BANGKOK: General Prayut has appointed a senior advisor and Puttipong Punnakanta, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society, to assist him in getting his message to the ordinary Thai people and listening to them as the PM warns both social media users and the mainstream media that he will not put up with distortion of his words or the reporting of false information which defames him.

Thailand’s prime minister is to meet members of the public face to face at Government House to explain what the government is doing to help the economy, deal with cost of living issues and its work to fend off the threat of the Covid 19 virus. It comes in a week in which a veteran economist and former government minister, Virabongsa Ramangkura, has warned that Thailand is in a ‘multi-crisis’ situation and may be facing up to 5 years of low growth while the top business body, the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking, has warned that if the virus outbreak is not reversed by June, the country may well face economic contraction and recession.

The former Minister and Deputy Prime Minister who was also Chairman of the Bank of Thailand, Virabongsa Ramangkura, launched a scathing attack on Tuesday on the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and the Governor of the Bank of Thailand, Veerathai Santiprabhob, at a ‘Break the Economic Crisis 2020’ seminar organised by the opposition Pheu Thai Party in Bangkok. It comes as Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha goes ahead with plans to meet the public at Government House to explain government policy on the economy and the Covid 19 outbreak while also listening to the public on their concerns as Thailand faces the most challenging economic period in a decade with a heightened risk of recession.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha is to host Thai citizens at Government House to address their economic concerns at a time when the economy is challenged on a range of fronts ranging from declining exports to the catastrophic effects on markets caused by the coronavirus.

Last week, Thailand registered its lowest level of business confidence in nine years while just days ago, the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking warned the government bluntly that if the effects of the Covid 19 epidemic were not reversed by June, the economy faces a substantial risk of contracting and falling into recession this year.

Key advisor gives details of a new initiative allowing the prime minister to listen to the people in person

The event on Thursday is expected to see Thai people address the PM person to person on issues such as the cost of living and the situation with the Covid 19 virus.

Details of the event were given to the media by Peerapan Saleerattavipaksaid, a key advisor to Thailand’s government leader.

He said that Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha had assigned him and Puttipong Punnakanta, Minister of Digital Economy and Society, to find ways of allowing the ordinary Thai people to speak to the PM directly.

Mr Peerapan said nothing had yet been finalised about regular events like this but consideration was being given to having such interactions on a weekly basis.

He said that this current proposal was confined to economic issues and specifically excluded any questions on politics.

However, when asked about the current student protests, he indicated that some further initiative concerning that may be under consideration.

Minister in the news this week as Bangkok trader faced arrest for fake news about the Covid 19 virus

Mr Puttipong was in the news this week when he attended with police to arrest a woman who ran a grocery shop in the Huai Khwang area of Bangkok for spreading fake news linked to the Covid 19 coronavirus.

The woman claimed incorrectly on social that she had witnessed a death from the infection at a local shopping centre and wished to alert people nearby. It was reported that the woman may be facing charges under the Computer Crime Act.

Prime Minister in combative mood about fake news and distorted information linked to him being published online and in mainstream media

On Thursday also, the Prime Minister appeared to be in battle mode as he announced that he was considering taking legal action in relation to ‘false and distorted’ information about him on social media.

According to Prayut, such distortions and content are now also seeping into mainstream media output.

The Prime Minister warned that some of the content defamed him and pointed to the harsh penalties on the statute books for such actions including up to 7 years imprisonment.

Government managing the virus threat effectively

The Thai government is currently scrambling to battle the threat to the kingdom for the Convid 19 coronavirus which, by any objective assessment or based on the low number of infections, it is managing effectively despite some confusion caused by communicating government decisions in recent days.

This includes the establishment of military camps and compounds to house returning Thai nationals from South Korea and strict quarantine measures for those coming from high-risk countries.

Four new cases were detected on Thursday including Thai nationals returning from Italy and Iran indicating the timely manner of the latest moves by the government.

