The cabinet has agreed in principle to grant all provincial governors authority broadly equivalent to that of a company CEO, as part of the government's decentralisation policy.
The Move Forward Party (MFP), the main opposition party, and some critics, however, have expressed doubts as to whether the claimed decentralisation matches more widely accepted international definitions.
According to the cabinet-approved proposal, provincial governors will be authorised under Section 53 of the 2022 royal decree on integrated area-based administration to conduct performance appraisals of executive senior civil servants in their provinces, raise their salaries, offer special rewards and also take disciplinary action against them when necessary.
Submitted by the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) at the mobile cabinet meeting in Nong Bua Lam Phu on Monday, the proposal targets a start date during the 2025 fiscal year, from Oct 1, 2024, said a source.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) would be introduced to measure provincial achievements and aid government decisions on budget allocation and development plans, said the source.
Provinces were also instructed on Monday to map out a 20-year provincial development outlook, as well as provide details of current annual development plans, said the source.
The Ministry of Interior, meanwhile, was assigned by the cabinet to compile the data received in order for the Budget Bureau to incorporate the provinces' development plans into its distribution of the state budget.
All provincial governors will be formally briefed on the exact scope of their new authority and how to execute their new duties in accordance with the decree, said the source.
In a debate on Sept 12, MFP list-MP Parit Wacharasindhu labelled the "CEO" idea, which formed part of the government policy statement delivered by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, as nothing more than a rehash of a Thai Rak Thai Party policy from two decades ago.
As these new-style governors would not be elected by people in their provinces, the policy should not be seen as pro-decentralisation, said Mr Parit.
The essence of decentralisation is that it empowers people to determine their future by electing their own leaders to champion their rights and lead the development of their communities, he said.
Mr Parit had also accused the Srettha administration of reneging on an earlier pledge to pilot elections for provincial governors in a select number of areas.
The ruling party owes its voters an explanation, he said.
For Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, the policy would likely not succeed if administrative power has already been decentralised to some extent to the provincial and tambon administrative organisations.
Unlike 20 years ago when the Thai Rak Thai Party introduced this very same policy, provincial governors nowadays hold far less power, he said.
The only possible way to succeed would be for the government to instead turn these governors into the coordinators of the existing local administrative bodies, he said.
"What is missing and crucial for making power decentralisation successful is work integration among the existing local administrative bodies and provincial offices of other ministries in each province," he said.
"Integrated administration doesn't really exist at the provincial level," he said.