From the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy to Sustainable Development Goals February 9, 2018

Good evening my fellow Thais.

I’d like to invite people who live in Bangkok and nearby provinces to visit the “Un Ai Rak Khlai Khwam Nao” festival (winter festival) at the Royal Plaza on the grounds of Dusit Palace and Sanam Suea Pa between February 8th and March 11th, 2018.  Royal agencies has organized this festival as His Majesty King has graciously initiated.
The festival was organized in order to bring happiness to people and encourage them to carry on the culture and traditions of Thailand. The festival also provides an opportunity for people to enjoy a beautiful botanical garden and Thai arts. Visitors are encouraged to wear traditional Thai cloths to fit with the festival atmospheric surrounding or polite attire, if they want.

I would like to invite everyone to take their children and foreign friends to visit this festival. The more the merrier.  So, we all can get to learn and be proud of our magnificent history and culture.

My fellow Thais, early this week, I chaired the mobile cabinet meeting and I had an opportunity to meet with people in Trat and Chanthaburi. I would like to thank the people of Trat and Chanthaburi, government officials, and all participants for the warm welcome and kind hospitality. I also appreciate all concerns and suggestions.  These concerns and suggestions reflect the real needs of the people. They are useful information. The Government can use this information to issue the right policy and make sure that people’s needs are met. The eastern part of the country enjoys high level of growth. It has great potential in various aspects. It houses a number of targeted industries and is the location of the EEC which we have been mobilizing for future growth, as part of the country’s economic reform.

Also, in terms of natural abundance, the region is famous for fruit production as well as wonderful tourist destinations such as Pattaya, Bang Saen, Samet Island, and Chang Island. In addition, it is a center for border trades.  It has great transport infrastructures, providing a gateway to the world economy.   However, the region’s fast growth has presented many challenges and problems such as environmental issues, water scarcity, shortages of workers, lack of infrastructure etc.

Cabinet Ministers and I met with provincial governors, representatives from the private sector, local administrative officers, and representatives from agricultural sector from 8 provinces to discuss problems and needs which can be categorized in 6 areas.

1. In terms of infrastructure, the region needs more roads. We are going to study on road projects that will help boost tourism.  For example, Chalerm Burapha Chonlathit Highway (U Tapao-Chon Buri-Rayong-Chanthaburi), coastal and inland roads in Chon Buri province etc. The new roads will help reduce traffic jams.  At the same time, we are planning to have new roads in Sa Kaeo province to support border trades.

We also have projects to develop road networks and add more lanes to the roads to better connect with the EEC zone, tourist destinations and borders. Projects will be prioritized based on their potential connectivity between the EEC zone, other provinces in the eastern region, and other parts of the country. We will have to consider environmental impacts as well as the benefit that the local people will receive at the present time and in the future.

As for public transport, there will be a study on double-track railway services on the route Rayong-Chanthaburi-Trat in order to connect with the Bangkok-Rayong high-speed rail services. There will be sprinter train services between Bangkok and Aranyaprathet to facilitate people’s commute. And in terms of power supply, we will improve the high-voltage distribution system in Nakhon Nayok province.

2. In terms of industries, investments, trades, and border trades, there was a discussion on turning border post to international point of entry.  The Government will look into the issue and prepare to talk with our neighbors.  On this issue, we must take into account national security, environmental effect, and future growth.

Apart from the aforesaid, the cabinet plans to turn Chanthaburi to become the world’s gem and jewelry hub, providing all-round services.  At the upstream level, we are going to apply technology and innovation to improve the quality of gem and jewelry. Then, at the midstream, we are going to perfect the skill of the people in the industry. And, at the downstream level, we are going develop cultural tourist attractions and empowering the jewelry maker community.   I have asked concern agencies to look into the matter and report back to me.

3. In terms of agriculture, there was a plan to make the eastern region the World Fruit Metropolis.  In this regard, the cabinet gave its approval to the idea of the establishment of the Eastern Fruit Corridor. Actually, not only the eastern region, other parts of the country will be linked to the corridor.  The corridor will act as the country gateway for fruit export.  This initiative aims to make Thailand a credible production and distribution hub of quality tropical fruit whose standards will be internationally recognized.

Additionally, the Ministry of Commerce, the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Chiang Mai University, and Burapha University have signed an MOU agreement to make Thailand a World Fruit Metropolis. They will set standard for Thai fruits to boost consumers’ confidence in both domestic and international markets. We also have approved the integrated fruit trade strategies to support such undertaking.

4. In terms of tourism, the cabinet discussed on the promotion of health tourism through a brand called Chao Phraya Abhaibhubate. A spa shops will be built in the eastern region. There will also be an improvement in cycling lanes in Chon Buri province to promote tourism.

All projects shall be well managed. Also, there was a proposal to set up a human resource development center to systematically and standardly support the growing tourist and hotel industries in the eastern region.

5. In terms of quality of life, we discussed on the improvement of public health in preparation for the increasing population. We talked about the capacities of local hospitals, the human resources and personal in public health, and medical equipment and supply procurement.

We also discussed about the setting up of emergency centers and integrated medical centers.  Concerned agencies will set priority and continue working on these proposed projects.

6. In terms of natural resources and the environment, we discussed on wastewater management in Rayong province and the dredging of Bang Pakong River in Chachoengsao province. The dredging will prevent the shallowing of the river and enhance our water transportation system (for our agricultural products).  We also touched on the issue of wild elephants outside the protected areas, solutions to flooding, water drainage, and wastewater treatment in Pattaya province.

These topics came from local officers, the private sector, and the local people. The Government will consider them based on the urgency. These projects require a large amount of budget. Therefore, we cannot execute all projects at once, but gradually working on them based on the level of urgency to make sure that the budget is wisely and efficiently spent. Some topics such as the promotion of Thai fruit and the World Fruit Metropolis concept were further discussed in the cabinet meeting.

