Forum in Maha Sarakham: top-down public policy failed citizens

MAHA SARAKHAM – At a forum in Maha Sarakham City last month, experts and civil society members called for people-centered public policy. They encouraged the public to become active citizens and assume a more active role in policy-making.

On June 30, a forum at Mahasarakham University stirred a debate among 40 participants on how to improve government policy and increase public participation.

The event was organized by the university’s Center for Creative Public Policymaking and the Hak Phaeng Boeng Nyaeng (HPBY) Council For Maha Sarakham Folks, a civil society organization based in the province.

“Public policy is about no one other than people who are affected by certain problems. Only those who have experienced it themselves can understand the root causes of these problems,” says Wachirawat Ariyasiricho, President of the Center for Creative Public Policymaking.

Mr. Wachirawat Ariyasirichot, President of the Center for Creative Public Policymaking, opens the forum.

Wiphat Wichanchak, President of the HPBY, said there are often inconsistencies in the implementation of government policies, especially concerning the collaboration between national and local government bodies.

He raised an example of a community fund that the HPBY had successfully established in the province with partial funding from local administrative organizations. But the Office of the Auditor General of Thailand ruled such use of public funds inappropriate and called back the money, Mr. Wiphat said.

Even without government support, the fund continues to exist and covers 123 subdistricts, with over 140,000 members, and has a budget of 300 million baht. But the withdrawal of government funds disillusioned many members, who no longer want to collaborate in the implementation of public policy, Mr. Wiphat explained.

“I think that the state’s policies have no consistency, which shows that they’re not serious about their policies. But we villagers really want to do it. We have good intentions, but the state still cites minuscule rules and regulations,” says Mr. Wiphat.

Wiphat Wichanchak, President of the Hak Phaeng Boeng Nyaeng Council for Maha Sarakham Folks (in blue) and Sumalee Rattanathip, Director of Health-Promoting Hospital of Kham Riang Subdistrict (in white), participate in the discussion.

Civil society representatives also criticized a lack of engagement among the public when it comes to policy-making and implementation.

Bo-won Wisetdi, a HPBY member from Borabue District, said that people in Maha Sarakham are often excluded from accessing information about public policy.

He also observed that government forums and workshops usually have a low turnout and attract the same people. He called on the public to take on a more active role in the implementation of public policy.

Sumalee Rattanathip, Director of the Health-Promoting Hospital of Kham Riang Subdistrict, said that communities’ weak response to policy-making efforts are often linked to a lack of knowledge, skills, and creativity among local leaders.

She criticised villager leaders for copying local development projects from other communities and choosing projects that were the most convenient to implement.

“When the money arrives, some village chiefs can’t come up with any [projects]. Others don’t know how to manage the budget and only work to get things out of their hands,” says Ms. Sumalee.

In August, a second forum will be organized to collect suggestions of how to improve Thailand’s public policy approach.

Reporting by Danuchat Boon-aran, a participant of The Isaan Journalism Network Project 2017 organized by The Isaan Record.