Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, a new face in the government, has been dealt a blow with his first proposal to the cabinet to waive visa application fees for tourists from China and India.
The minister representing the Bhumjaithai Party, one of the four main coalition partners, may sincerely want to boost tourism to bring in more foreign exchange at a time when the country is struggling economically with exports steadily nosediving and with Chinese tourist arrivals falling.
But his visa fee waiver proposal appears to have been done in a rush, without taking into consideration the national security factor as pointed out in cabinet by Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai last week.
In his protest letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha before the economic cabinet meeting on Aug 16, Mr Don pointed out the security risks of Mr Phiphat’s proposal in return for what he saw as short-term gains from increased tourist arrivals from two countries with the world’s highest population.
Foreign Minister Don was right to put a brake on the visa fee waiver proposal which appears to be ill-thought out and short-sighted. The free visa measure will open a flood gate, not just of tourists but criminal elements, as well as those seeking greener pastures to flock to the country, with the likelihood that undesirable groups will make Thailand their permanent home.
And there is no way for police or immigration authorities to track them until they are arrested for committing a crime of some sort.
The tourism and sports minister also has under his sleeve another controversial proposal — which is to extend the closing hours of night entertainment places by two more hours from 2am to 4am at tourist destinations supposedly to promote tourism, assuming that foreign tourists will spend more money on drinks by hanging out longer in a bar.
It is doubtful whether Mr Phiphat has ever actually hung out at a bar after midnight and seen with his own eyes of how many foreigners are still at the premises compared to Thais.
However, the minister should count himself lucky that he did not submit this proposal to the cabinet along with the proposed visa fee waiver plan, or he would have suffered a double knock-back from his colleagues.
Now let’s see what Education Minister Natthapol Theepsuwan has up his sleeve. Former member of the now defunct National Reform Council, Prasarn Marukapitak, recently raised concerns about the minister’s idea of setting up “elite” schools for outstanding students, saying this would create a new class of students and further widen the social gap.
Before that, Deputy Education Minister Khunying Kalaya Sophonpanich advocated the teaching of a third language, computer programming language, to Thai students.
Neither of these ideas have anything to do with fundamental problems in the Thai educational system, which are causing it to lag behind that of our neighbours.
It is an open fact that most Thai students are not well versed in science and mathematics, which are crucial for the country to advance technologically and economically. Most universities that exist in almost every province offer social science courses and there is an extreme shortage of teachers who are qualified to teach science or mathematics.
Many Thai educators have made overseas study tours, including to Finland which has one of the best education systems in the world. What makes the Finnish education system so special is that it holds in high regard teachers and science-based teacher training programmes.
In just 50 years, Finland has progressed from an austere country to one of the world’s happiest country, according to some surveys, with the best air quality and least corruption.
These proposals by the politicians in charge of the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports should draw attention to the drawbacks of a political system in which voters, while getting their say on election day, are completely powerless or voiceless in choosing their ministers.
That is why our ministers are not always the most competent or the “right men or women to the right jobs”. Because cabinet seats are rewarded to the politicians with the deepest pockets or who manage to win the most seats in parliament for their parties, we do not always end up with the brightest or most competent people.
But we hope, at least, the not-so-smart ministers have competent assistants or advisers. Clearly, it is not the case where these ministers are concerned — hence their dumb ideas and proposals.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.