Good evening, dear Thai citizens.
October 23 was Chulalongkorn Day, which marked the anniversary of King Rama V's passing. His Majesty King Chulalongkorn made countless contributions to the people of Thailand, and is loved by all Thais.
State and private agencies have carried out commemorative ceremonies at the statues of King Rama V, and held scholarly exhibits on the history and royal duties of the King. On this special occasion, I invite all Thai citizens to honor King Chulalongkorn's benevolence by striving for unity, love and conciliation, and by contributing – in accordance with each respective individual's capacity and role – to the sustainable progress of the country through the national reform process.
Over this past week, I had the opportunity to represent the government in welcoming the Bahraini prime minister, His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, on his visit to Thailand. Bahrain is considered to be one of Thailand's closest friends among the Middle Eastern countries. The prime minister told me he visited Thailand often and continues to follow developments in Thailand.
His Royal Highness complimented Thailand for the positive progress made so far, especially in public safety. He observed that Thais are now able to live normal, happy lives, and gave the suggestion that safety and security were among the foundations for a country's development.
Bahrain wants to expand its collaboration with Thailand in all aspects, especially economic collaboration and expressed the willingness to buy various products, including rice, from Thailand.
Bahrain agreed to develop a mechanism for collaboration at all levels, and shall quickly see to the realization of cooperation in food and agriculture. I informed the Prime Minister of my emphasis on strengthening the agriculture sector in Asia, so that it would give the region economic leverage. The Bahraini prime minister accepted this idea, saying that Bahrain is willing to act as coordinator between Thailand and other Middle Eastern countries, and will continue to support Thailand's role on the world stage.
Let us now turn to the subject of the 10th ASEM meeting. On October 16 and 17, 2014 the Thai government's delegation and I traveled to Milan, Italy to partake in the 10th Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM).
53 delegations comprising governments and regional organizations participated in the meeting. As Thailand's prime minister, I informed the meeting of Thailand's readiness and capacity to perform the role as a hub of ASEAN. I also presented three major points to the ASEM meeting, as follows.
The first point involves citizen-centered sustainable development, in line with His Majesty the King's royal initiative. The idea is to use Thailand's coordinator role for the ASEAN-European Union Dialogue during years 2015 and 2018 to promote strategic partnerships and collaboration that lends support to the creation of the ASEAN Community (AC) in 2015.
This initiative will be based on the reduction of development gaps, promotion of interconnection and emphasis on food and energy security, especially on the issues of maintaining the agriculture sector and overseeing the prices of agricultural goods. I informed the meeting of the importance in EU-Asia collaboration in this aspect.
I proposed that the European Union allocate some resources toward the agriculture sector in Asia. In return, Asia would produce both food and energy crops for the EU. This would reduce poverty in Asia, and help to alleviate conflicts arising from food and energy shortages which may be brought on by climate change.
The second point involves the initiation of meetings to set the direction for furthering relations aimed at boosting economic efficiency, as follows:
The third point involves joint risk management, which has become a global challenge. Thailand, Asia and the EU must jointly consider this matter, which is of concern to the international community.
The risks include contagious diseases, such as the Ebola virus, extremism and terrorism, narcotics, human trafficking, and natural disasters and climate change.
At the ASEM meeting, I had the opportunity to introduce myself to many nations' leaders and clarified to them about the situation within Thailand. The feedback was positive, and many leaders expressed understanding on the situation and complimented our proposals for collaborative sustainable development.
I also engaged in bilateral discussions with many leaders, including those from ASEAN countries, China, Japan, India, Cambodia, Singapore, and Vietnam. The discussion results were mutually beneficial, and will lead to joint development efforts. I emphasized the government's determination to suppress corruption; the leaders commended our work and gave us their encouragement. There were also discussions on other topics, as follows.
