THAILAND URGENTLY needs an independent think-tank to analyse public policies and to help settle conflicts between different interested groups, says Pipat Luengnaruemitchai, a global fellow under the 2018 Eisenhower Fellowships .
“Government policies always come with cost since we have to finance them via limited options,” Pipat said.
These options are cutting the budgets for other projects, raising taxes or incurring more debts, said Pipat who was the only person from Thailand joining the 2018 Global Fellows of Eisenhower Fellowships programme, attended recently by 25 fellows from all over the world.
The Thai government has launched shopping schemes for the past three years, claiming that it would boost the economy. But nobody knows whether it did , Pipat said yesterday.
The independent research institution could make a difference because they could dig into an issue objectively without political influence. They could then provide fact and make objective analysis of a project for a public debate before policy makers make a decision
“The role of researchers could help strengthen the check and balance in public administrations as well as accountability,” said Pipat who is also head of private wealth management research at Phatra Securities.
Another key issue on public policies is that free trade or trade protectionism has often resulted in losers and winners, he said.
So policy makers have to weigh the impact on different interested groups. Research institutions could provide analysis and make assessment of the projects and release their findings to the public.
In Thailand, the rich or influential groups who could access political power may have more bargaining power than ordinary people and consumers.
An example is the drafting of the Land Tax bill designed to collect tax from all property owners. Land developers have raisedobjection against it, leading to the government making change to some clauses, but other groups of people may not have such influence, said Pipat.
Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) is the top research centre in the country, however, it depends largely on funding from government projects and this could create conflicts of interest, threatening integrity of the institution, he said .
Pipat was pessimistic about the prospect for creating an independent research institution in Thailand.
Key challenge for creating an independent research institution is the funding. In the US , billionaires, corporates and people donate their money to support such institutions. In Thailand people largely donate money to Buddhist temples, he said.
“But the first thing we can do is to create awareness of its benefits to society,” said Pipat. He foresaw the potential of the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research at Bank of Thailand to analyse public policies.
Apart from creating independent research institutions, Thailand also needs a free press which could pickup the studies done by researchers for public debate. In the US free press plays an important role in publishing researches for public debate.
TDRI has been pushing for the creation of an organisation similar to the Congressional Budget Office in the US where it represents non-partisan views and funded by Congress to make sure that it would not lean towards the Democrats or Republicans, he said.
In the US, there are 100 research institutions, representing all political spectrums; from right to left wings. Thailand does not have such political culture, he added.