Chairman Maew's great hop forward
Money. Money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money! That's what this business of politics is all about. When you've got enough, it's easy to keep everybody happy – villagers, MPs, faction bosses, family, soldiers, percentage men, everybody. But when you don't…
At the election almost a year ago, I told people to choose me because I'm the money man. I could “turn paper into money.” I said, “Brothers and sisters, 500 billion for the skytrain is peanuts. You have a prime minister who's called a capitalist because he knows how to find capital. If you don't know how to find capital, how can you do anything? You'd spend your life begging for money. If such a person were prime minister, what would he do? I can find this money myself.”
But somehow all this talking about money seems to raise expectations.
Once you've given the villagers a pot of money, the only way to top that is to give them some more.
The health scheme is such a popular success, people use it more and more. Financially it's a bottomless pit. Then the Health Ministry wants another 20 billion to upgrade the infrastructure.
The military are back with a bang thanks to me and the southern mess. This comes with a price tag too -- 574 billion baht.
Government officials don't like me much because I shake them up and create more work, so I have to keep giving them pay rises.
Then there's local government. We have to hand over 35 percent of all the budget from the centre to local bodies. But we need to hand over some of our expenditure too, otherwise we'll have less money at the centre. Giving them a nice chunky bit of expenditure like the schools would help a lot.
In my first term, I had the Midas touch. I got the tax revenues up just by making the revenue officials work harder. I found all these dead funds in the dinky little government banks and used them for the new populist schemes. I grabbed the lottery funds from the local godfathers. And it helped a lot that the economy was getting better and the stockmarket was going up.
Suddenly it's got a lot tougher. Back in the good days, I promised double-digit growth in my second term. At the last election I was still promising 7-8 percent. Now we're down below five. That isn't too bad in itself, but it's a bit murkier when you look under the hood.
Inflation is making everything cost more. Oil prices have wrecked the current account. We've hit the ceiling on squeezing more tax. The budget balance is slipping into the red. The fiscal reserve is disappearing. Public debt is increasing. The stockmarket is stuck. I've persuaded people to stop saving so there's nothing to fall back on.
So where am I going to find the money?
For the health scheme, I tried to take funds from the social security and government welfare schemes, but the unions made a big fuss. I want to use barter trade for the military's toys but you need an awful lot of OTOP baskets for a jet fighter, even a Russian one. I'd like to sell off some big assets like electricity plants, but the unions and the NGOs have made me lose face. The teachers are screwing up the plan of handing over all the expenditure on schools to local government. I'd like to grab more of the profits of the godfathers – like the sex trade and casinos – but the morality lobby makes a fuss. I want .to use more funds lying in the little government banks, but the central bank stamped its foot and said no. I tried to drop a couple of subway lines while people weren't watching, but there was a big outcry.
Earlier this year I said, “Politics is not an action movie in which you watch people slinging mud.” But in the last couple of months it has become so. During the airport scandals, I had to reassure people, “Please understand that politicians are working for the country and not taking the turns to plunder the country as has been alleged.” But when there's less money around, people start to fight over it. The government used to dominate the news by coming up with a new boondoggle every day. Now it's a new corruption scandal.
Suddenly things have got very noisy. I've told people, “If there was no opposition, then you would see how far this country could progress!” But nobody seems to be listening.
So we need a new direction. I explained this just the other day: “We can't wait. Other countries have already gone far. Although Thailand has no money, we have earth, water, air and fire which we can exchange for money using barter trade. We'll change from jumping like a frog to hopping like a kangaroo. That's quicker.”
Yes, that's a little abstruse, but we chairmen love homely metaphors about animals. This is the Great Hop Forward. What it means is, we're selling off everything we can to the farang, because that seems the only way left to raise money. I'm hoping people won't remember me waving the flag in July 2003 about declaring independence from the IMF. I hope they've forgotten I wouldn't take foreign cash for the tsunami victims. I pray they'll forgive all those cracks about the Democrats selling the company. I'm regretting just a little the number of times I've said we don't beg rice from anyone.
Making such a U-turn is not easy. As I said back in August: “When people think about Ajarn Pridi and the Free Thai Movement, they think about the great sacrifice they made for the country. I want people to remember me and my government in the same way.” But I have so much to sacrifice.