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Thaksin treats bureaucrats to corporate vision

March 6, 2001

SHRUGGING off a possible attempt on his life over the weekend, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday pledged to shake up the bureaucratic system through corporate-style management and strong leadership.

Speaking to about 500 top bureaucrats, military brass, police officers, provincial governors and heads of state enterprises at Government House, Thaksin talked comprehensively about his vision to leaders of the bureaucratic system, which controls the government machinery through its two million staff. His vision boiled down to how he aimed to lift Thailand out of the economic crisis towards a knowledge-based society.

It was a rare display of leadership quality and communication skills from a prime minister, and he managed to keep his cool, businesslike composure after narrowly escaping a possible assassination attempt on Saturday. A Thai Airways International aircraft bound for Chiang Mai exploded only 20 minutes before he was supposed to board.

Thaksin said he would like to see civil servants work as professionals instead of routinely performing their duties to serve differing interests or just please their immediate bosses. He cited the fine example of officials at the Finance Ministry who had performed at a professional standard despite the political changeover.

Thaksin's address to civil servants followed his delegation of duties to his 36-member Cabinet and delivery of his government's policy statement to Parliament. Civil servants are an important constituency, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the annual budget.

During the address, which lasted almost two hours, Thaksin challenged bureaucrats to embrace change by setting their goals high and pragmatically pursuing the means to achieve them, a process normal in the corporate world, he said.

"You should not allow the seniority system or any legal obstacles to stand in your way and inhibit change that would create a better life for Thais," he said.

Thaksin said the law would be amended to remove barriers to change and laws would be passed to support Thailand's development. He has appointed Mechai Ruchuphan, a former Senate president, to the chair of a working committee to report back on how to reform the legal infrastructure.

He said he would tear down the walls between the ministries, departments and political parties, which had become barriers to sound decision-making.

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party won a landslide election victory on January 6 by declaring war on poverty, illegal drugs and corruption. It is thought possible that his enmity towards the drug trade led to the attempt on the prime minister's life.

But Thaksin stressed that he would not back off from his war against drugs and would still hold a workshop on drug suppression in Chiang Rai next week. Although Thaksin's government has been in office for about two weeks, it has seen the break-up of several drug rings.

Thaksin admitted that it would be tough for bureaucrats to embrace change during his first year owing to the transition period but said changes would intensify in the second, third and fourth years of his term.

"We should seize the opportunity to do it now while we still have a strong mandate to make the changes, otherwise we cannot be sure whether we'll be given that mandate again," he said.

Thaksin's demeanour recalled a new corporate president addressing his staff. He said he would not tolerate corruption, calling on top bureaucrats to encourage more participation by their staff. By doing so they would release more brainpower in their organisations, the prime minister said.

He said all top civil servants had high IQs, yet they could not make decisions for the good of the country because of the red tape in their work environment. If this trend is allowed to continue, it will lead the country nowhere, and Thailand will end up losing its competitiveness, he said.

Thaksin pledged to run a proactive government. Any other route would end up with the government on the defensive, he said, warning that unlike his predecessors he would not be tied up looking through and signing big files, work he had delegated to his five deputy prime ministers responsible for groups of ministries.

"If you don't go on the offensive, you become incompetent. We should rise up against routine government that makes no decisions. We have to be proactive," Thaksin said.

He also said his management style would be visionary rather than purely strategic. "A strategist demands and commands, while a visionary works to motivate and inspire others to move forward and grasp the desired goals," he said.

He cited the example of Walt Disney, one of the world's largest entertainment groups, whose stated vision was "to make people happy", which he said was simple enough.

Thaksin will maintain three levels of advisory staff. The first will be a think tank; the second will focus on implementation; the third will watch out for negative side effects.

He asked for an end to position-buying among bureaucrats. He said he had overheard that some C-7 positions were up for sale. "Stop this practice. I ask you all that it should end," he said.

The prime minister encouraged the civil servants to keep up their studies as Thailand moved towards a learning society.

"Information is no longer power because of information overload. The key is to extract information and apply it or analyse it in a way that creates a winning situation. If we don't have information and if we don't know how to analyse information, how can we compete with other nations?" he asked.

In the management of his Cabinet, Thaksin has decided to dispense with the Monday meeting of the Council of Economic Ministers. He said he did not want to waste his time attending endless meetings. The Cabinet will meet only on Tuesdays from 8:30am to noon. Most of the business will be for "acknowledgement only", and ministers will have to be up to date on their programmes so that discussion can take place on that basis.

He will hold more workshops, like the one on the national asset-management corporation in Cha-am last month. The next will be in Chiang Rai next week on drug suppression. He will hold another on tourism, probably in Chiang Mai, and another on farm prices somewhere in the Northeast.

In a drastic change in policy-making, Thaksin also pledged to run the country in accord with policies initiated by the government, not, as in the past, by bureaucrats while politicians pursued personal interest.

Thaksin said his administration would draft policies, which would then be implemented by bureaucrats, so that everyone knew where the country was going.



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