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The gift of governance

In a dire attempt to make people feel better, the Srettha Thavisin government is carrying out some New Year gift-giving this month.

Yet, scepticism has risen over the practice, initiated by past governments, given that most of what have been wrapped as “gifts” are anything but the routine services delivered by state agencies.

For instance, the Interior Ministry has a plan to launch the so-called ThaID project and improve the household registration system, as well as another project to monitor and mitigate the impact of drought by the Prevention and Mitigation of Public Disasters Department, among others.

How could these state agencies present such services as a bonus given that is their job?

Not to mention that some measures touted during the May 14 election campaign have only added more of a burden to the state budget and cost taxpayers plenty of money.

These include promises of reduced expenses — such as a proposed cap on electricity bills for households that use no more than 300 units per month — a freeze on the prices of petrol and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and other promised freebies.

Without restructuring the energy sector, and correcting unfair energy contracts that transfer unnecessary costs to the customers in the form of contentious fuel tariffs (FT), the government is only sweeping the problems under the rug.

Some promises, like the 10,000-baht digital wallet handout, tackling informal loans, increasing the minimum wage, and applying a 20-baht flat rate for all electric trains remain up in the air.

Over the past four months, Prime Minister Srettha has travelled extensively in his bid to secure investors’ confidence, promoting in particular the much-touted land-bridge megaproject. Yet too little has been done to address inequality and fundamental problems like education, as well as unfair access to natural resources.

Meanwhile, the reform of key institutions like the police and the military appears to be little more than compromises.

Indeed, the government should end this annual gift-giving, which is essentially meaningless anyway. What it needs to do immediately is restore justice, bridge the wealth gap, and tackle deep-rooted corruption.

With regard to justice, the case of ex-fugitive-prime-minister-cum-convict Thaksin Shinawatra, who has just spent four months in a police hospital instead of behind bars due to some mystery ailment, spurs questions of privilege and legal double standards, which is bad for the justice system.

Moreover, the disappearance of Chaowalit Thongduang, another high-profile jailbreaker who remains at large after fleeing from a southern hospital on Oct 22, also corrodes the image of the Thai justice system. The successful escape of such a major criminal is a testimony to the illicit links between mafia bosses and unscrupulous state officers, from police to prosecutors. The failure of the police chief to bring Chaowalit to justice is nothing but shameful.

The government should also speed up its action against pork smuggling, punishing all culprits including major traders. After the lightning-fast transfer of the Department of Special Investigation chief tasked with the case, no progress has been made despite allegations an ex-minister was involved. This foot-dragging on such a key matter only heightens public suspicion.

Mr Srettha knows the public deserve better. Maintaining the rule of law would be a better Xmas gift.

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