From the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy to Sustainable Development Goals July 7, 2017

Good evening dear Thai citizens.

This weekend marks another important religious event in Thailand, which is Asalha Puja. For this auspicious occasion, His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana on Thursday, July 6th, presided over merit-making and other religious ceremonies at the Buddhism Promotion Week event at Buddha Monthon, Nakhon Pathom.

In addition, the government has announced for Buddhist Lent Day this year to be a ‘national non-alcohol consumption day’, which falls on Sunday 9 July. I would like to take this opportunity to invite our citizens to make merit, perform good deeds, and refrain from consuming alcohol and other intoxicants during the Buddhist Lent season, which lasts for the 3 months.

This can also be an appropriate time for anyone who wishes to permanently stop drinking alcohol. However, if you cannot, please drink with responsibility. I think that drinking only to socialize may perhaps be outdated, along with smoking.

The new tobacco control act that was promulgated and passed into law on July 4th is meant to lower the number of new smokers especially among teens and youngsters, and protect those affected by smoking or second-hand smokers, not to mention protect smoke-free zones.

Furthermore, I would like to invite the Thai people, especially Buddhists, to practice the five Buddhist precepts, which will bring prosperity and progress to those who strictly follow them. The precepts forbid followers from killing, harming other beings, stealing, committing adultery,

lying or using inappropriate language, and drinking or using illicit drugs. Adhering to these Precepts will bring about peace and happiness for the Thai people and will also be an important way to pay tribute to His Majesty the late King Rama IX, His Majesty King Rama X, and all the members of the Royal Family.

My fellow citizens, in the month of May the country’s economy showed signs of continuous growth, thanks to a 13.2% increase in the export sector, as well as the tourism sector which grew 3.3%. Growth in the second quarter should be better than that of the first.

The Board of Investment has reported that 35.7% of foreign investors are planning to expand their businesses and 62.5% will follow their original plans. The overview of the economy is greater connectivity at all levels, and the government is undertaking several measures this for the benefit of the people and every sector.

Nevertheless, the government is continuing to tackle the issues of household debts and basic needs. It is our determination to improve the livelihoods of all Thai people, especially by helping people get out of debts that prevent them from being able to afford everyday products.

At present, although household debts have declined for 5 consecutive quarters, they can still be lower than this. At the end of 2017’s first quarter, household debts dropped from 79.8% to 78.6% to the country’s income ratio, according to a recent survey. The statistics also show the following.

1) Thai people acquire debts at a relatively young age. More than half of all 30 year old already have debts, mostly incurred by personal loans and credit cards.
2) Thais have more debts now compared to 2009, when the percentage of indebted people was only 20%. In 2016, the percentage went up to 30% and the amount of debts doubled.

3) Thai people carry debts that do not go away. Many people, before retirement, earn more money and spend less, but the amount of debts remains intact.

The problem of household debts reflects the inequalities that exists in the country, which must be corrected. This is one of the government’s strategies, which has been implemented through integrated efforts and sustainable solutions. So far, many groups of people have benefited from these efforts.

The first group is farmers who have registered their debts and assets with the government, especially those using farmland as collateral. More than 100,000 farmers with a combined debt of 17 billion baht have registered.

The Ministry of Finance, through debt restructuring and the extension of debt payments, will assist farmers who have debts to official institutions. The government has helped to negotiate 3,000 farmers who owe 400 million baht in debt.

The second group is the poor or low-income earners. We have provided them with easier access to financial loans and helped them to deal with informal debts/loans, by introducing an integrated and sustainable solution that includes preventive measures. As for creditors, the government is cracking down on illegal creditors. Authorities must make sure that they cannot operate. Authorities must also inform legal creditors to register into the system officially in order to be able to offer financial loans legally.

In addition, the government is enforcing a law that forbids over-interest loans. As for borrowers, the government is providing debt settlement and negotiation services and asking government banks to find measures to help address informal debt problems. At the same time, the government places importance on building strong communities and unity, which is a foundation of our society.