Apart from the topics I have just mentioned, the cabinet has considered other matters relating to the region such as the draft on overall development of the East. The draft was drafted based on people’s benefit and economic growth.

There have been satisfactory improvements in the EEC area. In 2017, a 300-billion-baht investment plan was revealed. Most investments were in the targeted industries. Many projects are well planed such as an aviation maintenance center project, high-speed railway project, and seaport development project.

Moreover, there was a preparation of water management plans.  The plan aims to seek new water sources, increase water storage capacities and water supplies, in order to facilitate activities in the EEC zone in the next 10-20 years.

My fellow Thais, during this visit, not only my team and I had the opportunity to learn more about problems and needs in the area in order to better alleviate the problems that affect the wellbeing of the people, I also had the opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs and community leaders in small group. It was a good opportunity for me to listen from various viewpoints and explain the government’s intentions behind various policies. Many policies have already been implemented at both governmental and local levels concurrently.

I consider this an important step towards reconciliation and I have stressed the importance of participation in moving the country forward as well as conflict avoidance.  People must be able to depend on community leaders and politicians. We must work together. Thailand belongs to all of us. There are many provinces in Thailand. All provinces must, together, implement our vision in order to move the country forward.

My fellow Thais, I am sure we are all familiar of the troubles low income citizens face and their inability to access the justice system, perhaps because of their limited knowledge of their rights and the judicial process, but especially due to insufficient funds required for legal proceeding.

Some may need to borrow money. Many are bankrupted just because they wanted some justice. Statistics reveal the current number of people imprisoned while pending trial exceeds 60,000 people even when the law deems them “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.” While these people have the right to bail in order to gather evidence and consult with their lawyers, but this right was never exercised due to insufficient funds.

It is therefore the purpose of the justice fund to provide poor defendants with access to the justice system. The government aims to reduce this social disparity by upgrading this fund to cover expenses throughout the judicial process such as bail, attorney fees, transportation, lodging, and other related expenses at no financial limit.
Moreover, requests can be approved at the local level through community justice centers at the sub-district and municipality level as well as at provincial Damrongtham centers, justice offices, and justice fund offices.

These centers serve as a community network for assisting low income citizens.  Since the implementation of the fund in April 2016, it has helped low income defendants receive bail so that they can defend themselves through the judicial process outside the prison.

In the past 1 year and 8 months, the justice fund has spent around 271 million baht, mostly for bail. The number of people released on bail has now increased to 90 percent, an increase from the past 12 years which saw over 742 million baht spent.

In the future, people can access the justice fund more conveniently through electronic channels from their own homes. I don’t want to see low income people suffering in prisons when they haven’t committed a crime. It is another story if they are indeed guilty.

Some might say that low income people still find hard to access the fund.  We, then, must examine the processes and make sure that all the procedures are carried out fairly and transparently.

I would like to talk about another piece of good news that involves the wellbeing of people and access to capital for conducting business. especially at the grassroots economy level. The Cabinet has approved the principles of the people financial institutions act, which is an important component of our national reform agenda. The government wishes to support the setting up of small financial institutions at the community level.

This law will benefit up to 20-30 million people both in the cities and in rural areas, especially for people do not have access to commercial bank.  They might live too far from commercial bank or they do not have required documents, credit history or proper collateral. These people were unable to access funding for conducting businesses and were unable to become business owners or be self-reliant. They had to borrow money from black market creditors which may charge them interest rates of up to 20-30% per month.

As a result, many have lost their family’s land to their creditors and have been treated unfairly during the collection process. The 2015 debt collection act proposed by this Government has been able to resolve part of this issue. This new law will enable people to legally set up small financial institutions in communities.  These financial institutions will be supervised and supported by the Government Savings Bank and the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.

The banks will impart information to the managers and promote transparency through means such as proper accounting practices and provide legal advice.
People will be able to make convenient deposits, withdrawals, and take out loans in their communities without the risk of being taken advantage of like in the past. They will be able to pick themselves up and be strong.

These small financial institutions currently exist across the country in over 30,000 locations in the form of savings unions or community financial institutions. Some have existed for over 10 years and have saved up to 10-50 million baht, while some grown up to 100 million. This is all up to the governance of the management team and participation of the community.

In Trat, I had met with abbot Subin who encouraged the people in the community to save as little as 1, 5, or 10 baht per day. His network of savers in Trat has pooled up to 2.7 billion baht and has been able to alleviate unofficial debt and fund agricultural projects and business ventures, allocating profits as welfare for community members.
What people have been waiting for in vain from all past governments is a law that certifies what these people are doing as a legal entity, so that these financial institutions can grow in a more stable manner.

I hope that this law will pass parliamentary deliberation within this year. Once passed, we will allow these savings unions to become certified financial institutions, if they chose to do so. These institutions will serve a supplementary function to larger banks and financial institutions whereby they will still retain their autonomy to manage their financial transactions and issue loans according to the same community rules.

I stress that communities will be able to define their own rules, as each place has its own characteristics and culture and must find its own way. Once the law is passed, the government will gradually grant approvals, starting at one institution per sub-district.

There may be more than one institution in large sub-districts. In the long run, the country will have at least 7,000 of these community institutions run by the people for the people. This will lead to sustainable development by stimulating the local economy and encouraging self-sufficiency according to the wishes of King Rama IX’s initiative.
Thank you, and I wish everyone a happy weekend.

Please, don’t forget to dress in traditional Thai attire to visit “Un Ai Rak Khlai Khwam Nao” festival (winter festival). Sawasdee Krub.


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