Get more popcorn, this show ain’t over yet


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 02 Mar 2003

By THANONG KHANTHONG

BANGKOK: There's a joke among the International Monetary Fund people that if a crisis-hit country wants to turn around its economy, what it only needs to do is to change at least five finance ministers or five central bank governors. 

Thailand has verified this theory of economic salvation. Since the 1997 crisis, Thailand has had five finance ministers – from Amnuay Viravan to Suchart Jaovisidha – and four central bank governors – from Rerngchai Marakanond to MR Pridiyathorn Devakula. 

So now we can be assured that the Thai economy is on its way to full recovery. We have shown to the whole world that we have fully complied with the IMF’s most important policy condition by lining up these finance ministers and central bank governors and firing them. 

The results have paid off. Last year, we achieved an economic growth rate of 5%, one of the highest in Asia. 

Indeed, the IMF formula of firing the finance ministers and central bankers is more important than closing the banks, sending the debtors to jail or letting loose the exchange rates.  

The problem is that we no longer have any candidates left for these important posts. 

But who cares? We are now living in a very exciting period of unprecedented prosperity under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. We only need one prime minister to run the whole country. All the positions are not indispensable because they are simply operational. 

Thaksin is also running the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Thailand from Government House. We have an All-in-One formula for our leader. 

There are new policies, new measures and new programmes introduced from Government House to get us excited all the time. It is like watching the Chang beer TV ad: you feel like going out to buy a bottle and become part of it. 

All we need to do now is to put our trust and faith in our leadership. Then things will turn out all right.  

As prime minister, Thaksin is first among the unequal in his Cabinet. He presides over all populist economic policies universally designed to make the Thai people happy and to eradicate poverty in six years. 

No other Thai leader in the past would have dared to make this sort of declaration – clean-cut policies and measurable targets. 

Since 2001, we have been treated to new policies almost every other day. If you want to open a som tam business, all you need to do is to go to the People’s Bank and ask for a Bt10,000 loan. You can kiss your loan-shark goodbye. 

If you don’t have money to buy a mobile phone or a motorcycle, you only have to apply for a loan from your village fund. Each village is blessed with Bt1mil in soft loans. 

This village fund is operated rather prudently. For once you have borrowed money from it and can’t repay it, what you need to do is to borrow money from the black market and pay it to the village fund. Then the village fund will, always with a good understanding, lend you the money again because it only wants to make its loan book look decent. Your burden is the high interest rate from the black market. But that will only be inconvenient for a couple of days.  

If you get sick, you only pay Bt30 per visit to the local hospital near to your home. This allows you to visit the doctor 10 times a month. And all you need to pay is Bt300 (US$7) to have somebody to talk to if you happen to be lonely. 

Medical fees in Thailand can only go one way – down. You don’t have to worry who will pay for your actual medical bills because the money will definitely have to come from somewhere. This is the beauty of the whole thing. 

If your parents know how to distill liquor or ferment wine, you have to keep this local wisdom in utmost confidentiality. Our government will give you a certificate to verify that your knowledge, which used to be taboo in the past, is a national treasure. You can use this certificate as collateral to borrow money from Citibank and Hong Kong Bank. 

Suddenly, you wake up one morning and find that all the things around you can be used as collateral for bank loans. 

The wetland you own, the sidewalk cafe you run, the sugar cane machine that helps you make sugar cane juice, the public land you have taken control over are going to be registered with the government, which will then issue you with certificates for bank loans. Doesn’t that sound exciting again? 

As the prime minister has quipped, this government is trying to turn paper into money to help the people, while the Democrats succeeded in turning money into paper. 

We only have to wait just a while before the banks pitch in with Bt200mil to Bt300bil to turn our “dead assets” into “productive assets.” Again you don’t have to worry where the money will come from because somebody else will pay for it. 

Over the past month, we have witnessed bodies piling up after our dear Thaksin launched his war against drugs. It is like watching Terminator III. Believe it or not, most Thai people like it. If the government gets tough and people in the drug business gets some bullets in their heads, what’s the big deal? 

We have only got to half time in the Thaksin show. More exciting things will be introduced soon. So stay tuned. - From The Nation, a member of Asia News Network


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