Through a cooperative system, communities will be able to handle informal debts problems with the help of community financial institutions along with specific financial agencies to deal with informal debts. This allows borrowers to pay back their debts while granting them access to formal loans as well as loans for emergencies.

The government has created mechanisms to improve the capacities of borrowers to earn more income so that they can settle their debts quickly and thereby not resort to informal loans. This has included encouraging borrowers to keep a household account to maintain fiscal discipline and build resilience, as advocated by the King’s Philosophy.

The last group is those who have a monthly income but are overwhelmed with debts. They can take part in debt clinic programmes, which opened in June, to help borrowers plan their spending and become more financially disciplined.

In summary, the government has formulated both immediate and sustainable solutions for this matter. However, this will require a change of habit and budget discipline. Very much like a sick person, if you listen to the doctor, take medicines as prescribed, and know what you have to do, not only will you get better physically, your mentality will also be stronger to fight on.

This is a principle mentioned in the King’s Philosophy of His Majesty the late King Rama IX. The government is determined to help the people, create more income, opportunities, and markets, and provide useful information, so that they do not have to continuously carry the burden of debts.

I hope that everyone does their best to help each other deal with the problems of household debts. This will be important to reducing social disparities and building a strong economy.

Although we have issued several measures, the problem is that not everyone is in the system. Therefore, we need to find a way to amend this.  Participation in government programmes will require cooperation from the people.

Importantly, this will require a new way of thinking. We cannot rely on same old practices. We must put ourselves in the economic chain with the others and improve. There is only so much that the government can do without people’s cooperation. Please listen to the government’s advice. It is better for people to be able to look after themselves as opposed to rely on the government.

According to the Super Poll, which surveyed the happiness of 500 agriculturists throughout Thailand, the happiness index of Thai farmers stands as high as 8.29 points out of 10 points possible. It is up to you to prove whether the poll is right or wrong.

Part of this is due to the country’s economic growth. Those who are in this chain have higher incomes, change their farming behaviors, reduce production costs, and form into groups. However, those who have refused to enter the chain do not have higher incomes and have more debts. Today, we are trying to increase farmers’ incomes and improve their living standards through various measures.

The most recent survey said that the trade value of agricultural products in Thailand accounted for 720 billion baht, an increase of 2% year on year, in the past 5 months. Exports of farm products valued at 550 billion baht, an 8.8% increase, whereas imports accounted for 160 billion baht, a drop by 16%.

Trade balance was at a surplus of almost 400 billion baht, representing a 24% surge.  As you can see, exports grew and imports reduced. How are we going to further develop this sector? What measures must be taken? The government is monitoring this matter closely.

Prices of major agricultural products in Thailand, be it rice, rubber, palm, corn, cassava, or sugarcane, are not likely going to rise in the near future because there have been many innovations that can replace our farm products. People will no longer rely on the same crops.

For instance, some industries in some countries can now make car tires from artificial rubber made of oil.  In this case, the only way for farmers to successfully avoid being affected by these fluctuations is to adapt. The group of agriculturists surveyed by the “Super Poll” reported that they have significantly changed their farming activities, for instance, reducing rice farming from 75.3% to 57.8%.

They now grow alternative crops whose production increased from 15.5% to 30%. This adaptation will yield positive results to the agricultural sector and the country as a whole. Examples of positive changes are reducing growing areas, reducing production costs, and producing according to market demands.

In addition, the government wants the farmers to be able to stand on their own feet and have a management team of their own. They can use the large-scale farming or cooperative systems through the “Pracharat” approach, starting with planting, producing, processing, and marketing or online marketing.

The government is building a new structure to reform and improve the farming sector, taking into consideration many factors including research and development, innovation, and market demand. It also requires investments from the private sector and foreign investors, along with other factors, not only raw materials.

What we have to take into account include: production costs, labor costs, quality, the existing market, competition, and risks. Such matter are not as easy as some politicians may think or say so. If they were easy, they would be successful by now. The problem would not have dragged on until today. We are doing new things, addressing problems at the core and at the structure of the problem. We are also looking at the production chain at its entirety. We must move forward from this.

