From the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy to Sustainable Development Goals August 25, 2017

Good evening dear Thai citizens.

With exceptional skills and hard work, HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana claimed Her second SEA Games medal after Her dressage team won the silver medal in the equestrian competition at the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on August 22,

thus bringing joy to all Thai people. Her Royal Highness won Her first medal 12 years ago in Manila with the Thai national badminton team, which won the gold medal in the women’s team category. Her Royal Highness is an inspiration and a great example for all athletes who are competing for the country and the Thai people.

My fellow citizens, during my recent visit to the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima to meet farmers, civil servants, businesspersons, and members of the public, the Cabinet and I were able to hear people’s feedback about the work of the government during the past 3 years. We also heard their complaints and discussed them at the Cabinet meeting, which led to the approval of several implementation plans, budget allocations, and many projects aimed at alleviating the hardships of Nakhon Ratchasima residents. I would like to share this with everyone today, so that you can better understand our intentions and become motivated to take part in these projects.

1. As for water scarcity and repetitive droughts, I have accelerated the implementation of the water management plans of the Mekong, Loei, Chi, and Mun rivers, in order to improve irrigation systems in the northeastern region, particularly by using the geographical attributes of the area to best transport water from Pak Nam Loei in Chiang Khan District to farming areas via water tunnels.

This is project is also capable to ease floods. However, we need to conduct an environmental impact assessment for this, which will require a substantial budget and time to complete. Therefore, the assessment must be accelerated.

While the feasibility study is underway, other measures will be employed, such as the restoration of water resources at the upstream level, i.e, the Chi River and the Lam Sa Pung reservoir project in Chaiyaphum. The construction of the reservoir will be at the foot of the mountain to avoid possible environmental damage.

The Cabinet is also considering building sluice gates in provinces where the Mekong River runs through. A budget plan is being drafted for this project. Lastly, we will speed up impact assessments and the design of a sluice gate in Tha Uthen District of Nakhon Phanom.

As for the areas outside of the irrigation zones, we will improve water restoration and distribution systems by building small water retention areas, which will acquire machinery for underground water drilling for local governments, so that they can increase the number of reservoirs and adapt rice farms according to the new agricultural theory.

2. The government is committed to supporting trade and investment, and to enhancing infrastructure as well as tourist destinations of the northeastern region. I have already discussed this with relevant agencies, and we have agreed that infrastructure development must be in accordance with the country’s economic growth, for instance, the dual rail project that runs through urban Nakhon Ratchasima. The project has received support from everyone but at the same time, we have to better manage residential areas to allow local businesses to function. We concluded that the rail track would be built above ground, which will result in the extension of the project for another 17 months for design work, EIA study, and the construction itself. An additional 2.7 billion baht will be required for this worthwhile project, as this part of national infrastructure will be around for many generations.

As for supporting regional commerce, I have assigned related agencies to integrate their efforts to boost trade activities along the border. One-stop services will be provided for higher efficiency and convenience. The government is currently considering setting up a committee to be in charge of mobilizing border trade.

In the future, economic zones along the northeastern border namely Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, and Mukdahan could get the same support as the EEC, depending the readiness of each area. The entire infrastructure must be ready such as water, electricity, communications system, and digital systems.

At the same time, we also have think about its value and potential investors. We have to take it systematically in each area because of the different conditions. With regards to supporting Nakhon Ratchasima as a top destination, there must be close cooperation in the form of Pracharat, which the government is looking forward to support.

Initiatives should start at the community level, first by enhancing tourist sites, whether through cultural programmes, environmental conservation, sports, food, herbs, and quality products, such as Dan Kwien earthenware and Pak Thong Chai silk.

In addition to managing the wear and tear of such tourist sites, we must build connectivity in terms of transportation because these beautiful places are often separated by long distances. As such, the Cabinet meeting this week has approved several undertakings for the development of the northeastern region.

The first one is a special highway from Bang Pa In to Nakhon Ratchasima. The private sector will join the project in the form of a public-private partnership. Stretching 196 kilometers, the highway is part of the Bangkok-Nong Khai special highway project spanning 535 kilometers in total.

The new highway will connect Bangkok with the hub of the northeast, as well as Thailand’s neighboring countries in the Mekong Subregion. The project is expected to reduce logistics costs and traffic congestion as well as bring about prosperity in the region, in line with the 20-year National Strategy.

Secondly, the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday agreed to set aside 2 billion baht from the 2017 fiscal budget to help restore infrastructure damaged by the recent floods that swept the north and northeast regions.

Thirdly, the Cabinet has endorsed water management plans to be implemented in the northeast.
The first plan is to designate 8 areas as drought and flood prone zones. These areas cover 18 provinces. This plan allows local governments to integrate their efforts to fight droughts and floods.

