Urgent reforms urged on three fronts

Economy February 26, 2014 00:00

By Pichaya Changsorn
The Nation

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Chula calls for anti-graft measures, end to rice policy and energy sector restructuring

Chulalongkorn University yesterday urged Thailand to urgently implement three necessary reforms involving corruption, the rice-pledging scheme and the energy industry.
President Pirom Kamolratanakul yesterday led his academic team in outlining the preliminary results of research work commenced four months ago following the heightening of political tensions in the country. 
The university had picked 14 reform topics including five whose initial studies have been completed, including a “violence watch” monitoring system and “hate speech”.
Pirom said violence had increased in the country. The latest casualties were youths. As an institution with a pool of academics in every field, it would like to help remind people to be conscious and impart wisdom to society, through its academic work, rather than come out to call on conflicting parties to go by its recommendations. That has proved to be futile, he said.
Naruemon Thabchumpon, the political science lecturer who conducted the “violence watch” study, said violence has continued to mount with increased severity of weapons used in the incidents. The targets have also moved more toward ordinary people who join the protests and extended to the vicinity of protest zones.
“Violence is no longer limited to the protest zones and this is quite worrisome because [victims can] include people who just come to listen to the speeches [of the protest leaders] or shoppers. They are not people who come to face off or do battle [with the authorities],” she said.
The emergency degree has helped escalate the violence because it has raised distrust and eliminated the chances of both parties to see each other face to face, since the protest leaders fear they could be caught by police, he said. 
Thani Chaiwat, the economics lecturer who took on the corruption study, said a strong monitoring system should be put in place, especially by enhancing public participation. Passage of the Conflict of Interest Act and the amendment of the Competition Act should be pushed forward.
While traditional corruption depends on unfair discretion, “policy corruption” involves conflicts of interest, which create monopolies such as in the cases of energy and telecommunication policies and trade liberalisation, he said.
Public representatives 
Bundhit Eua-arporn, director of the Energy Research Institute, said the research team suggested to add representatives from the public and academia to the National Energy Policy Committee and its subcommittees, to strengthen their role and enhance the independence of regulatory bodies. 
A regulatory body should be set up to govern the petroleum industry. Restructuring of the industry was needed to allow more competition, especially by offering third-party access to the country’s natural gas pipeline and electricity transmission grids.
The energy study had found that retail oil prices here were at “acceptable levels”, though they were not cheap since the country has to import 90 per cent of its oil. 
Bundhit told The Nation that his studies also found that electricity and natural gas for vehicle prices were reasonable, but he did not study the prices of liquefied petroleum gas so he could not comment on them.
Regarding rice research, Sukanda Luangon Lewis from the Economics Faculty said that for a short-term solution, the government must pay as soon as possible the debts it owes to rice farmers who are suffering from liquidity problems. And for the longer term, it must end the costly pledging scheme and find opportunities for farmers to earn supplementary income. 
It should also promote and offer educational opportunities for farmers’ children so that they can do other jobs or are equipped with appropriate knowhow to develop their rice paddies or grow organic rice or other plants. 
The government should increase research funding, reduce the role of middlemen in dictating prices and provide raw materials and equipment to farmers. 
Pirongrong Ramasoota, the associate professor from the Communications Arts Faculty who researched hate speech, urged the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to stop its “inaction” and take on the media that have helped whip up hate in society.
Teerarat Pantawee, an independent academic on mass communications, said the university should extend its study to cover reform of the national police office because violence has often been linked to weakness in law enforcement.