Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why we will never get qualified professionals at state enterprises

Several state enterprises, including Thai Airways International (THAI) and Mass Communications Organization of Thailand (MCOT) are inviting candidates for the top Chief Executive Officer post.

They aren’t going to get any really professionally qualified managers to apply. In other words, the best and the brightest would not want to work for them.

That’s not because there aren’t enough qualified people who are keen to try their hands at running major state enterprises that should be made competitive against their peers in the regional scene.

Neither is it because the financial and prestige aren’t there.

The most obvious and recurring problem is the “selection committees” assigned to pick the most qualified person to become the CEO just aren’t qualified from the very outset.

The rotten system begins at the process of picking members of the screening committee. They would have to follow the instructions, direct or otherwise, from “the boss up above.”

The more prestigious position, the higher the rank of the person giving the order of who must get the CEO’s post.

Therefore, lobbying starts at the selection of the “selection committee members.” They would have to be ready to play the game, meaning that whatever the requirements published in advertisements calling for candidates, the selection process will just have to end up with just one person in mind. Other candidates are eagerly sought just so that the whole exercise could claim to be “fair and transparent.”

When the selection committee is “orchestrated,” what do you expect the final outcome of the choice of the CEO to be? In the end, while the process of picking the next manager of the state enterprise may appears to be “open and fair,” the heavy political manipulation inherent in the system will produce only mediocre CEOs at best and political cronies or lackeys at worst.

From time to time, we got a professional executive into the post by default. He or she set about overhauling the organization, trying to “de-politicize” the enterprise and getting the staff to stick to KPI (key performance index) rather than PPI (Please Politicians Index). That promised to make his term a short-lived one. But he or she did leave some marks or professionalism, only to be wiped out by the next CEO picked by the strenuous screening of the selection committee. The “typical guy” was finally back in office.

Piyasavasti Amaranand was one of the few “professionals” who got in to a leading state enterprise (THAI) and unceremoniously kicked out. The board checked his KPI and he got a nice pass of over 80% but he was told to leave anyway.

His crime? The board’s official reason given to the public: “Lack of proper communications with the board of directors.” That suggests that the board of directors would only tolerate a CEO who is ready to obey its orders and not someone who can challenge the board’s line of thinking.

The real question therefore lies not with the CEO but with the board of directors of state enterprises. How is the board selected? Ah, that’s the real question. It’s neither transparent nor fair.

Boards of directors of state enterprises are usually picked by Cabinet members whose only yardsticks are whether the directors can serve their interests or not. It is therefore small wonder that we can’t expect a professional CEO to last in any state enterprise considering the fact that we don’t get a professional board of directors in the first place.

Directors don’t get sacked for not being able to communicate well with the CEO. That’s because they are supposed to keep a CEO who can follow the instructions from the board who gets the marching orders from the Cabinet members who have to follow their bosses’ instructions in the first place anyway

Sunday, June 24, 2012

'Rashomon' effect haunting political landscape

How serious is the split between some Pheu Thai MPs and certain red-shirt leaders over the future of their common chieftain Thaksin Shinawatra?

The opposition Democrats’ strategy was to drive a wedge into the Pheu Thai Party. There had been little chance of success until Thaksin Shinawatra’s “reconciliation” effort irked some red-shirt leaders who, perhaps for the first time, expressed their opposition to what they described as “a betrayal” of their common stand against the country’s “elite.”

Thaksin had said in the controversial phone-in to his supporters that he appreciated the fact that the red shirts had delivered him ashore and that his next stretch of journey was going onland and that he probably didn’t need them anymore. In a way, he was suggesting, not in so many words of course: “It was good while it lasted. But please understand that I have other priorities to consider too.”

Thaksin probably didn’t expect such a sudden angry reaction from some of the red-shirts who had always thought they had fought alongside him because they believed he was ready to climb down from his “elitist” background to join the “grass-roots” movement. Now, as victory drew near they sensed that they weren’t really on the same page after all.

Thaksin’s decision to put a hold on the reconciliation bill after some strongly negative reaction prompted the “hard-core” elements of the red-shirts to suspect that he was trying to strike a deal with their sworn enemies in the Establishment. When the Constitutional Court ordered the House to withhold voting on the third and final reading of the constitutional amendments, these red-shirt leaders and some Pheu Thai MPs were determined to go for a showdown.