The fostering of an environment that lends itself to investment and trade - this can be achieved by streamlining procedures or reducing restrictions. Examples include implementation of 'single window' or one-stop service systems, which allow for speedier processing of investments, investor support, and enforcement of appropriate BOI regulations and incentives. I invited investors from many countries to invest here, especially in the agro-industry sector and in agricultural products processing. Very good feedback was received.
Development of infrastructure and public utilities - this is at the heart of the drive to link the Thai economy with that of the ASEAN region. I discussed joint investments in rail transit and water management; the latter would allow us to have enough water for agriculture and also prevent flooding. Japan and China have expressed full willingness to lend their support.
I have also invited India and Singapore to participate in developing infrastructure that would link the region, and have subsequently received positive feedback. Other collaboration discussed included satellites and high technology, quality coal power, clean energy, research and development, goods processing and innovations. Importantly, joint investments in the Dawei special economic zone, which will promote interconnection in trade and investment in the region, were discussed.
On border trade and tending to workers from neighboring countries, I proposed an idea calling for the border line to be thought of as a line that signifies collaborations in all dimensions – the promotion of mutual development and gains.
I called for special economic zones to possess amenities such as hotels and businesses. For example, the border area opposite of Poipet in Cambodia might host factories that employ Cambodians who would have an easy time crossing over to work. The Cambodian authorities might, in their own territory on the other side of the border, set up similar economic development zones in a parallel fashion, resulting in 'twin towns'. This would also apply to other neighbors.
The same goes for the border area next to Laos. Thailand and Laos have been collaboratively developing transportation linkages between the two countries and with the region. This effort will be another contributor to trade and tourism in the region.
I thank the leaders of every country for honoring me, the Thai people and Thailand. I thank them for engaging in discussions and for inviting me to visit their countries. I will try to schedule the visits soon.
We now turn to the topic of the Cabinet meeting. This week, the Ministry of Transport proposed its 8-year strategy for transport infrastructure development, for 2015-2022. The strategy involves developments in five aspects of transportation.
1) Development of an inter-city rail transit network.
2) Development of public transportation to alleviate traffic congestion.
3) Development of highways linking production bases and linking with neighboring countries.
4) Development of the water transportation network.
5) Improving air transportation capacity
I would like to briefly provide the details for more clarity, as follows.
Developments on the inter-city rail transit network will involve making improvement to equipment and the basic structure, as well as development of the dual-track rail system. There are 6 routes marked for urgent completion in the dual-track system, which will encompass 903 kilometers of rail line; construction is expected to finish in 2018.
The 2nd phase of this construction, which will encompass 1,626 kilometers of rail line in 8 routes, is expected to start in 2017.
Three routes that link industrial zones with neighboring countries will be developed under the dual-track rail network scheme, which will utilize the 1.435 meters standard gauge. The Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima-Maptaphut, Bangkok-Rayong, Nakhon Ratchasima and Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai routes will cover a length of 705 kilometers.
The Ministry of Transport will also expedite the construction of electric train routes in Greater Bangkok, to alleviate the traffic problem. In the first phase, construction will be sped up in four routes.
These include the Bang Yai-Bang Sue Purple Line, to be completed before 2017; the Bang Sue-Tha Phra-Hua Lamphong-Bang Khae Blue Line extension, to be completed by 2019; and the Bearing-Samut Prakan Green Line, to be completed by 2020.
The government will also move quickly to study the details and initiate the bidding process for the 7 remaining routes. We will try to have the constructions finished by 2021, in order to afford residents of the suburbs greater convenience in commuting.
I have told the Ministry of Transport to look into the feasibility of electric trams that would provide low-income locals with links to the employment hotspots in the suburban areas.
Improvements to highways nationwide will involve new routes, additional lanes and repairs. The highways will be extended to link all of the country's regions and to provide links to the various border points. We will attempt to complete these constructions in year 2017.
The Laem Chabang port will be improved to be able to accommodate more vessels and to become a center for rail-based container freight transportation. This initiative will commence next year and will be completed by 2017. The government is also looking to improve riverbanks, piers and the water channel in the Pa Sak River area.
