Friday, December 16, 2011

Cabinet reshuffle: What has performance got to do with it?

If news of a possible Cabinet reshuffle only three months after the Yingluck government took office hasn’t created any real public excitement, it’s simply because there isn’t anything to get excited about.
For one thing, when the first Cabinet was put in place, and the qualifications of each minister were examined, most Thais were resigned to the fact that they hadn’t been chosen for their ability to run their respective ministries in the first place. Putting the right person in the right job wasn’t the main consideration.
In fact, it was clear that those who became Cabinet members were picked because of their personal links to Thaksin Shinawatra either for political or economic reasons. Somehow political debt had to be repaid and services earlier rendered had to be returned one way or the other.
Therefore, from Day One, it was an open secret that the next group of candidates would be waiting in line on the merry-go-round to take up Cabinet and related posts. The original time frame was probably six to nine months before Cabinet changes were to take place. But the devastating flood accelerated the process, because a large number of the Cabinet members were caught totally unprepared for such a crisis. Others were put to the test on the spot – and there was little doubt that they failed miserably.
It’s a tough task for Yingluck to handle the presence of nominees of so many factions within the Pheau Thai Party, not to mention the obvious conflicts between ministers from coalition partners. Most of course are Thaksin’s direct choices but faction leaders have also been able to convince the former premier that they must be represented if the government was to enjoy any agree of stability. Then, there are members of Premier Yingluck’s own inner circle who never did have any direct working experience with the hard-core politicians.
Thaksin and Yingluck did try to recruit some respectable technocrats and professional business leaders to head the economic side of the management. But those approached, fearful of political interference, were demanding their own team to be brought into the Cabinet. The negotiations become complicated and got bogged down in the end. One or two candidates for the premiership (before Yingluck became the choice of last resort) who were willing to serve as Prime Minister decided to decline the offer due to the obvious risk of a close link to Thaksin and all that he represents.

Some analysts believe that any Cabinet reshuffle would have to take into consideration the composition of the two “strategic committee” set up by Premier Yingluck. In fact, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Dr Virabongsa Ramangkura, head of the first committee (Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management), takes up a crucial portfolio in the new Cabinet line-up, such as the finance post or deputy in overall charge of economic affairs.
Dr Sumet Tantivejjakul, who heads the second panel (Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development) , isn’t expected to be recruited into a political post, however. He would rather remain a “non-political” figure providing advice to the Yingluck government – a equally , if not more, crucial role in propping up the government, whether or not the well-known technocrat himself intends it that way or not.
One major consideration in putting together a Yingluck 2 Cabinet is that the new line-up will have to be able to work with the two strategic committees which are seen, in more ways than one, even more important than the Cabinet itself. After all, the two panels – and not the Cabinet – are seen as the main image that could sustain the government’s credibility.
A Cabinet reshuffle is therefore in the works, not because a more efficient group of ministers will step in to make the business of managing the country work better but because promises of political largesse have to be kept – and everyone with any bargaining power is waiting for his or her turn on the merry-go-round.
Pheu Thai MPs were flying in droves to Singapore over the weekend, supposedly to lobby for new portfolios with Thaksin who later was said to have left for Cambodia allegedly to flee those seeking his favours. Premier Yingluck insists, meanwhile, that she isn’t considering changes to the Cabinet.
There is no contradiction here. Everybody can claim to be telling what he or she considers to be the “truth.” The only thing that matters is which “version” of the truth is being taken seriously.

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