Further updated: Innovation missing in plagiarized policy making

28 12 2010

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij felt moved to write to the Bangkok Post to defend the Abhisiti Vejjajiva government’s Pracha Wiwat scheme as “not populist”! Readers will recall that PPT commented on this scheme and an avalanche of other pay increases, handouts and so on, when we asked what had happened to all of the academic and political critics of “populism.”

A bit of innovation and then a cuppa

There has now been some relatively muted criticism, and Korn is commenting on an editorial in the Bangkok Post that was published a couple of days after PPT’s post. It stated: “No one disputes the need to help the needy. But what is needed are long-term, sustainable strategies to close the country’s social and economic divide, not stopgap measures that smack of political expediency.” It pointed out that Pracha Wiwat alone impacts more than half of the population. The Post states:

One may be forgiven for feeling a sense of dejavu. Ten years ago, Thaksin Shinawatra swept to power under the Thai Rak Thai banner with promises such as a debt moratorium for farmers and low-interest microfinance programmes for the poor. During the Thaksin administration, Mr Abhisit and his finance minister, Korn Chatikavanij, were vituperous critics of such schemes, labelling them as little more than well-marketed, populist programmes that traded off financial prudence for political pandering to special interest groups. The Democrat Party, then in opposition, also fiercely attacked the financing of such policies through state-owned banks as poor public governance by bypassing the parliamentary budget system.

Strange then to see Mr Abhisit and Mr Korn today tapping similar tactics and effectively putting old wine in a new bottle. It is hard to understand what has changed to make what was once populist, undemocratic and poor policies become sound development strategies today.

Korn’s response is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is in his definition of “populist policies” as “policies that are largely created by politicians, designed chiefly to win votes but are unsustainable and cause a heavy budgetary burden.” He rejects this account of his policies by referring to “process” that would also exempt Thaksin and the Thai Rak Thai Party from claims that it was “populist.”

Oddly, though, his comments bear little relationship with his own definition of populist, when he says: “It is new and is designed to created a ”total government” policy-making process that overcomes the age-old problems of departmental and ministerial compartmental approach. Most public issues require the involvement of a number of government agencies. Traditionally, these agencies will work independently from each other, sometimes at cross-purposes and often using different sets of data and assumptions.”

He then says that the “prime minister conceived of the Pracha Wiwat process where, upon his command, all relevant agencies were brought under one roof, literally, to work until a credible proposal was found. The Pracha Wiwat process started with the government listening to the needs of the people, prioritising their needs and posing them as problems requiring solutions.”Apart from making Abhisit appear king-like in issuing commands, the process still sounds remarkably similar to that employed by TRT prior to its election and then when in government.

Korn adds: “The government then ‘invited’ around 80 officials and academics from 30 agencies to work full time on these problems.” PPT wonders if there is any significance to “invited” being in quotation marks – was it another semi-royal command? These 80 were “provided with full facilities at the Government Centre, Chaeng Watthana and were encouraged to talk directly with the target groups. The prime minister empowered them to think out of the box and to address these problems in a practical and sustainable manner.”

Korn then assures us: “So far, nothing ‘populist’ in this.” Perhaps not, but then this comment would also apply to TRT’s focus groups and surveys in the period when the party developed its policies. For PPT, Korn is simply dissembling or just demonstrating that he has no idea about the nature of TRT’s political innovations.

Then he makes what is for PPT a remarkable claim. He says that the  “civil servants, academics and other interested parties, suddenly given this freedom and power, found a level of creativity that surprised themselves and certainly surprised us.” Apart from sounding like David Cameron, he again shows little knowledge of the TRT innovations that made the party so popular. And, he wants us to see plagiarized processes that produce essentially plagiarized results as innovative.

PPT doesn’t doubt that some good policy might come of repackaging and reconsidering the TRT innovations. Nor do we doubt that there isn’t continuing need for good policy that addresses real needs. But to claim innovation and difference when there is none demonstrated is sounding like the marketing men at work rather than anything else. They are the ones who must sell faux innovation to voters and hope that they ignore guns, censorship, repression and government mendacity.

Update 1: Suthichai Yoon at The Nation is critical of the Pracha Wiwat policies for several reasons, including this yellow-tinged epithet: “Don’t ask me what happened to the ‘sufficiency economy’ policy that the Democrats claimed as one of their top priorities. Don’t ask why they were saying that populism under somebody else was bad because it created grassroots dependency on the powers-that-be, and that it could be so addictive that the withdrawal symptoms could be fatal.”

Update 2: Readers will be interested in the interview in The Nation with Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, “who previously advised former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Now, Sungsidh is chairman of Chandrakasem Rajabhat University’s PhD programme in good governance. Earlier this year, the academic was approached by Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij to help formulate measures that work for the grassroots population.”



3 responses

29 12 2010
Tweets that mention Innovation missing in plagiarized policy making | Political Prisoners in Thailand -- Topsy.com

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by farang gone. farang gone said: RT @IgorC166: Innovation missing in plagiarized policy making | [PPT] http://goo.gl/fYMso #Thailand #politics […]

3 05 2014
Bereft of life on arrival | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] If anyone were to take his “ideas” seriously, then they would notice that many of the items he outlines are plagiarized from others – as you’d expect from a serial plagiarizer. […]

3 05 2014
Bereft of life on arrival | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] If anyone were to take his “ideas” seriously, then they would notice that many of the items he outlines are plagiarized from others – as you’d expect from a serial plagiarizer. […]

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