BANGKOK: The image-conscious Thaksin administration has ordered hastily implemented facelifts to show Bangkok in the best possible light when leaders of 21 member countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum converge on the capital city for a summit next month.
Gone are thousands of stray dogs from the city centre. They have been rounded up and resettled in a holding centre in Sa Kaew province where they will be kept and taken care of, never to return to the capital’s neighbourhoods.
Foreign beggars have also been arrested and are now waiting to be repatriated.
Also targeted are thousands of homeless people who roam the streets of Bangkok and sleep out in the open at public parks, train stations and other public places. The Bangkok city government is conducting a head count and registering them with a view to taking them off the streets.
To the authorities enforcing this last-minute clean-up campaign, the goal is to eliminate the unsightly mess of stray dogs, beggars and tramps during the upcoming Apec summit which is to be a showcase of the best that Thailand has to offer the world.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration insists that unlike similar exercises in the past, the aim this time is for a lasting solution to problems which have contributed to the bad image of Bangkok’s chaotic streets.
Apart from some insensitive remarks made by Bangkok Governor Samak Sundaravej who suggested that homeless people should be rounded up and sent to the same shelter where the stray dogs are being kept, some proposals put forward by city officials appear to be sensible enough.
The city government has proposed to interview and classify homeless people according to their psychological profiles and the types of assistance that they may need.
Some proposals are less sensible and reflect a rather simplistic notion of the problems that pushed these people from their own communities to lead a precarious way of life on the streets.
One proposal even calls for sending homeless people to boot camps run by the army for one or two months in the hope of turning them into productive members of society, capable of leading a normal, respectable life.
Such a social-engineering approach overlooks the root cause of the problem: the failure of Thai society in general and local communities in particular to be compassionate and extend a helping hand to the less fortunate.
Homeless people once had a home, a community to which they belonged. But somehow they were cast out, having failed to get the proper upbringing and training in their formative years that would let them lead independent and productive lives.
That these people have been estranged from their families and uprooted from their communities suggests that the proverbial compassionate society that many Thais hold to be an infallible truth can longer provide its traditional safety net.
Any lasting solution to the problem of homeless people must involve the rebuilding of their self-respect, preferably with the help of their families and communities from where they came, or from the neighbourhood whose streets they now roam.
Thai society must show the decency to help these people regain their human dignity again. - The Nation