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PM'sspeech on social direction

PM'sspeech on social direction

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Published by: ThailandToday TodayToday on Jan 26, 2011
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Speech byH.E. Mr. Abhisit VejjajivaPrime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
"Thailand's Social Policy: Vision and Direction"
Tuesday 18 January 2011, 15.00 hrs.Vithes Samosorn, Ministry of Foreign Affairs----------------------- Excellencies,Distinguished Guests,Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
It is a great pleasure for me to be at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs onceagain and to have this opportunity to speak about the vision and direction of Thailand’s social policy. I have had many occasions and opportunities to meet andto speak to those of you present in the room over the past two years, but rarely do Ihave the opportunity to speak about social policy and social issues. Obviously, the attention of much of our society and yourselves has been onthe global economic crisis which unfolded just over two years ago, and of coursethe political problems that Thailand has been through.  On the many occasions thatI have met you, usually we talk about the economy, politics and not nearly enoughon the social policy issues.  Maybe because on social matters, in trying to effectchanges and put policies forward, these policies are structural in nature and taketime and maybe a lot of you around the room thought that we were not going to bearound for long enough to think about these issues.  But I have, since day one of assuming office, maintain that despite the circumstances where the urgent issues of the economic crisis and the political troubles would have to be dealt with, I saw itas a very important task of the current government to also pursue somefundamental structural changes and deal with social issues. Many of you may not know that these issues are very close to my heart and if you looked at my political career, when I was elected member of parliament for thethird term and had the opportunity to actually chair a parliamentary committee, itwas the education policy committee of the House that I chaired. Also during mytime as Minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, I was also put in charge of education reform, as well as issues such as decentralization. When I became Prime Minister, one of the things that I did which apparentlyis not a usual thing for many prime ministers, was that all the committees that dealt
 
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with social policy, I decided to chair myself rather than delegating that to a deputyprime minister which has been a standard practice for as long as almost anybodycan remember. So from issues ranging from health to education, to the elderly, to genderissues, they are policy committees which I personally chair.  Over the last couple of years, I have put into effect some key policies which I think will establish a veryclear direction for our social policy for the future.  That direction, vision and set of policies very much governed by what I see as key challenges that not just Thailandbut the whole world faces.  The idea that I have pounded and have also insistedshould be the center of our social policy is putting people right at the center of ourapproach -- putting people first, which in fact was the slogan that we ran during thelast election campaign.  Here we are talking about human development, humansecurity and human rights -- challenges which just not Thailand, not just the regionof Southeast Asia, but I think, the whole world faces together. Over the last two years, the emphasis has been just that -- making sure thatwe put people first in our decisions.  The way we approach the tackling of socialissues is not to isolate these problems and deal with them individually; rather whatI have told the cabinet is that we should always take into account the social impactand design our policies so that we deal with the social challenges and issuesdirectly and in all that we do. A clear example of that approach was the way we tackled the economiccrisis itself.  When we were faced with a very rapid slowdown of the economy, itwas contracting by 7.2 percent during the first quarter since when I assumed office,the stimulus package we designed was very unconventional and it was clearlyaimed at helping the least fortunate, the most vulnerable people.  This was to makesure that we do not have people put out of jobs, lacking income, lackingopportunities which would then lead to social and other problems as a direct impactof the economic slowdown.  Likewise, in our decisions on industrial policies andother policies, the main thrust of the approach of the current government is that weare not going to think about social issues as an after thought -- fall into the sametrap that many people have fallen into in the past where they deal with economicproblems and political problems, they say that there will be social impact and thenrepair the damages after. The approach you want to take is a holistic one that takes into account alldimensions of the problems that we face and take an integrated approach towardspolicy-making and I think that has paid-off.   It is one of the reasons why
 
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unemployment in Thailand never rose much above 1 percent during one of theseverest economic crisis that we have faced and indeed it has now dropped below 1percent.  It is also the reason why our domestic economy was able to recover fasterwhile we waited for our trading partners to recover so that our export and tourismincome can pick up.  It was one of the key reasons why we were able to stabilizethe economy as quickly as maybe two or three quarters into the financial crisis andthen began to see stability and subsequent positive growth; and of course, thatprovided a foundation for the very strong 8 percent growth in GDP last year. As far as social policies are concerned directly, when I say we put emphasison people, there are three main aspects: creating opportunities and empowerment,looking at the quality of our people, and also providing security or welfare for ourpeople.  The reason we needed to do this was simply because the country, likemany others in the world, is also facing some fundamental changes in the structureof our society. First, clearly we have a more competitive environment as far as economiccompetition is concerned.  It means there will be more volatility, more changes andmore risks for ordinary people; therefore there is an absolute necessity of makingsure that we provide some kind of security and some kind of mechanism that willallow people to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. You will see the diversity in Thailand where people in the agricultural sector,still the majority, are subject to all kinds of volatility in terms of weather patterns aswell as price of agricultural goods.  We see the continuous relocation of industriesmoving from one location to another, sometimes within the region, sometimes toother regions; which means that our workers have to be ready to adapt and acquirenew skills. We, like many other Asian societies, are about to transform into an agingsociety, where the proportion of elderly people as the proportion of the populationis going to rise very rapidly.  Currently, we have people over 60 making up about10 percent of our population, but it will soon be 20 or 25 percent, and this changewill come a lot quicker than many industrialized economies had gone through. The first thing we needed to do was to make sure that we create opportunitiesfor our people; and one of the key policies that we quickly adopted was to makesure that the 15 years of free, basic education are truly available to everybody.Free, basic education is something that has been in our Constitution since 1997 buthad been neglected for so long so that, in fact, a lot of people, particularly poor

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