Vested interests block meaningful reforms as government remains too vague: Banthoon

business September 26, 2017 01:00

By WICHIT CHAITRONG
THE NATION

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DO NOT EXPECT major government successes in implementing the next major round of reforms, a banking executive has warned.



Banthoon Lamsam, chief executive officer of Kasikornbank, expects a tough road ahead as vested interests may oppose a series of reforms likely to be advocated by 11 committees recently set up by the government. 

“The [proposed] reforms must lead to what have to be changed [to pave the way to allow further reforms],” he said. “If nothing changes, there will be no reform.”

Serious reforms would inevitably affect the old power structure, he said, adding that powerful people were not likely to make the process easy.

Banthoon was recently appointed to a committee tasked with recommending public-sector reforms. The junta government announced members of 11 reform committees and gave them 90 days to recommend changes to the national strategy committee, chaired by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The government also has its “Thailand 4.0 policy”, is a cornerstone of its economic programme. Although the government has said it is developing an economy driven by high technology and innovation, Banthoon said that he did not know what that really meant.

Regarding foreign direct investment and the impacts of disruptive technology, Banthoon said he was afraid that Thailand would lag behind other regional nations.

While Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, and Richard Liu, founder of China’s largest e-commerce company JD.com have promised to invest in Thailand, Banthoon shared concerns about tech giants taking advantage of Thai companies.

“What I fear is that we will only be the customers of the technology companies. If so, they will reap most of benefits,” Banthoon said during a talk show interview with Suthichai Yoon, co-founder of Nation Multimedia Group, on “From Steve Jobs to Jack Ma to Thailand 4.0”.

Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana argued that collaboration with tech companies would benefit the Thai economy.

“We will not let them sell only their products to Thailand. The collaboration will lead to a creation of a ‘smart city’ in the Eastern Economic Corridor,” said Uttama.

The EEC does not on focus on industries alone, but rather has social, education and community aspects, he said.

He said Japan’s External Trade Organisation plans to send another trade mission to scout out opportunities within the EEC after 570 investors recently visited the east coast.

Companies from Germany and the Netherlands have also contacted the Board of Investment as they were looking to invest in the EEC.

“The world is fast changing and we do not have much time – we need to move fast,” said Uttama. “The country needs to change its mindset to have a new skill-set and ecosystem.”

The large number of obsolete laws are slowing down Thailand’s potential economic growth, said Kitipong Urapeepatanapong, chairman of Bangkok’s office of global law firm BakerMckenzie, during a panel discussion on transforming Thailand. But drafting new laws that create a more business-friendly environment is time consuming, he said.

The country needs further de-regulation to help support small companies, said Sethaput Suthiwart-Narueput, managing partner of the Advisor Co.