June 29, 2001
The other day a group of hardworking Thais from across the socioeconomic spectrum held a political workshop to discuss the bright future ahead. Without the workshop, they probably would never have come together like this. Indeed, workshops are Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s greatest contribution to Thailand’s public policymaking.
It is probably the first time that Mr Banker, Mr En Pee Elle, Mr Middle Class, Miss Street Vendor and Mrs Farmer had taken part in such a workshop. They were seemingly in high spirits about it.
The objective of the workshop was to discuss who among the participants benefited the most from the Thaksin government’s bonanza. In January, they had taught the Democrats a dear lesson by voting them out – the Chuan administration had failed to heed their individual needs.
The Democrats were just interested in tackling the baht and interest rates without paying any attention to the “rice and fish” problem. The workshop participants all voted for Thai Rak Thai on January 6 because the party had told them that it would pay more attention to rice and fish problems.
Moreover, the Thaksin alternative had readymade answers for their economic woes, so that they didn’t actually have to do anything.
“I don’t understand why the news is saying that the economic situation is getting worse when my life is improving a thousand times since Khun Thaksin has become prime minister,” said Mrs Farmer.
“I totally agree. You are the one who gains the most among us because you don’t have to repay your debt to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives for three years,” said Miss Street Vendor. “Just imagine how much money you will have left in your pocket to buy on the underground lottery over the next three years.”
Mrs Farmer gave a big grin.
“I myself have to pay interest to that Rama Singh, who runs a loan shark operation every day. When I have no money to pay, he chases after me around the fresh market as if I were a thief,” said Miss Street Vendor.
Mr Middle Class raised his hand to speak. “But Miss Street Vendor, I can see your fortunes are shining for the better. Khun Thaksin has just set up the People’s Bank for you to borrow money from. I have never seen any kind government like this before in my life,” he said.
“Oh, yeah, it’s the people’s hope. But I don’t know when I am going to get my Bt15,000 loan to keep my noodle shop going. There are so many people queuing up for the loans. Still, I have faith in the People’s Bank. It’s much better than borrowing money from Rama Singh. He would never give me a break with his 60percent interest rate. When I get the loan from the People’s Bank, I will repay all the Bt5,000 I owe to Rama Singh.”
Mr Middle Class turned to speak to Mrs Farmer. “Your village is about to get Bt1 million beginning next month to do whatever you people want to do. You’re very lucky,” he said.
“Yes, we’re lucky. We are about to discuss what we would spend the money on. But too bad it will not be enough to build a golf course,” said Mrs Farmer.
“Still,” he said, “it is a huge sum of money, the like of which I have never seen before in my entire life, although I work as a clerk in a highrise building on Silom Road. I just wish I were born a farmer like you, Mrs Farmer.”
“That’s too much Mr Middle Class,” said Mrs Farmer, blushing proudly.
“Even more so, you’ll pay only Bt30 to your doctor per visit. That’s the kind of deal I would love to get,” said Mr Middle Class.
Miss Street Vendor added: “But I have heard that Mr Banker and Mr En Pee Elle will be much better off than all of us because they will benefit from the . . .err . . .”
“The TAMC,” Mr Banker said. “Yeah, I agree that this government is gentler and kinder than the previous one, which just went after us to close down our banks. The Thai Asset Management Corporation will buy out our bad debts. We are happy to transfer some of our garbage to the government.”
“But your bank has been saved by the previous government and our deposits are still there,” said Mr Middle Class.
“But enough is never enough,” said Mr Banker
Mr En Pee Elle joined in: “But with the TAMC as a scratch to your stomach, at least you get something rather than nothing.”
“We’ll get only Bt250 billion in financial assistance from the TAMC. You know, it is a very small amount. Indeed, we really need Bt1 trillion to keep us going because we have to satisfy all kinds of silly banking regulations. But we understand that the government would need to spend most of the Bt1 trillion on the state banks, which are such an embarrassment to the banking world,” Mr Banker explained.
“Still, we have no complaint because we just hated the Democrat government. If Khun Thaksin is to go under the sword of the Constitution Court, then we all will be in big trouble. Nominees are a normal practice everywhere, so I think the court should show mercy for the sake of the nation’s survival.”
“I agree. I’d rather face the TAMC than confront the FRA [Financial Sector Restructuring Authority] again, which only did a haircut on the debt for the big names. A small fry like me was squeezed by the throat,” said Mr En Pee Elle.
“This time I hope the TAMC will forgive 80 or 90 per cent of my debt so that I may have some money left to buy a new Volkswagen Beetle for my daughter. She is tired of her BMW already. My wife has not changed her habit of flying over to London once a month to do her shopping,” he added.
“After listening to you all, I don’t see that I will get anything from the government’s bonanza,” said Mr Middle Class.
All the other participants then realised that Mr Middle Class had been left out of the equation.
“You all get a piece of the cake. I along with all Bangkokians voted for Thai Rak Thai. But I am beginning to understand that I was stupid to support the party because I get nothing in return.”
“Pity you, Mr Middle Class,” said Mr Banker.