Trespassing into 3 million rai of forests to tap rubber was a major problem for the price slump. The country produced too much rubber, causing prices to drop. At the same time, the world market is overwhelmed with rubber products, while competition is fierce.

How are we going handle this issue at the domestic level? An oversupply of crops always leads to a price slump. Let me give you an example of rubber. Rubber is illegally grown in more than 3 million rai of land. If the government restricts rubber tapping in unauthorized areas, the prices will definitely go up. The government empathizes with the farmers and tappers,

but any illegal conduct will have consequences. There have been reports about possible demonstrations against the government. Please do not let this happen. Because once the government is cornered, it will resort to legal actions. Illegal tapping and planting will be banned in 3 million rai of forests. When it comes to that, rubber farmers will be the ones suffering.

Community leaders need to consider this because you are bringing distress to farmers. You cannot dump all the responsibilities on the government. You know exactly that the problem is the oversupply of rubber. The promotion of rubber production is not easy. We focus too much attention on exports without considering domestic consumption.

Today the government is attempting to make the rubber industry less dependent on export. All ministries have been assigned to inspect rubber-related activities in the country. This does not mean that rubber or latex bought from the farmers will be used right away, because it has to be processed and turned into products. It will be used in different industries. Rubber can be used in sports stadiums, for instance. First, there has to be a procurement contracts.

The same thing goes for road constructions. Today, 20% of rubber is used in road construction, driving up the construction cost. This has to be carefully considered, whether it be rubber prices, expenses on processing, production, and utilization. The government is correcting all these problems. Then we will be able to understand the real demand for rubber.

We will then be able to limit and regulate rubber production. It has to be in line with the world market as well. We will not be able to sell all rubber products that we produce. Recently, there have been requests with regard to pineapple. Pineapple farmers are invading hundreds of thousands of forests land. When the prices go up, these farmers use preserved forests to grow pineapple without authorization. And when the prices drop, they complain with the government.

The only solution is to enforce the law. Of course, people will be in distress. Agricultural leaders need to understand this fact. If you do not listen to us, we would not be able to fix the problem for you. Giving out subsidies is in violation of the WTO’s regulations.

Did you know that there have been many cases against us on this? The situation has gotten better now. We will find alternative measures for sugarcane, apart from subsidizing it. We cannot break the international covenants we have made. This is what everyone has to learn and understand. The farmers cannot request the government to keep the prices up all the time.

Therefore, those people who claim to have sure solutions to this issue, I do not think they are telling you the truth. The only solution here is to grow in authorized areas while at the same time trying to cut costs. You need to switch from growing one single crop to growing alternative crops. We will then apply agricultural zoning to the practice. Which land should grow rice and which land should grow other crops? This land should grow fruit and this land should be used for cattle raising – this is what you should look at.

Along the way, we need to make adjustments, get useful information, and make preparations. Farmers should try to change their farming practices, for instance, out of 20 rai you have, you can grow other plants on 5 rai instead of giving everything you have to rice farming. If growing rice does not yield good profits, then you should start growing other crops that replace your income. As for rice, you can grow it for household consumption. This is what everyone ought to be thinking about.

We have to determine how much and where crops should be planted, as well as how farmers can adopt new practices. Related agencies are educating and helping the farmers. Local communities are equipped with wisdom and knowledge. There more smart farmers nowadays.

You can also acquire knowledge from the media. Everyone has to work together. The government alone cannot solve all these problems. We will need the help from the private sector and local entrepreneurs such as the Rubber Authority of Thailand and academics.

For instance, 100% rubber pillows and dust-free pillow cases developed by Siriraj Clinical Research Center and Scientific and Technological Research Equipment Centre will be exported to China this August. The order is for 100,000 units. These innovations will generate 5 billion baht for Thailand in the next 3 years. Moreover, China is also importing Thai rubber for tire production. This shows how Thailand has good relations with other countries around the world.

In summary, the major factors to understand, in attempting to address the low prices of agricultural products, consist of,
1) Planting too much, thereby exceeding demand.

2.  Planting in inappropriate areas, whether it be in unsuitable soil, insufficient water, when it’s too hot, during times of drought or flooding, resulting in the government having to step in and provide assistance and insurance.

