Govt told to prioritise digital focus

Economy April 29, 2016 01:00

By ACHARA DEBOONME
THE NATION

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A LOT of new ideas emerged at “Startup Thailand 2016”, but the country still needs a truly supportive ecosystem to allow it to ride the “digital economy” trend effectively.



The event that kicked off in Bangkok yesterday featured about 100 booths to inspire nearly 10,000 pre-registered and walk-in visitors who sought innovative business ideas.

But at seminars, information shared by experts from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Israel and India suggested that the government needed to do more to create a supportive ecosystem for start-ups – which runs deeper than just information and funding.

For example, India has a mobile application and portal where start-ups can interact with the government, instead of going to regulatory institutions for different types of permits.

Israel has the same thing to show the government’s true support to the private sector. As a result, annual foreign direct investment to that country has grown from US$200 million in 1991 to $20 billion (Bt700 billion).

In Taiwan, foreign information-technology students are retained through entrepreneur visas.

Teeranun Srihong, president of Kasikornbank, was impressed with the Thai government’s initiative to turn the country into a digital economy. However, he questioned the government’s capacity, fearing that over-stretching may lead to failure.

The government should prioritise the areas in focus and put efforts into those areas, he said.

A single regulatory body should be set up, rather than leaving this task to some economic ministries.

“Let’s make e-commerce the pilot project, to show how the public and private sectors can collaborate for national benefits,” he said.

The government should focus on three areas – e-commerce, the national single window and skill creation, Teeranun said. Rules and regulations should be eased to give birth to truly local e-commerce businesses, which would benefit from Thailand’s prominent role in the Mekong region.

Thailand has great potential to reap dividends from regional economic expansion, but the unsupportive environment means only foreign companies like Alibaba will gain the most, he said.

On the national single window, rubber is the only commodity offering 100-per-cent electronic import-export proceedings.

Thailand still lacks initiatives in creating necessary skills. The country needs a large number of data analytics and human-centric designers, among others.

Sak Segkhunthod, president and chief executive of the Electronic Government Agency, expressed hope that by 2018, 26 government areas would go electronic as planned.

By then, the Interior Ministry would no longer require copies of identification cards and house registrations for transactions at its agencies.

Thais will no longer have to file tax returns to the Revenue Department, as the department will tell them how much they have to pay each year.

The public sector spends about Bt10 billion a year on IT projects, when cloud and other technologies are around to help save investment and improve public services, he said.

It is imperative that the government balance how much the private sector should be controlled and supported. “This is a new thing as technology grows so fast,” he said.