Reforms must cover media, land, education and separation of powers

opinion February 12, 2014 00:00

By Special to The Nation

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If Thailand is to compete with China and its rivals in Asia and elsewhere, fixing the corruption within our government system must be the priority.

For political reform in Thailand, we offer the following suggestions: 
14 Economists and historians have convincingly demonstrated that sustainable growth and prosperity can be achieved much faster and with greater certainty under an innovation-driven economy. 
South Korea’s emergence from the ashes of war to become a world economic powerhouse within 35 years is often cited as proof of this. South Korea achieved the feat by a policy of relying on home-grown innovations to turn raw materials (mostly imported) into high-quality, high-value products sold for lower prices than its competitors could offer. 
If Thailand is to succeed in the same way and thereby eradicate current ills – particularly share the wealth more fairly among its citizens in a sustainable way – we must commit to developing an innovation-driven economy. 
Home-grown innovation must be aggressively supported. In addition to building the necessary infrastructure, the development of Thai innovators must be given top priority. 
For this to happen, major reform of higher education must be carefully planned, developed and implemented. 
It is clear that education as well as science and technology, which so far have been low on the list of national priorities, must rise to the top. 
Media: The news media are the main source of information for the public. We Thais rely on this information to make informed decisions. In a true democracy, media must be allowed to gather and deliver information without bias or prejudice. It is absolutely necessary that media be allowed to do their work without undue influence or control by any political party, including the government.
At present, this does not seem to be the case, which aggravates the current crisis. Major reform is required: 
a) Media must be in tune with public needs and be obligated to serve the public interest, without government and political bias. Suggestions for reform include:
_ Media must be financed through non-political entities;
_ There should be more diverse media ownership, more local access to airwaves;
_ Paid political advertisements should be banned. Instead, every station should be required to provide equal prime-time coverage for candidates’ messages.
b) Media reform must place strong emphasis on ensuring that those who are marginalised or semi-marginalised have access to means of publishing or disseminating information.
Land reform: It is widely recognised that disparity of wealth is a key reason for Thailand’s ills. Until the country upgrades to an innovation-driven economy, Thailand as a whole, and a major portion of its population, will remain dependent on agriculture. 
Land ownership is becoming more and more distorted and seems to be exacerbating the problem of wealth disparity. Hence the need for reforms that will allow farmers to earn a proper and self-sustaining living. They should not have to depend on unsustainable government handouts or unrealistic promises. Assistance given to our less-fortunate populace must be free from any hidden agenda, must not mislead and create false hopes, and must lead to independence rather than dependency.
15 Decentralisation of authority and separation of powers
In a mature democracy like the US, there is a clear separation of power between the central government and state/local governments. State governors are directly elected, as are county commissioners and city mayors. Elected officials at each level have their own budgets (although some portions are allocated from higher levels of government) and have their own laws and ordinances to uphold. There is a minimum degree of micro-management. 
In Thailand, high-level authorities are centralised, including provincial governors and police, and there is a high degree of micro-management from the central administration. 
We believe Thailand is ready to move forward and rethink this administrative structure. 
Once national policies are set in motion, elected politicians should only play a monitoring role (checking on progress towards national goals). 
They should not micro-manage the execution of policy by governmental offices. In particular, assignment of key civil service positions should be the responsibility of the head of the respective government body. 
Elected politicians should not have any undue interference or influence in this process.
This article represents the collective opinion of the Thai expatriates listed below. None is politically motivated, nor have any ever been actively involved in political activities. We act out of deep concern for the distressing events and the troubling direction in which our beloved motherland is drifting. We all feel this is a critical time to make our feelings known, voice our concerns and offer our heartfelt beliefs. We do not pretend that the opinions expressed here are shared by all Thais living overseas, and nor do we claim to be their representatives. However, we strongly believe that the vast majority of Thais living overseas would support our ideas and beliefs. 
Methi Wecharatana, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Nongnuch Inpanbutr, professor of veterinary biosciences, Ohio State University
Nisai Wanakule, director, Tampa Bay Water, Florida
Vichate Ungvichian, professor of electrical engineering, Florida Atlantic University
Gaviphat Lekutai, head of technical staff, AT&T Labs, Redmond, Washington
Mongkol Mahavongtrakul, electrical engineer, City and County of San Francisco
Wanpracha Chaovalitwongse, associate professor, industrial and systems engineering and radiology, University of Washington
Vira Chankong, associate professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
Wiworn Kesavatana, Thai Language Programme, Department of Asian Languages and Literature, University of Washington
Artnarong Thansandote, research scientist and special adviser, Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau, Health Canada
Santi Kulprathipanja, director, Southeast Asia research and development, Honeywell UOP, Des Plaines, Illinois; visiting professor, Petroleum and Petrochemical College, Chulalongkorn University and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, National University of Singapore
Sirivatch Shimpalee, research associate professor, Chemical Engineering Department, University of South Carolina
Chuleeporn Changchit, professor of MIS, decision sciences and economics, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Supapan Seraphin, professor of materials science and engineering, University of Arizona
Rattikorn Boonyavatana, professor and chair, Department of Computer Science, Texas Tech University
Vorakarn Chanyavanich, medical physicist, Emory University
Khokiat Kengskool, professor of Practice, Engineering Management Programme, College of Engineering, Florida International University
Sureerut Kochaon, qualified environmental professional; senior project manager, South Pasadena, California