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Integration: another name for government control?

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has regularly mentioned "integration" in her remarks when talking about government work and performance. This same term was also a catchword when her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra was serving as the government head many years ago.

For many, it is interesting what "integration" means for this government led by the Pheu Thai Party, and for Thaksin's administration, which was then led by the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party. That government proposed a reform of the bureaucracy that has been implemented for more than a decade.

The question is how successful these integration plans were for Thaksin when he ran the country, and now for Yingluck and her administration.

The recent appointment of Nakhon Nayok Governor Surachai Srisarakham as the new permanent secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology may serve as an interesting case for study. A report from the recent Cabinet meeting said that Surachai, from the Interior Ministry, was picked to become the new chief permanent official at the ICT Ministry because he had received a computing-related award from the Smithsonian Institute in 1990. And Nakhon Nayok was selected as a "smart province" in an ICT Ministry pilot project, while he was serving as the provincial governor.

The "smart province" project is part of the government's Smart Thailand plan to connect the provinces and government agencies through a network of high-speed Internet. It was said that the prime minister was impressed with Surachai's briefing about the Smart Thailand project during her visit to Nakhon Nayok.

Many people may doubt whether that was enough to appoint a senior official from the Interior Ministry to become the top permanent official of the ICT Ministry. It appears the Thai bureaucracy has come to a point where politicians in power have more say than permanent officials in selecting the permanent secretary. This could lead to opposition by bureaucrats against political intervention.

Another case of integration involving the government was the Cabinet decision on Tuesday to approve in principle a plan to set up a new Ministry of Water Resources.

The ruling Pheu Thai Party came up with this idea of creating a water resources ministry since the flood crisis of 2011. The Cabinet decision came at a time when the country had seen flooding in many provinces, although the scope of destruction has not been as severe as the previous one two years ago.

In February, Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi, who heads the government's Water and Flood Management Commission, said it was time for Thailand to have a new ministry to oversee management of the country's water resources.

It appears politicians in power are using the new flood crisis facing many Thais as an excuse to establish a new ministry. They seem to be pointing to the need for "single command" in managing water resources and dealing with flood problems, although in fact there have been considerable flaws in the government's work in this area.


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