The government will try to push for a Suvarnabhumi Airport expansion project which comprises construction of more terminals, an airport apron, parking buildings, and passenger lounges. The project is slated to commence in 2015.
The same expansion plan will be implemented at Phuket International Airport as well. The plan includes construction of 15 additional aircraft pits which are expected to be completed within next year. The construction of an additional terminal will begin next year as well.
All of these infrastructure development plans will enhance the competitiveness of the country and uplift the potential of Thai logistics system, which will result in the better quality of life of the people.
These plans are expected to help boost the economy and promote regional connectivity. Additionally, I have instructed all responsible units to transparently and effectively carry out these projects under the set timeframe and allocated budget.
Since Monday, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) started distributing financial assistance to rice farmers as approved by the Cabinet. If you have yet to register for the assistance, please do so at all branches of the BAAC. And please be patient, the bank will speed up the disbursement process and make sure that every registered farmer gets paid.
You can be confident of this and contribute to the fight against corruption. Don’t believe in what some groups of ill-intended people might say. I promise that all registered farmers will receive their money.
The recent cabinet meeting has given a nod to the assistance measures for rubber farmers proposed by the Natural Rubber Policy Committee on 16 October. The committee proposed 4 aid measures as follows.
1) A measure that stabilizes rubber prices where the government will purchase rubber at 60 baht per kilogram.
2) A 1,000 baht per rai assistance to rubber growers. Each family will receive no more than 15,000 baht in total.
3) Rubber farmers will be offered special loans with a limit of 100,000 baht per person.
4) A measure that boosts farmers’ credits for future loans.
I have instructed all relevant offices to study the details of these measures and to look for other possible measures in order to ensure effective assistance and transparency. It is expected that aid will arrive in all areas soon.
As for those low-income earners who are unable to get a loan from commercial banks, I would like to inform you that there are still a number of financial institutions and other agencies such as local cooperatives that are willing to assist you.
Earlier this week, the Cabinet approved a budget which would be paid as interest to local cooperatives and financial institutions on behalf of citizens whose debts are below 500,000 baht.
This project allows the government to help agriculturists and low-income earners who received loans from local cooperatives and financial institutions.
This assistance money comes from the leftover fund of 610.2 million baht of the 2013 fiscal budget and the additional fund of 89.8 million baht of the 2015 fiscal budget.
The government will do its best to assist fellow citizens.
In addition, I would like to ask all Thais not to borrow money from loan sharks as informal loans normally come with high interest rates. To make matters worse, the government would not be able to assist you if you have informal debts.
At present, the government is looking into the possibility of launching a scheme that aims to address the problem of loan sharks by having companies issue 'nano-finance' loans to low-income earners with lower interest rates than informal borrowing.
The government is also adamant to push forward a draft law concerning debt collection which was approved by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in July.
The draft law is now being studied and considered by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and has already passed the second reading. The law is expected to be prescribed soon.
After the law is passed, all debt collectors are required to register with the Finance Ministry and are prohibited from threatening or using violence against debtors. Furthermore, debt collectors will not be able to approach debtors at their workplace or during nighttime. Those perpetrators will face jail time.
I would like to urge that all loan sharks avoid threatening their borrowers or using any kind of violence against the debtors. This is an important issue that I would like to address. There are a number of laws that the government will use against these perpetrators. Other than legal measures, what is also important for us is to appreciate a moderate lifestyle.
The most important thing is to follow HM the King’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy. If we have a limited amount of money, we should use it wisely and sufficiently and only use it to purchase necessities, not brand name products.
Children must be sympathetic to their parents who have to borrow money or sell off their assets to pay for children’s tuition fees. This is why the King’s principle is very useful in our daily life. When you have a lot of money, you can afford a lot of things, but when you don’t, you need to adjust your lifestyle according to what you earn.
During the recent Cabinet meeting, I ordered the Ministries of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Industry, Interior, and Natural Resources and Environment, to draw up sustainable solutions to two problems in the agricultural sector.
