Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ammar warns of smokescreens

Economist tells media to beware of government diversionary tactics to hide bad news - Trusted career diplomat returns to Bangkok to help new foreign minister settle in to post - Yingluck's Asean tour prompts alphabetical mystery but Laos isn't complaining

Source: Bangkok Post
Published: 10/09/2011

Leading economist Ammar Siamwalla is warning the media against being duped by a devious government deploying diversionary marketing tactics designed to play down bad news about itself.

Ammar: Advice for media.

At an academic forum on Sunday, Mr Ammar criticised some of the government's flagship policies, particularly the rice mortgage scheme.

The economist said the policy would drain the government's coffers and saddle it with debt.

The government dismissed the comments, saying Mr Ammar was a long-time foe of Pheu Thai's unofficial leader Thaksin Shinawatra, so anything the coalition government did was bound to upset him.

Perhaps more interesting, then, is Mr Ammar's warning to the media about the government's marketing drive _ a cunning ploy, he says, by which its public relations men deploy diversionary tactics to mask bad news surrounding its various policy pronouncements.

Mr Ammar said the ruling party has given the media plenty of controversial policies to report on, such as the sovereign wealth fund, the amnesty issue, the charter amendments, the 300-baht minimum wage, the reshuffle of senior officials and the 15,000-baht salary for entry-level civil servants.

Even as one policy issue comes under fire, a piece of news about another policy tends to surface and immediately steals the public's attention.

This diversionary tactic is being employed by some of the best minds in marketing who work for Pheu Thai, Mr Ammar said.

The media should guard against such tactics, he said.

He said the government was bringing ''models'' back into fashion, which was something else the media should watch out for.

While Thaksin was prime minister, he excited the country with the At Samat Model to tackle poverty, with less than spectacular results.

Now that Thaksin's sister Yingluck has assumed the premiership, models are back in vogue. One of the more recent ones concerns a flood relief model known as the Bang Rakam Model in Phitsanulok.

Mr Ammar said journalists should strip away the government's marketing veneer and bring the facts out into the open.

Mr Ammar studied the CTX airport scanners scandal, which took place under the Thaksin government. Thaksin insisted the deal was above board.

Mr Ammar suggested that if the procurement was irregular, financial records of individuals connected to the project as well as the purchase contracts should be examined.

The suggestion upset Thaksin, who branded Mr Ammar a pseudo-intellectual.

Mr Ammar returned the broadside at the forum, saying if Thaksin aspired to be a statesman, he would only be a pseudo-statesman.

Jullapong points way

As Yingluck Shinawatra prepares for her first forays abroad as prime minister, one man who expects to be kept busy ensuring all runs smoothly at home is ambassador to Norway Jullapong Nonsrichai.

Mr Jullapong, who for a while emerged as a strong candidate for the post of foreign ministe

Jullapong: Setting good example.

r until Surapong Tovichakchaikul landed the job, has been given the onerous task of arranging an Asean odyssey for Ms Yingluck. His job has been to sort out the finer details of visits to Thailand's friends on the bloc _ Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam _ a task that will require a little of Mr Jullapong's more-than 30 years' experience in the diplomatic corps.

Mr Jullapong began his career at the Foreign Ministry in 1979 after passing the entrance examination the previous year.

Among the outstanding alumni who joined the ministry the same year was Norachit Sinhaseni, now ambassador to the UN in New York, and Sihasak Phuangketkeow, the ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

During the late 1980s and early '90s, Mr Jullapong's social circle included Kumthorn Sithtichoti, the ambassador to Peru, Preudtipong Kulthanan, the ambassador to Greece, and Piyawat Niyomrerks, the ambassador to Denmark.

Mr Jullapong is now shouldering an important task in advising Mr Surapong about potential and suitable candidates for 18 ambassadorial posts.

The career diplomat is trusted by the Shinawatra family and is a close friend of acting national police chief Priewpan Damapong, the brother of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra's ex-wife Potjaman na Pombejra.

As such, his fate has often been linked to the ''Shinawatra factor''.

Mr Jullapong goes into mandatory retirement at the end of this month.

Over the past two months and right after Ms Yingluck was elected as premier, Mr Jullapong was widely speculated to be the next man to head up the Foreign Ministry.

However, sources have said Mr Jullapong made clear to Thaksin that he would like to retire from the foreign service with an untainted record.

Still, he has agreed to help out with certain diplomatic work with which the foreign minister and the prime minister may not be familiar.

This meant a return to Bangkok to sort out the administrative workload for Mr Surapong before he officially took office and became Mr Jullapong's boss.

Such a lack of misplaced pride from such a distinguished man is surely a lesson for his successors.

New kids on the bloc

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul begin their round of state visits to member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations today, with Brunei as their first port of call.

Yingluck: Asean odyssey.

They will visit the sultanate today, followed by Indonesia on Monday, Cambodia on Thursday and Laos on Friday. All the visits will be one-day trips.

The prime minister and the foreign minister have broken the Foreign Ministry's tradition of visiting Laos first.

It was usually the first stop because of Laos's cultural and linguistic similarities with Thailand.

It is not known why this tradition has been broken, or why Brunei is first on the list. Ms Yingluck and Mr Surapong have said they intend to visit the Asean countries in alphabetical order, even though this order will be broken as early as the second leg, with Indonesia coming before Cambodia.

However, Brunei is one of only two Asean countries _ the other being Cambodia _ that Ms Yingluck's brother, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has been allowed to visit since his self-exile from Thailand began in 2008.

He has used these countries as a broadcast base for his televised addresses to red-shirted supporters back home.

Thaksin, who fled Thailand after being charged with abuse of power in connection with his then-wife's acquisition of land, is also Mr Surapong's cousin.

A government source said staff at the Foreign Ministry told the Lao government about the order of Ms Yingluck's planned tour of Asean neighbours.

The Foreign Ministry informed the Lao government that Ms Yingluck and Mr Surapong will visit neighbouring countries based on alphabetical order, said the source.

The Lao source said Vientiane saw no problem with being the fourth country Ms Yingluck will visit.

The source said the Lao government understands the political factors that may influence the government's consideration of which countries to visit first.

Ms Yingluck's visit to Cambodia on Thursday is expected to be met with good news on the fate of two Thai nationals imprisoned in Phnom Penh since late last year.

Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaibul were charged with illegal entry and espionage and were sentenced to eight and six years in prison respectively.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recently said the pair must serve at least two thirds of their sentences before being considered for release.

However, there is a rumour in Phnom Penh that the two might be released and that Ms Yingluck and Mr Surapong might bring them back with them to Thailand on their return flight.

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