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It takes a lot to shine

Why are women fond of shopping for clothes, handbags and shoes? In this multiple-choice question, you can choose between:

A: They are concerned about others' perception of their appearance.

B: They feel they will be prettier with new clothes and accessories.

It is not surprising that, according to a survey, the majority of women fall into the first category. Most want to look good in others' eyes. The survey also tells a lot why married women tend to be less fashionable than single women, because, to them, they have to look really good only for one man. It also explains a lot why women whose long-time husbands have passed away usually stop dressing up.

It is surprising, though, to learn that a psychological reason like this is reflected through a corporate policy and national policy.

All companies want to win public praise. Several companies, particularly those in heavy industries, have found that with a good image, it is easier to resolve social and environmental conflicts. While women have to buy new clothes and accessories, companies need to come up with corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes.

Some women like to buy luxury items, but others can look good with cheaper items. Likewise, some CSR programmes get by on a small amount of funding, while others spend heavily. Hi-Q Food Products, producer of Roza tomato sauce, with annual revenue of about Bt2 billion, spends about Bt5 million a year on its nutrition programme for schools. PTT is rumoured to have spent Bt12 million to host the National Children's Day 2013 event at its head office.

Companies also want to look good in the media, to facilitate the dissemination of reports. A growing number of companies take it as a necessary task to visit media offices ahead of holidays like New Year or Songkran, or for media birthdays. Now, the media are busy assigning reporters to go to thank-you press parties. At some companies, executives see it as a must to show up to greet reporters. Aside from the free flow of food and drink, reporters are given the chance to complete exclusive interviews with executives.

The urge to become a "nicer" company is on the rise. At thank-you parties each year, nearly all companies try to present a new theme. At Siam Cement Group, executives were delighted to don new outfits to reflect a "retro" theme. But at some companies, the theme can be food from a luxury restaurant or pricier New Year gifts.It was rumoured that for the most recent thank-you party, PTT asked for gifts worth Bt250,000 from each of six companies in its group.

Likewise, all countries (with the exception of those under tyrannical leaders who care for nothing but their own wealth) want to look good in the eyes of foreign communities. That can be mirrored through sovereign credit ratings, which usually reflect the country's political, economic, fiscal and monetary scores.

In 1997, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Thailand's rating four times. Following the Suvarnabhumi Airport shutdown, which cost the country over Bt120 billion in losses, all three major international rating agencies downgraded Thailand.

The credit ratings of many countries in Europe have been downgraded following the public debt crisis. In the United States, politicians' negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" are now in focus, as Standard & Poor's Ratings Services in August 2011 downgraded the US government's credit rating to below AAA for the first time.

With foreign investment the aim, the Singaporean government yesterday launched harsh measures to stem speculation in the property market. The country has learnt that skyrocketing property prices are a major obstacle for new investment and could be a source of other economic malaise, as Thailand witnessed before the 1997 "Tom Yum Kung" crisis.

To win global recognition, governments join roadshows to meet foreign investors. It is not a surprise that Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt, tasked to take charge of Thailand's Bt2.27 trillion in mega-project investment, found himself on the Singapore roadshow days before he was scheduled for an interview with Krungthep Turakij TV. In the past month, it is estimated he talked about this project on more than 50 occasions. All the maps must be embedded deeply in his head.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong yesterday had a discussion with Moody's analysts, in Bangkok to collect data for the annual review of sovereign ratings. Certainly, he told Moody's that Thailand's economic fundamentals are strong. To him, Thailand has won a new dress - the Bt2.27 trillion for investment projects. Internally, it has also taken enough vitamins to ensure political conflicts are kept to a minimum, in the same way vitamins allow women to shine from the inside out.

Were the Moody's analysts convinced? If Kittiratt smiled a lot, they may not have been, as that's not the usual style of the minister. But if Kittiratt did not smile at all, given the many economic headaches - chiefly the delayed public spending, criticism of several populist policies, the row with industrialists over the labour cost relief fund - they could have sensed something.

It is obvious that Thailand wants to look better for the rating agencies. The problem is that the government has spent a lot of time planning its shopping programme. Like women in new clothes that fit them well, Thailand should shine brighter if all the programmes are implemented in a successful and sustainable way.


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