also claimed the draft law contravened an international agreement of the International Labour Organisation and could violate the rights of certain workers.

He said if the bill was passed into law, the employees of the national holding company to be set up would be deprived of their right to set up a labour union, a right recognised by the constitution.

Currently there are 56 state enterprises with total assets of 11.9 trillion baht employing 425,000 people. Their total revenue in 2015 amounted to 5.1 trillion baht, up from 1.5 trillion in 2004.

If the national holding company is set up, eleven corporatised state enterprises will come under its supervision.

They are  PTT Plc, ToT, CAT Telecom Plc, MCOT Plc, Thai Airways International Plc, Airports of Thailand Plc, the Transport Co, Dhanarak Asset Development Co, (a state enterprise under the Treasury Department), Thailand Post Co and the Syndicate of Thai Hotels & Tourists Enterprises Ltd, and Bangkok Dock Co.

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