FORMER finance chief Somchai Sujjapongse’s abrupt resignation has caught the government’s economic management team off-guard as he was seen as the best person to orchestrate the upcoming 20-year national development agenda.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday he would not stop Somchai’s surprise resignation.
Finance Minister Apisak Tantiworavong; Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, head of the economic team; and PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool were not prepared for Somchai’s sudden decision.
Somkid earlier told a close aide that Apisak had already reached a good understanding with Somchai, the then-finance permanent secretary, on his transfer to be the new secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB).
The NESDB is tasked with coordinating all ministries and government agencies in implementing the new national strategic development agenda for the next government.
Still, Somchai tendered his resignation after the Cabinet approved his transfer on Tuesday. As a result, top economic ministers are now searching for a new candidate to fill the vacant post.
Somchai reportedly quit to protest his transfer from the finance ministry.
Asked if he would intervene over Somchai’s resignation, Prayut said he would not and that there was no worry about a potential rift between Cabinet members and top-ranking bureaucrats.
While Prayut had not yet seen the resignation letter, he said he would not ask Somchai to reconsider.
“If there is any [rift], then it’s because of the media,” an annoyed Prayut told a reporter.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet also approved the transfer of Porametee Vimolsiri, incumbent secretary general of the NESDB, to be permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.
Porametee will replace Puttipat Lertchaowasit as permanent secretary while Puttipat faces charges of alleged corruption.
On Somchai’s qualifications, sources said the former finance permanent secretary was the best choice to be the new NESDB chief as he needs to work closely with ministries and other government agencies on the long-range national strategic agenda.
As the new NESDB chief, Somchai would also work closely with Prayut, who has hailed the new development blueprint as a crucial cornerstone for future governments.
Meanwhile, Minister of Social Development and Human Security, General Anataporn Kanjanarat, said yesterday that Somchai’s resignation should not affect the appointment of Porametee as new permanent secretary at the ministry.
Anataporn said Porametee is qualified to be the new permanent secretary to lead work on helping children, women, elderly and disabled persons. A competent outsider was needed for the top post following the internal corruption scandal, so Porametee was chosen, he said.
Meanwhile, Thanawat Polvichai of the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce, said Somchai’s decision should be respected by all concerned and he expressed confidence that there would be a suitable replacement for the top NESDB post within a month.
Thanawat said the top NESDB post is crucial to national development planning even though some see it as less powerful than the post of finance permanent secretary.