Confusion and evasion of duties only add to the fire in the South
The insurgency crisis in the deep South, which resurfaced nine years ago, seems to have shown no improvement since this government took office 18 months ago. In fact, many observers believe the problem may have worsened, with increased attacks and more casualties.Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra also appears to be distancing herself from this long-standing headache, often saying that the matter has been handed over to certain agencies and Cabinet members.
She has been failing to update the public about the attacks and every time she is asked, she responds by saying that she is unaware of what is happening and waiting for reports from relevant agencies. Sometimes she simply walks away.
Critics say she appears to be evading responsibility. Then there is the question of whether she has a clear understanding of the problem or if she is even willing to tackle it. Despite her position as government leader, who has easy access to classified information, Yingluck and her government seem to have failed to come up with a policy or strategy to effectively deal with the "fire in the South".
Even officials working for security agencies responsible for the South complain about the lack of government policy on this issue.
"Without a policy, the agencies involved are working without direction. Despite preparation, they cannot work in unity or push ahead without a policy," a source familiar with the matter said.
"What's worse is that it seems this government has no policy to deal with the insurgency problem in the South," the source added.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who mainly oversees the police force, has been assigned to help tackle the insurgency problem, but he has made it clear he is not keen on the job. The veteran politician has been telling reporters he has never been interested in this aspect of his job, and apparently was rebuked recently by the prime minister for refusing to focus on this problem.
Recently, Chalerm's idea of imposing a curfew in the South was shot down by Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat.
Then there is the problem of neither Chalerm nor Sukampol having a good connection with relevant agencies - in contrast to former defence and deputy PM General Yuthasak Sasiprapha, who was removed in the last Cabinet reshuffle in October.
In early December, the government set up a new agency to deal with the insurgency. It was called the Operational Centre for the Implementation of Policy and Strategy to Resolve Problems of Southern Border Provinces, and Chalerm was given the reins.
The goal of this centre is to muster unity among the more than 80 agencies involved, but the centre itself is not united.
Almost three months after the centre was formed, no clear responsibilities have been given to agencies involved, while some agencies have turned down the jobs given to them. The centre's last meeting was on February 15 and Chalerm did not announce any policies or strategies.
Apart from all this, there are other problems related to resolving the insurgency.
Many agencies have rejected the responsibilities assigned to them. For instance, the Prime Minister's Secretariat refuses to deal with public relations, citing "lack of knowledge and understanding" about the problems in the South, it has handed the job over to the National Security Council (NSC).
The NSC, meanwhile, already has many responsibilities in hand - it acts as the operational centre's secretary, does follow-ups and evaluations, is responsible for public relations and is working to create an environment that is suitable for solving problems among others.
All this and one must not forget the problem of overlapping responsibilities. A prime instance of this is the Interior Ministry being given some educational projects to deal with, while Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana has been told by the prime minister to
oversee programmes aimed at ensuring justice.