The Cabinet is considering a series of ready-to-be-implemented projects, proposed by the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation and the Department of Groundwater Resources, involving 348 projects that will require 8.8 billion baht. 550,000 rai of farmland will benefit from an increase of 107 million cubic meters of water.

These projects will help combat floods and droughts for the 8 aforementioned areas in the northeast. The projects and their budgets will be considered based on appropriateness, and for future implementation.

The government is also formulating a long-term drought and flood prevention plan to be implemented in the northeast region for the period of 2020 and 2026. The plan brings together the work of all related agencies, with the aim to resolve such problems for 70% of all vulnerable areas, and 50% of the total area combined.

Every agency has been tasked to clear the waterways or have flood measures in place by November 2017.

These are only part of the government’s flood and drought prevention efforts to help people cope with natural disasters. There remain a number of other issues that we have to address such as education,

Workforce development, and public health, all of which have been assigned to responsible agencies for effective solutions. I thank the people of Nakhon Ratchasima, the private sector, local officers as well as all the other northeastern provinces for a warm and generous welcome. This is the uniqueness of of the Thai nation.

This visit was very useful and educational for the Cabinet, the central administration, and me. We were able to get direct information from the locals and learn about their problems first hand. We will undertake measures to solve people’s problems more effectively. The Cabinet ministers and I plan on visiting such area as well as other provinces on a consistent basis.

I would like people to know that this government attaches great importance to regional development because this is fundamental to mobilsing our economy and society. The Cabinet ministers and I stand ready to listen to everyone, and we are determined to help address the people’s problems to the best of our ability. Also, I would everyone to move forward and make new progress together as well have to adapt in order to successfully overcome new challenges.

During my visit to Nakhon Ratchasima, I was also given a briefing about local police officers’ efforts to help a victim of a road accident. It was a bike accident where a girl identified as Kanisorn Pankham was injured. The officers were able to transport her to Prathai Hospital, which later transferred her to Maharat Nakhon Ratchasima Hospital for a surgery.

The officers have also been following up on the girl’s condition. I would like to commend two officers namely Police Corporal Preecha Boonsorn and Police Senior Sergeant Major Saiyon Pan-Ngulueam. Please keep up the good work and continue to serve the people. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my support to Kanisorn for a speedy recovery.

Moreover, I would like to my appreciation to all the civil servants, volunteers, firefighters, and military personnel for their outstanding work and services.
As you can see, if our nation has good citizens and good officials, the Thai people will be happy and safe. I urge all of us to do good deeds and contribute to society on a daily basis.

My fellow Thai citizens, the Thai economy is the second largest in ASEAN and accounts for 20% of the ASEAN economy. Although our average GDP growth of 3.7% is an improvement, I still consider this as not strong enough, needing more stability and sustainability. We must therefore, evaluate the country’s strengths and weaknesses in order to enhance the country’s overall competitiveness.

In the past 3 years, the government has accelerated infrastructure projects and water management policies, as well as improved outdated, complicated and conflicting laws that were an impediment to national development. Did you know that Thailand currently has up to 20,000 legislative acts? If you count other laws, the number stands at 105,000.

This is an example of an issue that requires reform. The government has taken action in areas where immediate measures can be undertaken, while also implementing short to long-term measures simultaneously. Examples of a policy by the government to strengthen the country’s grassroots economy include assisting SMEs by ensuring easy and convenient access to capital, as well as measures to linl such SMEs into the country’s production value chain, such as:

1. A 81 billion baht credit guarantee program by the Thai Credit Guarantee Corporation that commenced since August 11 this year and expects to assist up to 27,000 SMEs.

2. Providing up to 7.5 billion baht in loans to SMEs in the tourism industry through the SME Development Bank, in which individuals are eligible for up to 2 billion baht while juristic persons are eligible to for up to 15 million baht.

and 3. A 38 billion baht Pracharat fund that is expected to generate between 500 to 600 billion baht in monetary circulation during the latter half of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. The government aims to disburse the entirety of the fund by October this year.

Another matter that may be new to some, but is something that this government is pushing for, is a national data center that government agencies, the private sector, and academics can draw information from.

The recent meeting by the Office of Industrial Economics (OIE), called the “OIE Forum”, has brought about collaboration between the government and the private sector in setting policies for industrial development, especially on Big Data, to help raise the standards of Thai industries to “Industry 4.0” levels according to the Thailand 4.0 agenda.

This center will provide government agencies and the private sector access to up-to-date and quality information that can be used for developing various industries. In 2017, the government has spent 30 million baht to develop Big Data systems by investing in three areas, namely

1. Creating a team of data analysts. In the short term, these teams may be headed by foreign personnel as we develop our own personnel within the OIE.

2. Managing and organizing our existing data within each agency. The OIE will hold discussions with various agencies and sign memorandums that enable the utilization of data between agencies, while also creating new databases such as the GIS system for considering the appropriateness of industrial development in various areas.

