Education a major issue for business leaders

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Heavyweights also hope for more capable ministers, savings incentives

Hailing Thai Rak Thai’s landslide election victory as a mark of continuity in economic policy, businessmen yesterday revealed a raft of proposals they believe the second Thaksin administration should adopt in the interests of economic sustainability.

At the top of Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) vice chairman Kiatpong Noychaibun’s wish-list is clean economic ministers who know what they are doing.

“We have to admit that in the previous government some economic ministers weren’t clean, nor capable of handling the job,” he said.

With the right people, the government should continue its private-sector support programme – the so-called “total marketing package” – which is already before government.

The package recommends that when the administration embarks on a foreign trade agreement with any country, it should ensure the private sector first launches a search for in-depth information about the products and markets in the respective country, rather than the government taking the job on itself.

“This should benefit the private sector,” he said.

He also urged the government to create a practical one-stop service centre where public units overseeing related issues work under one roof, to facilitate business operations and reduce red tape.

The government should also ensure civil servants are just as business-oriented as the government, he added.

“Should the government run at full speed to solve problems and civil servants demand everything proceeds according to strict procedure, many policies will become impractical,” he said.

Supachai Chearavanont, president of metropolitan fixed-line carrier True Corp Plc and chief executive of mobile-phone operator TA Orange, said he hoped the new government would work closely with the national telecom regulator to liberalise the telecom market.

“The new government should also continue promoting the ICT industry to bridge the digital divide.”

He said he was happy with the performance of Information and Communications Technology Minister Surapong Suebwonglee.

“If the new government wants to replace Surapong, I hope the new minister has a strong background in business, so that he or she can further promote the industry immediately after taking the post,” said Supachai.

Microsoft Thailand’s managing director Andrew McBean said he hoped the new administration would continue developing the IT industry, including IT training in schools.

And he wants to see the government continue to protect the intellectual property of foreign and local companies – a key to supporting growth of the IT industry.

Plus Property Partner Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Sansiri Plc, urged the government to better educate property developers about new city planning laws. “We know very little about the details and this creates problems for our future business operations,” said Piyabutr Lertdumrikarn, the company’s managing director.

Bovorn Wongsinudom, an executive of Thai Oil Plc and chairman of the FTI’s refining business club, is pushing for a free market in which business operators can set their own oil and gas prices and refiners can operate more flexibly.

“In this regard, we’re satisfied with the previous government, which fixed ceilings only for oil prices. We understand that [fixing prices] is driven by a desire to maintain economic stability and refiners are compensated for selling oil below market price,” he said.

Bovorn said he hoped the government would abolish cooking-gas subsidies in July.

He said he also expected the new administration to continue amending energy-related regulations that had in the past proven to be obstacles for business. “Whoever is appointed energy minister should continue these amendments and complete them this year. This is a big issue that involves all business operators,” he said.

Government Pension Fund secretary-general Visit Tantisunthorn said the government should pay more attention to bolstering domestic savings.

“This is a very big issue, the lack of savings. After retirement, many Thais will not be able to take care of themselves and will tend to be a burden on their children,” he said.

Currently, most savers are members of private companies’ provident funds. And investment alternatives are limited to bank deposits and stock investment, he said.

“The government should promote the bond market as a saving alternative,” he said.

In his view, that should not be too difficult to achieve as many mega-projects are planned for the next four years. “These projects will demand a huge investment that could be insufficiently supported by domestic savings. New financial papers should be the alternative [for both government and savers].”

The government should focus on education policies as much as it does on the Bt30 health scheme, said Marco A Sucharitkul, president of JP Morgan Securities (Thailand).

He said he wished all Thais had educational opportunities, as that was the fundamental in creating capable and knowledgeable human resources in the future.

“Educational opportunities will also allow those with different backgrounds to improve their knowledge . . . to provide a better service to the country. To succeed in anything, we need good education,” he said. Khunying Pornthip Narongdej, KPN Group chairwoman, said she was satisfied with the previous government in terms of policy clarity and its attempts to better understand the business world. “The new government should follow its practice and increase the private sector’s ability to expand overseas,” she said.

Sopawadee Lertmanuschai, senior executive vice president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, urged the new administration to continue its efforts to promote the capital market.

Published on February 08, 2005

Business Desk

The Nation

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