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New kid on the block at Finance speaks out

May 19, 2001


In an exclusive interview with The Nation's Thanong Khanthong, Finance Minister Dr Somkid Jatusripitak gives an assessment of his own performance during his first three months in office.

Thanong: How do you evaluate or rate your performance over the past three months?

Somkid: I cannot score myself. It depends on how others look at my performance. But I and everybody else in the government have been working very hard from day one. Apart from my responsibilities at the Finance Ministry, I have been involved in four workshops on the national asset-management corporation, tourism, capital-market development and the village fund. I have already met representatives of the International Monetary Fund, Standard & Poor's and Moody's. Then I went to the finance ministers' meeting in Kuala Lumpur and to the meeting of the Asian Development Bank in Hawaii.

Do you feel under pressure when you are subject to criticism?

This is quite normal. I understand how other people feel. I don't feel upset, because the people out there really have high hopes but they are in difficulty. They need help.

But people are saying that the government has not done anything much over the past three months, except organise workshops.?

That's a misunderstanding. But we blame ourselves for not being good enough at publicising our work. All the workshops are useful, marking the first time that the government has managed the affairs of the country based on policies. The workshops bring together different departments and agencies and the people from the private sector to the same table and discuss the way out. Then we have operational teams to follow up, not to mention the legal team.

We have not been around for three months as yet. But from now on you'll begin to see progress. We'll have legislation on the Thai Asset Management Corporation ready in early June. The debt-suspension programme has already been implemented. The health-care programme has also started in some pilot hospitals. The People's Bank will come soon. The village fund, designed to stimulate the rural economy, will be4 ready in July.

On Thursday evening we also stayed up late to complete a package on capital-market development. For the first time we'll have a framework ready for the bond market to develop. And this is very important.

The government appears to respond too little too late on the economic downturn.?

That depends on how you look at the economy. Unfortunately, after two months in office we faced a sharp slowdown in the US and Japanese economies, which affected our exports. We have asked ourselves whether a vacuum will be created by external factors which will lead us to do something to stimulate the economy. Still, I have a team consisting of representatives of the Bank of Thailand, the National Economic and Social Development Board and the Thailand Development Research Institute to monitor economic conditions closely.

That's why we are pushing the TAMC and the village fund, so that they can work in time to stimulate the economy. The TAMC should enable the banks to lend more money, while the village fund will stimulate the economy at the grass roots. We will also be making an additional Bt50 billion of deficit spending available for the next fiscal year for workers' retraining if the situation warrants it.

Next week I will summon a meeting of all the public-sector banks to give them a directive on lending. They will have to take the lead in lending money to the cash-strapped economy. This will put pressure on the commercial banks to follow suit.

Is it true that you and Pansak Vinyaratn, chief adviser to the Prime Minister, are at loggerheads?

Virtually groundless. Pansak and I have known each other for more than 10 years. I was the one who brought him to the Thai Rak Thai Party. In fact, the two of us were responsible for drafting the manifesto of the Thai Rak Thai, which led to the landslide victory in the January general election. If we cannot work with each other, then nobody can. I think our team is getting along well. Although most of us are new to the job, we are now quite comfortable with the direction we a re going in.






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