First of all, I would like to see the idea of agricultural zoning adopted in all agricultural areas in the country. Local offices must approach the farmers and educate them about agricultural zoning.
Dry lands must be better managed while markets must have the potential to support the produce.
We are not forcing any farmers to do what we suggest, but we offer this solution because we are truly worried. Not only will it enhance the ability of these farmers, it will also better manage and make best use of agricultural areas in Thailand.
Secondly, Thailand needs to separate agricultural zones from industrial zones. Some areas are suitable for agriculture while some are not. We need to participation from all sides to make this happen.
Production in industrial zones must not affect agricultural plantations, water resources, and the lives of local residents in their respective areas.
From now on, we have to look at things in a broader perspective in order to ensure future growth.
There is no need to panic. We are not forcing a change to your vocations. The government only wants fellow farmers to consider adopting the idea of agricultural zoning. However, it is not compulsory for farmers to do so.
As for the problem of water shortages, I would like to ask for cooperation and understanding from farmers in drought-hit areas. From now until the middle of next year, Thailand does not have sufficient amount of water for both consumption and agriculture. We have to help create balance in all dimensions.
Although the Irrigation Department has stopped providing water for off-season farming, the government will seek other measures to help the affected farmers. These measures range from growing crops that require less amount of water to dredging canals and building new reservoirs.
Again, I ask our fellow farmers not to be alarmed. I am just worried about our public water supply given that the upsurge of sea water could compromise our fresh water reserves with brackish water and then cause more problems during the dry season. The government will lend a hand and give suggestions and assistance to every individual. Help can be sought at all Damrong Tham centers and more than 800 help centers across the nation.
On October 21st, I met with president of the National Club for the Promotion and Development of Quality of Life for the Blind and his entourage before attending the weekly Cabinet meeting.
I was also presented with a pin on the occasion of the “White Cane Safety Day” which falls on October 15th of every year. The National Club president asked the government to continue developing the lives of people with visual disabilities and creating environment conducive to this particular group of people.
At the Cabinet meeting, I instructed all ministries that were planning to launch future development projects, including basic infrastructure, to always keep in mind that all places and public facilities must be accessible to all, and reflect a respect for basic human rights for the disabled. This is an important way for Thailand to reduce the existing social gap so that a true spirit of goodwill can be fostered in a caring Thai society.
Lastly, on behalf of all Thais, I would like to express my utmost support for athletes who are competing at the Asian Para Games 2014 which has been held from October 16-24 at Incheon, South Korea. I want to thank all of the 217 athletes for creating happiness for the Thai people through their hard-earned achievements. You are all truly the symbol of “the indomitable spirit”.
I want all athletes to uphold this principle in order to improve your skills and abilities in sports.
I would like to address two more issues that are of concern for me. Some of the EU ambassadors have commented on the way members of the Thai media are presenting certain news, which in some cases has involved violations of the right to privacy for both victims and culprits. I have therefore held discussions with a group of diplomats and representatives from the Thai Journalists Association over the issue.
I’m asking the media to be extra careful when it comes to human rights as it directly affects our international standing. For example regarding our bid for another term on the UNs Human Rights Council, even though we were not re-selected as member, I would like to ask all Thais to be proud of our country as a total of 136 nations around the world supported us. I consider this to be a satisfactory result in this case. However, there are other issues that have to be taken into consideration.
In light of this, if the media can contribute to creating better understandings of our achievements as well as our previous problems, this could generate better perceptions. But this is up to you in the end - whether you will help move the country forward. Please consider my suggestion as an option where you could be a part to help our country.
The other issue concerns the work of the government. I can assure you that we are doing our best to bring reform to all areas. We also need your cooperation in order to achieve the ultimate goal. If we don’t help each other now, we will not be able to help this country. I am open to all suggestions that will help the government solve all existing problems in society. Some problems may need time before they can be rectified.
I thank all the support each of you has given us for the past months. We will our best to carry out all tasks.
Thank you and good bye.
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