Kittiratt's 'white lie' will put govt claims in doubt

opinion August 26, 2012 00:00

By The Nation

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By deliberately distorting economic figures, the Finance Minister robs the business community of an honest ability to make rational decisions


Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said he had to lie about the export target. Kittiratt implied he was lying when he said 15 per cent export growth was achievable. But this was after the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) said Thai exports would grow only 7.3 per cent.
Kittiratt said, “The finance minister needs to lie sometimes to create good feelings. The world knows this as a ‘white lie’. The goal is to create confidence, which in turn benefits the country’s economy as a whole.” Kittiratt did not show a sign of guilt when he referred to his action as telling a “white lie”, which is described by the American Heritage Dictionary as “an often trivial, diplomatic or well-intentioned untruth”.
In short, white lies are minor and harmless or inconsequential. For instance, when asked for comment about a friend’s appearance before a job interview, people tend to think that they have a moral obligation to boost the friend’s confidence before the critical moment by saying, “you look great!”, regardless of how bad that friend may look.
Kittiratt’s lie, however, is different. Export forecasts from the key economic minister in the Cabinet can affect the business planning of many, because the economic forecast must be credible and scientific. After all, the deputy premier and finance minister, who has seen the complete economic picture, should be the best person to give the fairest assessment.
However, Kittiratt said he was fully aware since early this year that the global economic slowdown would hit Thailand. But he chose to lie because he wanted to make people feel good about the economy. 
In fact, well-informed businessmen did not take seriously Kittiratt’s previous statement that Thailand could have achieve 15-per-cent export growth because they knew from the start that it would be impossible. But what about less informed people? 
Kittiratt’s lie was intentionally misleading the public about the state of the economy. A true understanding of the economic circumstances is always useful for the business sector to prepare themselves to cope with any uncertainty. Worse, it affects investors’ and the public’s trust in the government. 
This is obviously not the first time that a politician has lied to the public’s face. Last year, Chalerm Yoobamrung said he would not become a Cabinet member if his son did not win the election. Wan Yoobamrung, his son, lost the seat in Bangkok. But Chalerm subsequently became a deputy prime minister in the Yingluck government. 
While people were not that surprised to see a politician like Chalerm lie to their faces, they generally gave higher credibility to Kittiratt. 
But Kittiratt’s credibility was damaged by his own admission of lying. 
After all, lying is morally wrong, as the German philosopher Immanuel Kant suggested. People should treat others the way they want to be treated. That is, with respect and honesty. Once a person lies, how can people trust his subsequent statements? If everyone reciprocates in kind, words will carry no meaning.
In this case, Kittiratt’s lie deprives people of the ability to make decisions rationally. Kittiratt intentionally painted an unrealistic picture for businesspeople who might have made different plans had they known the truth. In short, as Kant suggested, lying robs humans of dignity and the autonomy to make a rational choice.
Kittiratt might argue that he was lying for a greater good. But how could he gauge the consequences of his dishonesty? The reaction Kittiratt has received from the public so far suggests that he poorly estimated the consequences of his “white lies”.
Instead of restoring business confidence, Kittiratt’s lie creates distrust and affects his credibility, which should matter more in restoring confidence in the Thai economy. 
During the same event, Kittiratt was trying to assure the public that the economy would expand as planned by the government, and that the government was trying to increase GDP to bring about a more balanced economy. 
But how can we be certain that was not just another white lie from him?

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