To their horror, Thaksin beat another retreat. House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranond declared that he wasn’t going to press the point. He announced that the House session would be closed and the final voting on the two bills would be postponed until the next house session in August. That practically meant a six-week truce. Six weeks in politics is long enough to effect unexpected changes.

No, in making that U-turn, Thaksin wasn’t listening to the Democrats. He simply needed time to consolidate and regroup. Somehow he would have to reconcile the jarring differences between the red-shirt leaders who demand a collision course with the constitutional court and the Pheu Thai MPs who insisted that a temporary retreat would be a “safer option” to avoid a potentially disastrous route.

Naturally, the more radical among the red-shirts saw the MPs as “spineless” lacking in any real political ideology while the “old guard” in the party considered those red shirt leaders as being na├»ve and unreasonably stubborn.

Thaksin is caught in a great dilemma yet again. Of course, his main objective is to pave the way for his return as a free man. The clear majority in the House can pass laws to clear the path but the allegation that the legislative branch is overstepping the judicial authority is too strong to put down.

The red-shirts could put pressure through major street demonstrations but some of them are beginning to wonder whether their effort might end up helping the elite, with Thaksin on the other side of the wall.

The delicate task of pacifying the angry red shirt leaders and keeping Pheu Thai MPs in line is complicated by the return of the 111 former Thai Rak Thai executives some of whom are demanding Cabinet seats in the Yingluck Cabinet.

Thaksin wants his “Team A” to replace the current “Team C” but that can’t be done without alienating a large base of support within his own party – and offending some of PM Yingluck’s very own inner Cabinet members.

There was a time not so long ago when victory looked so close at hand. Suddenly, things began to drift apart and nobody is quite sure where reality meets delusion.

The “Rashomon effect,” it has been explained to me, “is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection by which observers of an events are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.”

That seems to be a good description of what’s happening to the ongoing scenarios.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Birthday girl

Premier Yingluck Shinawatra was out offering foods to monks this morning. It's her 45th birthday anniversary.

Monday, June 18, 2012

To dream the impossible dream

You don't know who to believe. But you know that they will deny everything if it doesn't fit their agenda. And it doesn't matter whether anyone knows the real story or not.
Suthep Thuagsuban of the Democrat Party claimed the other day that somebody who had claimed to represent Thaksin Shinawatra met him to relay the message that the fugitive former premier was ready to offer a deal: Join the government, pick any Cabinet seats you want but stop opposing the reconciliation bill and constitutional amendments.
No sooner had Suthep made the "revelaton" when Pheu Thai leaders started to hit back, accusing the Democrat leader of making up this "impossible" story.
Jatuporn Prompan, a key red-shirt leader, said Suthep was just dreaming. "The Democrats and Pheu Thai are just like water and oil. They can never mix."
I am waiting for Thaksin to make a statement on these claims and counter-claims.
And I won't be a bit surprised if both sides ended up saying: "It was just a misunderstanding on both sides."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

You may win all the battles but still lose the war

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is supposed to run both the government and the ruling Pheu Thai Party. But she seems to try to portray the image of being “above politics” why the country is being plagued by one political crisis after another. And in every one of the showdowns, her party is directly involved.

She said she had nothing to do with the “reconciliation” bill which created a storm in Parliament when opposition Democrat MPs clashed with the ruling Pheu Thai members – all the way to House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranond. The premier was conveniently absent from the violent confrontations in the House. She was busy with flood prevention inspections and activities totally unrelated to the crisis of the day.

Then came the new “constitutional crisis” in which the Constitutional Court asked the House to put on hold the planned third and final reading of the constitutional amendment bill. Her ruling party put up a strong resistance, arguing that the court had no authority to accept any appeal for an interpretation of the propriety of the proposed charter changes. The court insisted on its constitutional authority in this regard. Both sides claim that their legal interpretation was the right one.

Premier Yingluck was again busy with touring provinces that might be threatened with floods again this year. Her deliberate absence from the charter crisis was conspicuous.

She has been trying to govern without managing the country’s politics, hoping to distance herself from any possible fallout from her brother Thaksin Shinawatra’s remote-control manipulation.

