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We aren't becoming ungovernable; we are getting enlightened

It used to be quite simple. If the powers-that-be wanted any state enterprise to undertake a controversial task, no matter how sensitive or risky, all that was needed was a call from one of the Cabinet members to the top executive there. Things could always be arranged to suit the political bosses.

This time around, the tide has turned. The caretaker government is trying to get the first rice-scheme amount of Bt20 billion (out of a total Bt135 billion) from commercial banks, private and public. A total of 34 of them were invited to bid for the loan.

Under normal circumstances, the financial institutions would have scrambled to get the deal. Why not? It's guaranteed by the Finance Ministry. It's almost risk-free. And you are doing a favour to the establishment as well.

But things have changed, and dramatically. The government is running the country in a caretaker capacity. The Election Commission, whose official endorsement was required for any government action whose consequences would pass to the post-election government, decided not to give the green light. Instead, the EC told the Yingluck government to make its own decision - in other words, do it at your own risk.

The government, under growing pressure from farmers demanding payment for their crops under the highly controversial rice-pledging scheme, decided to proceed to get loans. But alas, none of the banks came forward to offer a bid. None - not even the government banks.

The reason was simple. This is an age of transparency in which every detail of the deal is analysed, criticised and commented upon in the social media and on the anti-government stages.

Once reports leaked that pressure was being applied to the Agricultural and Agricultural Cooperatives Bank, a government financial institution, to lend money to the government for this project, the bank's labour union came out in full force to protest the move, arguing that this kind of political pressure would undermine the bank's stability. Depositors could start withdrawing their savings and the bank's management could face legal action.

It was around the same time that the Government Savings Bank was cited as another target. There, the labour union also launched a protest.

The scene on Tuesday at Krungthai Bank, the country's biggest public financial institution, was dramatic. Once rumours started flying that the bank's management had approved the loan to the government, employees gathered to show their dissatisfaction. The bank's CEO Vorapak Tahnyawongse had to appear personally to deny a report that the bank had in the past two weeks extended Bt160 billion to the rice-pledging project.

His statement was remarkable and probably unprecedented. In the past, most top executives of government banks would have succumbed to political pressure, if for no other reason than to keep their jobs. It is no secret that most of them have benefited from political connections to get where they are.

But Vorapak told reporters in no uncertain terms that the bank was being run under strict rules of good governance and was rigidly following the central bank's control and supervision guidelines. He insisted that the management based its judgement on the interests of its depositors and that no loans would be made without proper consideration.

Then he said something that few other executives of state enterprises would say - or have the courage to utter.

Vorapak declared: "I have been working in this field for more than 20 years. I joined Krungthai Bank as a professional banker, not because of politics. I owe nobody any political debt. Therefore, I don't have to repay anybody at the expense of the national interest."

That's the kind of technocrat the government should try to promote. With more and more bureaucrats and former state enterprise officials joining the protest and declaring their "independence" from the powers-that-be, the hope for national reform should shine brighter.

No, Thailand is not becoming ungovernable. We have become more enlightened.


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