3. Planting in encroached forestland or national parks. This would result in an oversupply, affecting the prices of crops that have been planted legally. Agricultural cooperatives must also contribute by controlling planting instead of making demands and opposing the government with their misunderstandings.

4. High investment and planting costs, making it difficult to turn a profit. This also depends on factors such as the price of seeds, fertilizers, medicine, equipment, vehicles, labor, and rent.

5. Marketing issues such as farmers lacking marketing expertise, cooperatives lacking efficiency, farmers unable to set their own prices, selling materials instead of processing them and adding value, advance orders from foreign countries, and international agreements that prohibit subsidizing agricultural products.

At this time, we must also address the problems that the sugarcane industry faces. The use of CESS money has resulted in objections from foreign countries, trade agreements must include more agricultural product imports. The ASEAN FTA is something that we must comply with. Each country has a reserve stockpile of agricultural output.  When each country stockpiles, prices will drop. For example, Thailand used to have over 18 million tons of rice. Each country enters negotiations with their best interests in mind.

In addition, the global economy faces other problems, such as decreased economic value in all sectors and household debt. If these things are not addressed in a comprehensive manner, they will return to their original state, problems will continue to manifest, and the government’s loan programs will not be able to accommodate these needs. These longstanding issues were never tackled in a proper manner. This is why they are quite difficult to handle now.

Creating trust and credibility takes time. I assure you that the government is moving forward on all fronts. There are many who have suffered from past mismanagement and this government is committed in addressing all issues and starting down the proper path. If things had been done correctly in the past, we would not have had to fix as many problems as we do now.

This includes matters of labor, forest encroachment, agriculture products, public health, and education. I want the public to be able to differentiate and understand how we can come together in solving these problems, and not allow disparaging remarks to hamper the real progress that we have made so far. Things cannot go back to how they were.

My fellow Thai citizens, I am glad that Thai people are now aware of our efforts to address foreign labor through legislation and reform. I would like everyone to understand that the issue of foreign labor is partially related to the issue of human trafficking.  This is a matter that we have continuously expressed our full commitment in preventing and suppressing human trafficking activities.

Related legislation includes human trafficking, illegal fishing activities, child labor, forced labor, as well as foreign labor. We must mobilize our efforts today. In our continued efforts in these past three years, the government has facilitated the registration of foreign nationals of  three nationalities, totaling approximately 3 million people. A key issue here is proving citizenship from the original country. This is still a challenge and we have made many exemptions in the past.

If people are unable to prove their nationality, they are allowed to carry pink cards in the meantime. Many may not understand why we must rely on foreign labor. If the Thai labor market were completely self-sustainable, we would not have to rely on anyone else. This is a fact that everyone must acknowledge.

Today, fewer Thais are employed in manual labor, with some occupations conducted almost solely by foreign nationals. This is why we must cooperate with other countries to come up with agreements that involve complexities, regulations, and processes, involving matters of international laws, corruption, security, human trafficking, education, healthcare, and citizenship of children born of foreign laborers.

All these issues are intertwined. We must address all of these issues. We cannot just focus on some while ignoring others.

The first thing that we must do is to reorganize the entire system in a sustainable way that considers  country’s labor needs, fair competition for jobs, as well as employee and employer security. We must ensure that all sides benefit, unlike how things were done in the past, where business was conducted in the shadows often at the expense of human dignity. If we are able to address this, our society will be peaceful, safe, and trusting.

People who do not fully understand this problem should not disparage without adequate information. We must bring up facts and provide suggestions that are based on reality. If we do not allow anyone from our neighboring countries to work in Thailand, there will not be enough factory workers, gas station staff, waiters, housekeepers, farmers, or fishermen. These people ensure that the country’s economy continues to function.

They are a part of our economic system and must be treated based on principles of humanity and basic human rights. These people will also become a part of our society and must be compensated fairly. The government must ensure that these people are treated and compensated according to international standards, no different from Thai people who work in other countries. This is because these are international laws.