At one point, it might have seemed that she could have feigned political innocence but things didn’t go as planned. Thaksin thought he could come home for his birthday in July when he was speaking to the red-shirts from Laos.

He thought he had struck a compromise with the “elite.” The “reconciliation bill” that was submitted by Gen Sonthi Bunyaratakalin, the 2006 coup leader turned political ally, couldn’t be rammed through as planned despite the overwhelming majority in the House. It proved more divisive than had been anticipated.

Then came the thunderbolt from the Constitutional Court which ordered the House to suspend the voting on the third and final reading of the charter amendments. This, too, was supposed to help propel Thaksin’s return as a free man with the hope of getting the Bt46 billion frozen assets retrieved. But the legal challenge posed a major obstacle despite lurking doubts over the court’s authority to set up a roadblock on the Parliament’s right to proceed with the constitutional changes.

Pheu Thai, of course, could just ignore the court’s “hold-it” order since it could easily outvote the opposition and produce up some convincing arguments to get the bill approved so that elections could be held nationwide to name a panel to draw up a new constitution.

But the risk of splitting the country further is simply too high. Thaksin may win all the legal battles but he could still lose the real war which at least requires a certain degree of a national reconciliation.

There are also the complications within the Pheu Thai Party and the red-shirt movement that could prove disastrous for Thaksin in the short term. The ruling party is far from unanimous in how to handle the reconciliation and constitutional amendment bills. Certain factions among the red shirts have expressed clear dissatisfaction with Thaksin’s clear shift in stand. He is seen by these red-shirt members as having betrayed their grass-roots cause by cozying up to the “elite” for his only safe return to the country and to resume power.

This is perhaps the most worrisome issue for Thaksin. His compromise with his foes required him to disown the red movement. But he can “leave the boat to get on a car” to reach his destination – as he said in his controversial phone-in last month – only at his own peril.

The battles over the two bills have plunged the country into a new crisis. With House Speaker Somsak postponing the two key bills to the next House session, he is simply buying more time. Thaksin may beat a retreat to regroup but Yingluck can’t afford to “play it safe” without putting the country on a collision course once again. She has to act – and soon -- to defuse this huge time-bomb which continues to tick even during this brief “ceasefire.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

You call me. I don't have to call you.

It is now confirmed. There won't be a military coup, at least not one led by Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha. Or that's what he told Defence Minister ACM Sukampol Suwannathat over the phone the other day.

This top-brass conversation was revealed by the defence minister himself today when he told reporters that his working relations with the armed forces leaders were smooth despite earlier rumours when he took over the portfolio that he might transfer some of the military leaders.

"There was no reason for me to transfer any of the military commanders. Gen Prayuth called me the other day to say that there were all sorts of rumours including those about a possible coup. He told me that there was no much thing. He also asked me to give him a call if I heard any rumours to that effect. I told him there was no need for me to call since he said there was nothing to the speculation in the first place," ACM Sukampol said.

So, if you hear anything exciting about military movements, make sure you give the army chief a call because the defence minister says he won't call himself since there is nothing to worry about at all.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The escape route for Thai democracy is very narrow and dangerous

The "getaway" outlets for Thai democracy is rather narrow and dangerous. That's the scene from yesterday's Parliament in the wake of the demonstration by the yellow-shirts who blocked entrances to the House. MPs and Cabinet ministers had to scramble out of the place before they got stuck in there.

The protesters managed to forced the ruling Pheu Thai Party to take a step back. House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranond declared the House session postponed -- and the deliberations of the controversial "reconciliation bill" put back indefinitely to cool things down.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) declared "victory" and will return on June 5 to monitor the next move by the government. The opposition Democrats said they would continue to oppose the bill at all cost. The ruling Pheu Thai accused the Democrats of breaking the House rules and the spirit of parliamentary democracy.

On the same day, the Constitutional Court decided to accept the appeal to consider whether the House's passage of the constitutional amendments was "constitutional" or not.

Red-shirt leaders, including Jatuporn Prompan, made a public statement calling for all red shirts to be on alert for a possible military coup. Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan O-cha said he didn't know anything about the supposed coup.

For the Thai people, the new round of political turmoil has just begun.