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Cabinet choices show PM relies on technocrats

6 of 55 reassigned are 'upgraded' senior bureaucrats

OVER THE PAST two years, the Yingluck Shinawatra administration has made numerous Cabinet reshuffles involving 55 ministers. Most recently, six former senior bureaucrats were "upgraded" by being appointed as ministers.

Chaikasem Nitisiri, former attorney general, was made justice minister, while Benja Louicharoen left the helm as director-general of the Customs Department three months before retirement to take over as deputy finance minister.

Yanyong Phuangrach, former permanent secretary of Commerce Ministry, was made deputy commerce minister.

The other three who are from the quota of coalition partners are: Yukol Limlamthong, former permanent secretary of the Agriculture Ministry, who became agriculture minister; former Suphan Buri governor Somsak Pureesrisak, now tourism and sports minister; and Pongsvas Svasti, a former candidate for the position of rector of Thammasat University, an industry minister in one of Yingluck's earlier cabinets.

One of the first questions asked by the media was whether these bureaucrats were appointed as ministers because they were pro-Pheu Thai Party or had served ousted and fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in any way.

Chaikasem insisted this was not the case. He said he was appointed solely because he was the right man for the job. While serving as attorney general, he said, on some occasions he had to bring legal cases against Thaksin to court, while at other times he withdrew cases against him. "I'm very straightforward on such matters," Chaikasem has been quoted as saying.

As for Benja, she said she could swear her appointment had nothing to do with politics, and that all scrutiny was welcomed, adding that Prime Minister Yingluck was the one who contacted her to join the Cabinet. Yanyong is no different and stressed that his appointment had nothing to do with politics, adding that he earns less money taking up the post than working as a business adviser.

Sources say appointing former top bureaucrats to Cabinet is not unexpected, especially when considering the difficulties the administration faced in trying to push officials to pursue its policies to tackle the flood crisis in 2011, without senior bureaucrats as their enablers.

Bureaucrats who worked with both Thaksin and Yingluck said there were three reasons some senior bureaucrats and technocrats accepted cabinet portfolios.

First, political power is tempting after working closely with politicians.

Second, the prime minister wants an assurance that things will move up the bureaucratic ladder smoothly when orders are given. She also wants a sense of security that nothing against bureaucratic regulations will be committed, as the opposition is only too ready to take improper conduct or orders to court or to the so-called independent bodies.

Third, in Thaksin's case, such practice reflected his style of management wherein he has the habit of taking into his fold anyone seen as competent to strengthen his political and management base.

Proportionally, the cabinets of the Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra administrations seem to have had similar numbers of technocrats. Meanwhile, having too many bureaucrat-ministers, as in the Surayud Chulanont administration, tends to slow down the work of government, the sources said.

Not all bureaucrats-turned-politicians find their lives bearable, however. Wissanu Krea-ngam, cabinet secretary-general turned deputy prime minister, resigned three months before the coup of September 19, 2006, citing unbearable weight of pressure from society as the Thaksin Shinawatra administration became increasingly unpopular and opposed by more people.

"I didn't imagine there would be such friction ... For friction inside the party, you still have the reserve power of the PM to protect you - but if it's coming from outside, even the premier can't survive. I think I am not tolerant enough," he said.

Charuaypon Torranin, commissioner of merit system protection, said there was nothing wrong with technocrats becoming ministers. However, they must not show too much political favouritism as it might backfire on them.

Some bureaucrats have been seen as an opposition within the government. Thawil Pliensri was transferred from the post of National Security Council secretary-general, to which he was appointed in the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, to a PM's advisory post, while deputy permanent secretary of finance Supa Piyajitti has been under investigation since revealing data about the rice-pledging scheme to parliamentary committees.




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