Most importantly, we must be willing to make some sacrifices for the sake of society as a whole. However this does not mean the loss of security in lives and property. This administration will no longer let this problem fester and has given the public and businesses ample time to adjust to these changes. All sectors must cooperate in achieving what other countries have already done.

In 2014, we have registered over 1.3 million foreign workers. However, a large portion of the foreign labor sector come and go by circumventing the system with the help of corrupt officials or accomplices. The is a continuous problem

that has led to forced labor and human trafficking activities, which have negatively affected the credibility of the country. As well, such a temporary labor force troubles businesses. However, if we do things correctly, there will be more clarity and reliability. Some businesses waste money and time training employees who then move to work elsewhere. This is because there is no loyalty and fairness in this system for employers.

Most importantly, for many who entered this country and were unable to prove their nationalities but were given exemptions, this can no longer be the case. If people do not have proper official documents, we will not be able to oversee the people who have come into the country, as they are not registered with the system.

We have discussed with our neighboring countries for them to help solve this issue. In the past, we have allowed people to come into work in the country while their nationality verification process is underway under the condition that they do not relocate their workplace, but people still violate this rule.

Today, we have signed a memorandum of understanding between three countries agreeing that nationality verification must already have been done. This is something that should have been mandated in the first place but we have instead allowed for compromises. We can no longer allow for this as everyone must be properly registered with their home countries before working in Thailand.

Therefore, once we have enacted the Foreign Labour Act, we must adhere to what it stipulates. There still remains a portion that entered the country who have yet to register or people who had completed the process only partially. These people must register at the border. Once we all do this now, there will no longer be any issues in the future. I apologize for the inconvenience at this time.

This is to ensure that everyone enters the country legally. We can no longer allow people to come in while awaiting their nationality verifications. Otherwise, these people will be vulnerable to illegal activities such as human trafficking and illegal fishing activities.

If these problems still persist, and other countries stop buying our products, what will happen? For those making demands, please understand the context of the issue.

I understand the trouble that many face, but you all must understand the troubles that the country faces as well. Today, we are addressing what we have declared as a national agenda. We can no longer accept illegal labor in this country.

I ask for cooperation from businesses and employees who have yet to comply. We are giving everyone six months, which is until the end of this year, to adjust with these new measures. The government, the Ministry of Labour, employment offices, and businesses must work together to find ways to mitigate consequences to businesses.

If we do not do this because people say it is bad for business, then this issue will never be resolved. Do not forget that in the past, many have violated laws for a long time. Those who are pinching employees from companies who already invested their resources in training their employees are engaging in selfish behavior. These people must reform themselves.

A concern now is losing employees that you trust such as housekeepers, maids, or babysitters. The Ministry of Labour may need to issue documentation ensuring that these people will be able to return to their original places of employment once they leave and return to Thailand.

This requires signatures from both parties, the employer and the employee. There needs to be special types of mechanisms to deal with different types of workers. There are laborers who come on an annual basis. However, another type come into the country to work only during the day. There is a separate policy for people working at borders to ensure that they do not affect businesses located in border areas.

Therefore, I ask that government officials come up with more clear measures. The government will also find ways to improve on fines to follow the same standards. We are doing this in order to best mitigate the impact in the next 6 months.

The government is also working to prevent the establishment of illegal employment operations or illegitimate businesses who are seeking to take advantage of the situation. The government will take legal action against these people as well as those who engage in human trafficking activities. Those who lure their employees away from other places with false promises of better compensation, what will other businesses do?

This selfish behavior causes friction with employers. Those who are unable to relocate through the proper channels do so illegally. All of these elements comprise a large problem that requires trust and knowledge in addressing as well as some sacrifices. Many have long prospered from the use of illegal workers. I would like to thank all honest businesses, who, I think outnumber those that conduct illegal activities.

In order to ensure a smooth transition into our new regulations six months from now, I have asked the Ministry of Labour to establish a special center for facilitating and managing the employment of labourers according to the new Foreign Labour Act. The center will handle,
1. Those with work permits but are working with the wrong employers.

2. Those who have passports, Visas, and certification of identity but have yet to obtain a work permit.
People who fall into these two categories can amend their situations at their respective provincial labour centers or in the 10 districts of Bangkok.

