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Reconciliation scheme to target villages and grassroots people

Priority is to help poor villagers with their daily struggles, head official says

THE RULING JUNTA has allocated Bt1.3 billion to enhance national reconciliation at the village level through the Department of Provincial Administration under supervision of the Interior Ministry - one of its biggest reconciliation outlays so far.

This amount is planned to cover a five-year period, from 2014 up to 2018.

According to the 2015 budget bill, the reconciliation budget will be spent mostly through village committees. In a new approach, village meetings will support the process of creating reconciliation through democratic means in order to end political conflict.

Grisada Boonrach, director-general of the Provincial Administration, said his department would take a different approach to try to boost reconciliation.

"Our priority is to help the grassroots with their daily struggles. By doing so, reconciliation can be achieved - a new approach to easing political conflict," he said.

The village committees would collect information to solve grassroots social issues, he said.

He said in the past, root causes of political conflict at the grassroots level was the feeling of being abandoned by governments. Their struggles were ignored and they tended to support certain political factions that responded to their concerns.

Norapat Plodtong, director of the technical service and planning division, under the Department of Provincial Administration, agreed with the plan, but he said he would like to see more funding in coming years.

Norapat, who is one of those in charge of the reconciliation process at the local level, said the budget might seem a lot but, as there were over 70,000 villages in the country, so the sum for each village was not a large amount.

Currently, there are 74,956 villages in Thailand - meaning each village, on average, will receive an estimated Bt17,000 for the 5-year project.

The reconciliation project to ease political conflict is one of the key missions for the junta.

"We should strengthen democracy by strengthening the grassroots level, through supporting village committee meetings. Villages with strong administrations can solve all kinds of problems, including political conflict", Norapat said.

Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political scientist at the Prince of Songkla University, said reconciliation could be achieved, but only through the democratic process, such as inclusion of conflicting parties in meetings, seminars and workshops. He said society needed to be educated about political tolerance and true democracy in order to achieve sustainable reconciliation.

According to the budget bill, the junta also allocated a small amount to promote reconciliation for other government offices or departments. For example, Bt150 million to the Royal Thai Army, Bt186 million to the office of the permanent secretary for the Interior, and Bt38 million to the office of permanent secretary for Defence. The budget was allocated under a five-year plan.

The money will be used to organise mainly public relations events or activities to promote reconciliation.

Srisompob, however, said "public relations" campaigns for reconciliation may be unfulfilling because in the past most participants in these types of events weren't from conflicting groups. Consequently, such campaigns just created an image of reconciliation without much substance or value.


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