Tambon and village heads fight reforms

politics April 11, 2017 01:00

By THE NATION

NRSA Proposal calls for local officials to face elections, serve a maximum of five years in office.



TAMBON CHIEFS and village heads yesterday gathered at city halls in major provinces to protest a proposal by the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) to reduce their terms in office as part of a push to reform local administrations.

The NRSA yesterday approved a proposal to amend the 1914 Local Administrative Law to have tambon chiefs and village heads elected in tambon sub-districts and villages, while also limiting their terms in office to a maximum of five years.

The NRSA voted 91 to 27 in favour of approving the proposal, while 32 members abstained. 

The proposal will go forward for consideration by the Cabinet, the super committee for strategic reform and reconciliation known as “Por Yor Por”, and the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). The change will be implemented only if the NLA passes the amendment.

Currently, people in villages can vote for village heads, who then vote for one of their number to sit as tambon chief, known in Thai as “kamnan”. Kamnans and village heads can stay in their positions until the age of 60. 

At present, Thailand has 7,255 tambons, which oversee an average of 10 villages. There are a total of 74,965 registered villages in the country.

The NRSA proposed the change in the system based on the rationale that the assembly wanted the population to have a chance to elect their leaders regularly and to prevent kamnans and village heads from having too much influence. 

Kamnans and village heads who gathered to protest yesterday argued that the elections and frequent changes would force them to become politicians to get elected and re-elected. They submitted a petition to the NRSA yesterday.

The proposal would not affect current kamnans and village heads as the NRSA committee proposed that they could continue to serve until retirement. New village heads, however, would be elected and serve five-year terms. 

The compromise appeared to be unsatisfactory as kamnans and village heads gathered in major provinces to demand that the proposal be scrapped. In northern Chiang Mai province, 200 kamnans and village heads delivered a petition to the governor asking the government to reject the proposal. 

Kamolsit Rojthanawipach, chairman of the Chiang Mai Kamnans and Village Heads Association, said the group petitioned the governor to oppose the NRSA proposal because the shortened terms did not fit the responsibilities of the jobs, which were likened to district chief assistants. 

Kamnans and village heads dealt with criminal offences in their areas, work that could be compromised if they were elected, he said. The shortened terms would also reduce their strength as their work needed the benefit of experience acquired over a number of years, Kamolsit added.

In Phetchaburi, Saksri Larpprasert, the chairman of Petchaburi Kamnans and Village Heads Club, led about 400 kamnans and village heads to meet the governor for the same purpose. 

The group said the reduced terms would interrupt kamnans and village heads’ work in their areas, especially the suppression of crime, including the drug trade.

Similar petitions were also submitted in Phuket and Krabi in the South, Tak in the West, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima in the Northeast, and Kanchanaburi in the West.

Jessada Naepnien, of the Phuket Association of Kamnans and Village Heads, said kamnans and village heads considered themselves to be state officials, rather than local politicians. 

“We are representatives of the central government and authorities who connect with local residents. The NRSA [proposal] would disconnect our roles and work,” he said. Working in the position for only five years would create discontinuity in many important tasks such as fighting the drugs trade and ensuring security, he added.

“We are not opposing the idea for ourselves but to keep the administrative system which was created since King Rama V. Those who destroy the system will be in trouble,” he said.

Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda called on all kamnans and village heads to calm down as there was a long way to go before any changes. The NRSA plan needed to pass through many agencies, he added. 

Kamnans and village heads have a duty to maintain peace and order, not to create conflict, Anupong said. 

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