3. Those who enter the country according to MOUs are able to proceed as normal
4. Those who do not have a work permit must come with their employers to the special labour center to comply with the appropriate procedures from July 24 to August 7. More inquiries can be made via the hotline 1694.

Another important manner is that illegal foreign workers and human trafficking operations must be abolished once and for all. This includes corrupt officials who have benefitted from allowing foreign workers to travel in and out of the country illegally. These activities must never happen again and violations will be dealt with according to the law. This government stands ready to receive complaints and useful information from all available channels.

My fellow Thai citizens, another thing I would like to leave you all with is that I do not want people to rely on the government to take on every responsibility without participating in the process themselves. I want the public to know that they are also stakeholders in our efforts to protect the environment, prevent forest encroachment, preserve our water and air quality, manage our waste, and address the issue of illegal workers.

What the government can do is oversee policies, legislate, and enforce laws. If the public and other sectors fail to cooperate and continue to only pursue  their own interests, the government would not be able to succeed in making any decisive changes.

All solutions require cooperative efforts, starting at the individual level. I ask that people look at the benefits that the majority will receive and consider both internal and external factors as well as the country’s future. It is not just about the country’s political future. Today, many concerns have been raised such as rubber or rice, although we have not implemented any sustainable solutions in the past.

I do not want people to focus on their own interests while failing to make sacrifices for the greater good or take into consideration the impacts of their actions. If people continue to think like this, how will we be able to reduce conflicts between the government, civil servants, and the public when enforcing laws?

Everyone knows that when there is no misconduct or illegality, bribes do not need to be offered. If no one is doing anything wrong, there will be no arrests or fines. Laws will not have to be more severe. In fact, there will not need to be any new laws if people respect the ones that exist now.

I believe that no one wants to break the law. Therefore, the government is facilitating better compliance with the laws, to reduce obstacles and complexities in registering, contacting officials, and obtaining permits. There must be a faster and more convenient process that uses technology as well as the one-stop service centers (OSS).

In summary, we will be able to improve upon our situation if we do the following,
1. Respect laws
2. Refrain from circumventing or violating laws for one’s own personal gain
3. Consider the impact of others as well the impact at the national level, which affects the economy, security, and the safety of people’s lives and property.

This government and the NCPO do not want to seek power the way some have claimed. They claim we want to preserve our interests and our power. What we are doing now, we are doing for the country and the people. We do not wish to control politics or democracy for the next ten to twenty years.

For those who think that of us, I do not consider them to be Thai. I ask for cooperation in preserving the country’s stability. The government and the NCPO continuously hopes that our longstanding problems do not arise again, even if it takes many administrations to achieve this goal. For these problems cannot be solved absolutely.  The world is full of risks, as we know.

Right now, others around the world may not take issue with how this administration came to be, as there has been some understanding. What they care more about is peacefulness and orderliness in our society. This is because if there is no stability, trade, investment, and economic activity will stop. This is why this world has countries that are democracies, socialist states, or even military juntas, depending on the contextual situation of each country.

People should understand what this administration is doing at this time instead of only listening to politicians who only care about their political interests. We must ensure our internal state of peacefulness and orderliness.

I am not saying that Thailand will change. I have said many times that we have been a democratic country for 85 years. Let us see what 85 years of democracy has brought us. We cannot turn into another system, but let us fix what is wrong and make successful changes that are appropriate at this time. In the future, things will get better.

The government and the NCPO are creating opportunities and an environment to reform all aspects of the country so that we can become a full-fledged democracy that is linked to our way of life, history, and culture.

It should not be a democratic system that is distorted or abused to suit the interests of certain groups. Today, we must create history together by encouraging and giving opportunities to upstanding citizens to contribute for the betterment of the country and the next generation. Let us not give in to insincere politics, but support the decent majority.

Finally, I would like to invite the public and tourists to come and support high quality Thai products at the Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem next to the Government House, which features local foods, handicrafts and export-grade OTOP products until July 24.

Thank you and I wish everyone happiness during the weekend. Sawasdee Krub