And 3. Developing software systems for effective data management by creating data models that are appropriate to each type of data, and adjustable to global conditions.

The benefits of these programs may not be quantifiable in monetary terms, but will lead to developments in the industrial sector, making businesses more competitive while encouraging innovations into the future. We must rely on the Pracharat model of cooperation between government agencies, the private sector, and academics, starting with our establishment of the country’s industrial development goals.

To take an example of a lesson from the past, Thailand has only been able to utilize 70% of its production capabilities due to data accessibility issues. This has had the effect of making various analyses fall short of their forecasting accuracy, thus making the development of new innovations among SMEs and startups a difficult task.  This has stood as an obstacle towards economic development and the Thailand 4.0 agenda.

The use of Big Data will become a main tool in the near future to add value within the agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as within the tourism and services industries. A study by the Thailand Development Research Institute indicated that modern economies rely heavily on Big Data in their decision-making, and if Thailand can incorporate Big Data in only 1 in 5 of the total agriculture and industrial sector, we would see an increase of GDP by 0.82% or 84 billion baht.

Therefore, the demands in the labor market in the next era will not only be for conventional statisticians and analysts, but also for Big Data analysts. Presently, no higher education institution in Thailand has a specific program on Big Data. Therefore, we must begin today in order to be able to keep up with the times. Education is a foundational aspect that the government has pushed through the STEM study’s policy.

My fellow Thai citizens, this past August 20, The National Savings Fund celebrated its 2th anniversary. This government has successfully established this fund according to the 2011 National Savings Fund Act. It is an important piece of legislation that coincides with the King’s Philosophy of His Majesty King Rama IX on instilling habits of saving funds and creating household account books, in addition to living a life of prudence.

The fund targets not only “off-the-grid” occupations such as freelancers, farmers, and hired hands, but also the public, including students who have yet to participate in any savings fund.

Presently, the fund has over 2.4 billion baht from 530,000 participants from the off-the-grid sector, which comprises 27 million Thais.

I would like all Thai citizens to live in happiness, especially the elderly. This year, Thailand will have up to 10.3 million people over 60 years old, or 16% of the total population. This number is expected to increase to 20% in the next 8 years, with 3.5 million people in this group earning under 30,000 baht per year. The government must take care of these people.

Various ministries have enacted measures to accommodate an aging society. For example, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has created a national public health care plan, while the Ministry of Labour has created an employment plan for elderly citizens.

In addition, the Ministry of Finance has proposed increasing pensions for elderly citizens to reflect the current cost of living. One was is by asking more affluent citizens to forgo their pensions in order for it to be reallocated towards a “senior citizens fund” to assist low-income senior citizens.

Should only 10% of qualified citizens in this group forgo their pensions, the new fund would receive up to 4 billion baht per year, enabling the government to better care for low-income senior citizens than before.

While occupations that are “in the system” are covered by the social security fund which focuses on health and accidental coverage, the fund still falls short in caring for the financial stability of people after retirement.

The government has, therefore, pushed for a National Pensions Fund to support workers in the system to have savings for their future. The measure is currently undergoing legislative deliberation and is expected to be enacted next year.

The new law will first mandate large companies to participate before extending compliance to small and medium companies. In the next 7 years, the fund expects to cover over 14 million people.

If one continuously contributes to the fund from age 15-60, one will receive up to 40,000 baht per month after retirement. If one also contributes to the social security fund continuously from age 20-55, one will also receive up to 7,500 per month after retirement.

Combine the two and citizens can receive no less than 50,000 baht per month for your living expenses and avoid many risks while also not being dependent on the government. This measure is

is a way of ensuring stability for Thai citizens, who are the country’s most valuable resource. The measures is also based on international practices and is an effective use of the budget as it encourages savings and investing in the country’s future.

Finally, I would like to invite everyone to contribute towards the preservation of the country’s biodiversity, which is one of the most diverse in the world. For instance, Thailand has over 10,000 strains of herbs.

The government has pushed for the development of Thai herbs for commercial use, by focusing on the 4 most basic herbs, which are Thai black ginger, turmeric, cassumunar ginger, and centella. This will involve establishing an herbal database, increasing land for herbal plantation, developing markets for raw herbal materials, investing in research and development as well as laboratories, developing SMEs in the industry, providing certifications for production, distribution, and export, and expanding market channels, including e-commerce, and developing ‘herbal cities’ for the industry.

Developing this industry is another key strategy for mobilizing the country into the future, in particular as it looks to meet the demands of a global market for natural healthcare solutions.

Therefore, in order for everyone to learn about the benefits of various herbs and their applications, I would like to invite everyone to attend the 14th National Convention on Herbs at IMPACT, Muang Thong Thani from August 30 to September 3 this year.

Thank you, and I wish everyone a joyful weekend. Sawasdee krub.