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What was Thaksin’s real impact as advisor?

Dear Editor,

Steve Finch asserts that senior trade and finance officials may have heard, as undergraduates, the kind of instruction given by Thaksin Shinawatra (“Thaksin’s advisory role caused economic woes”, August 27).

This may be an accurate comment, but it would have been useful to know what line Thaksin actually took in these conversations. Denigrating past theory is a natural part of economic evolution, but perhaps one reason the world finds itself in a financial fix is that senior officials in many Western financial institutions chose to ignore lessons of prudence and circumspection they learned as students. Bald figures clearly show that investment from Thailand was very much reduced in 2009, but whether or not this was because of the creation of a “climate of fear” by the appointment of Thaksin is open to question.

Rather than making business decisions based on the normal balance of risk and return, maybe pressure on investors from the Thai government, overt and covert, accounted for a substantial part of the change. If so, the fall in investment might be seen as a subtle kind of economic warfare, rather than the fair operation of the free market.

Although business investment is an important consideration in any bilateral relationship, it should never be the dominant force.

Beyond the milieu of Bangkok’s expensive housing developments and the plethora of shopping malls offering international luxury products is a world of poor and often angry Thai people. In large measure they supported Thaksin, despite justified criticism of corruption and human rights abuses, because he helped them more than any previous politician. He was not deposed through the ballot box, but by a military coup and if a free and fair election were held tomorrow there is a very good chance that he would be re-elected.

Certainly a political party that showed sympathy with his views would be able to form a government. And this of course, might reap great benefits for Cambodia.

I have to admit, though, that the more laissez-faire economic stance of the present Thai government has apparently boosted one “industry”, that of human trafficking.

In June the US State Department downgraded Thailand to the watch list of middle-tier countries, putting it one level above North Korea and Myanmar. Cambodia, on the other hand, was removed from the list. I wonder if anything that Thaksin did contributed to this improvement. If so, it could surely be seen as a tangible result of his period as an advisor.

Michael Hansen
Phnom Penh

Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com or PO?Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length. The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

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