Economy and cost of living are key issues

Recent Suan Dusit opinion polls, as well as rival surveys from Super Poll, all indicate that the Thai public is exercised by tightening economic conditions with the cost of living appearing highly in all surveys even though recent surveys show the virus epidemic and the country’s chronic drought situation registering higher in the public’s mind.

Government stung by vitriolic attacks on ministers

The Thai government and key ministers are believed to be particularly stung by a scathing attack on the government’s economic record on Tuesday by the highly respected and veteran Thai economist Virabongsa Ramangkura who served previously Thai governments at the highest level including as Chairman of the Bank of Thailand.

Mr Ramangkura also served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in previous Thai administrations.

Former economic leader warns that the kingdom could be facing 5 years of recession or low growth

At the seminar, he warned that Thailand could be facing 5 years of recession as the country struggles under what he termed as the ineptitude of the current government and, significantly, the current leadership of the Bank of Thailand.

Mr Virabongsa strongly criticised the Thai central bank for not reining in the value of the baht using exchange rate mechanisms. 

It should be noted that Mr Virabongsa was speaking at a seminar entitled Break the Economic Crisis 2020 organised by the lead opposition party Pheu Thai and was, therefore, addressing his remarks to a highly partisan audience.

Presents Bank of Thailand Governor raised the issue in speeches and set a weaker baht as a goal

For balance and objectivity, it should be noted also that the Bank of Thailand Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob at the end of last year identified reining in the Thai currency as an imperative of the bank’s policy objectives and so far this year, the baht has weakened by 5 to 6.5% against the dollar.

Declines in exports and tourism could see Thai people lose 30% of their personal income

Mr Virabongsa highlighted that both exports and tourism were critical to the Thai economy and that a decline in both areas could see incomes for the ordinary Thai public decline by up to 30%.

He said that 70% of the Thai economy is driven by exports while government expenditure only amounts to 18%. 

Veteran economist highly critical of current ministers and warns of a ‘multi-crisis’ situation

Mr Virabongsa was highly critical of suggestions by senior government leaders and ministers that government expenditure could revive the Thai economy.

He suggested that such comments undermined the government’s leadership. Referring to comments by a senior government official to that effect, he said: ‘The statement demonstrates ignorance of the one who uttered the words’.

The former government minister, economic advisor and thinker warned that Thailand’s credibility in the international financial community has been severely damaged by the current government.

‘Overall, Thailand is facing a multi-crisis on the economic, political and rule of law fronts,’ he said.

Called for the sacking of the Bank of Thailand governor even though the central bank is independent

Mr Virabongsa told his audience that even though the Bank of Thailand is now an agency independent of the government, that the leadership of the bank should be removed for failing to act more decisively in relation to the value of the Thai baht.

‘If I were the prime minister, I would fire the central bank governor one way or another, despite the Bank of Thailand being an independent agency.’

He noted that even as the country’s exports have declined, the falls off in imports had still left the country with large current and trade account surpluses. ’The economy is weakening but the baht is strengthening,’ he observed.

Bank of Thailand Governor  identified the phenomenon and took action with key measures

Again for balance, the current Bank of Thailand Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob has since the middle of 2019 identified this phenomenon and the bank has taken effective measures to deal with speculation and the large inflows of capital into the Thai market.

To some extent, these measures appear to be having some beneficial effect in relation to the value of the baht.

Yield curves show an expectation of declining growth in Thailand says former economic boss

Mr Virabongsa, however, told his sympathetic audience on Tuesday that if the current government was elected in a fully democratic process that it would already have been removed from office.

He also, significantly, warned that current yields on government bonds on a long term and short term basis indicate that the Thai economy was on track for a period of declining growth rates.

Further reading:

Pheu Thai MP calls on Prime Minister to resign as index shows a collapse in business confidence to a 9 year low

Government adopts a carrot and stick approach to student protests with the first coronavirus death in Thailand

MPs warned of an economic colony as opposition zeroed in on Thailand’s impaired relationship with China

Bank of Thailand says it has more scope as the economy is left reeling from biting coronavirus setback

Government already in fire fighting mode yet it retains its core support according to the latest NIDA poll