Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Internet can be beneficial if used correctly

Published on July 24, 2010

The government wants to improve online access, but it must ensure that content and quality are promoted too

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to make the cost of Internet access more affordable for Thais as part of the government's plan to bridge the digital divide. But the plan to give Thais more online access should be conducted through a multi-pronged approach.

The objective should not only focus not only on access to the Internet, but on how Thais should be able to utilise the benefits of online information. People must be able to capitalise, not only for their own good, but for others, too.

Internet access does not guarantee to make us smarter. Writer Nicholas Carr has made an interesting argument that the Internet can make you dumb. In his book "The Shallows", he says that the Internet can make us less attentive, reduce our capacity for deep thought, and thus make us less intelligent.

It is debatable whether the Internet will make you smarter or dumber. But the benefits of online information will certainly depend on how users apply that information. If Thais use the Internet to source information to enhance their knowledge and worldly view, that can only be a positive benefit.

That will not be the case, as Carr argues, if the Internet distracts our attention with unnecessary alerts and e-mails. His argument goes that people who multi-task tend to be less creative and productive than those who concentrate on one thing at a time. We should not be slaves to Internet distractions, but we should learn to use it wisely.

The rapid rise of the Internet in Thailand shows that Thais are eager to become a part of the global online community. Yet many Thais are not fully aware of "netiquette" or the danger of compromising their Internet passwords. A recent controversy over a social website is a case in point.

Reducing the fees for broadband alone is not enough to ensure that we become smarter. Users should be aware of the limitations of information that goes online, and be cautioned about the lack of verification for certain information that can appear and disappear online in a short space of time.

Knowing a second language is also a plus for Internet users. English is currently the most popular online language, followed by Chinese and Spanish. It will not hurt if Thai Internet users strive to improve their proficiency in some of these international languages.

Besides, online information in the Thai language remains limited. Therefore, if the government wants to promote the good use of the Internet, it should encourage users to search for information by promoting an online library in Thai, so that people can upload quality literature and educational material. Literature with expired copyright should be available for a new generation to read and appreciate in numerous languages. The beauty of the Thai language is certainly hard to find in modern pulp fiction.

Information technology provides a massive opportunity for those who can appreciate the benefit that comes with it. An increase in online access can help Thailand to become an information society. No one should be left out of this opportunity to learn through this medium. Finland recently became the first country in the world to make broadband access a legal right for its citizens. Other countries with capacity may soon follow suit. Thailand cannot fall behind.

Of course, there are many who prefer traditional media for learning and communication. But if the government wants to promote Internet access, we should ensure that the taxpayers' money that it plans to invest for broadband will make us all smarter.
Privacy Policy © 2009 Nation Multimedia Group
September 10, 2010 01:09 am (Thai local time)

EDITORIAL Is Japan losing faith in Thai economy?

Published on September 3, 2010

Political turmoil, unskilled labour, Map Ta Phut chaos may be reasons why investors are looking elsewhere

Thailand could lose out on new Japanese investments; we need to identify what is wrong with our business climate and urgently put things right.

According to Watchara Panchet, the Thai Trade Representative, it is possible that Thailand could miss out on a new wave of Japanese foreign investment. Watchara was commenting after a recent Japanese trip during which he was told that Thailand is not on Japan's list of public-private partnership (PPP) priorities. The list encourages Japanese investors to engage in infrastructure development projects in other countries.

Watchara, quoted by Thai Rath newspaper, says that Tokyo has listed nine countries under its PPP initiative, including our Southeast Asian neighbours Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. He admitted it was alarming indeed to find out that Thailand was not part of Japan's immediate foreign investment plans.

Japan has long been one of the biggest investors in Thailand. Over the years, the Japanese investment record here has been demonstrably impressive, with long-term interest a priority factor, along with a solid commitment to continually transfer technology to local staff. One of the successes has been the Thai automobile assembly industry, which has successfully developed because of the presence of Japanese car companies since the 1970s. At that time it became too expensive for Japanese investors to keep certain manufacturing facilities at home, so they looked to promising investment opportunities abroad - of which Thailand was one.

Since the yen has strengthened recently to 84 versus the US dollar, it makes sense again for Japanese investors to look overseas. With the yen rising to a 15-year high, the Japanese now see continuing cooperation with developing countries as essential to maintaining competitiveness.

Aside from relocating industrial plants to more competitive locations, the Japanese government's cooperation in infrastructure projects also provides opportunities for its companies to engage in infrastructure development in emerging economies. Other Asean members such as Vietnam and Malaysia are aware of this and have been vigorously attracting Japanese investment, because they see technology development as national priorities.

If Thailand is really losing its charm for Japanese investors, that would be bad news indeed. Over the past 40 years, Thailand has successfully followed Japan's "flying geese" development model, and has taken great strides up the technological ladder. Thais have become familiar with the Japanese business culture, and have welcomed the employment security that this culture has traditionally brought with it. The new wave of Japanese investment suggests that Japanese businesses are moving towards environment-friendly operations, energy efficiency and effective waste management. These are areas in which Thailand has a strongly shared interest with Japan.

Thailand may now have to ask the question: What has gone wrong in the economic relationship with Japan? Possible answers include under-qualified human resources - an issue often raised by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, and a reason why some investors shy away from these shores. Another recent factor is the unpredictable political environment which, as we have seen, has been severely disruptive to business operations. Yet another problem is political and legal indecisiveness in dealing with issues that are critical for foreign investment. The most obvious current example is the stalled expansion of the Map Ta Phut industrial estate.

Watchara's Japanese counterparts told him that Thailand's absence from the PPP list is because the two countries already have well-established business connections, and the Japanese feel that Thailand might not require new initiatives in the form of PPP. Watchara replied that Thailand is still open for foreigners to participate in industrial and infrastructure projects.

If the exclusion of Thailand from Japan's PPP list is indeed because our existing business and economic ties are well-established and solid, then we might not have to worry too much about losing out to our regional competitors. But if the case is otherwise, then we need to find out why Japanese investors might be losing confidence, and then urgently put in place measures to rectify the situation.

The answer to the above question will tell us not simply how to continue to attract Japanese investment; it should also reveal more deep-rooted problems in our economic environment and existing business practices. If we can identify the symptoms, we must then come up with solutions as to how Thailand can still attract sustainable investment that is not detrimental to the environment and which creates meaningful, long-term employment opportunities for Thais.
Privacy Policy © 2009 Nation Multimedia Group

September 10, 2010 01:00 am (Thai local time)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This is still a land of bitter division


Published on September 8, 2010

Thailand's economic figures look good, but we will remain a country of extreme wealth and poverty until our politicians develop a conscience
The benefits of the recent economic recovery are not being distributed to the majority of Thai people. An Assumption University poll released last Sunday shows that people who earn less than Bt10,000 per month have found their income decreasing. In short, income distribution is still a major challenge that the government must address.

The good economic figures this year have been founded largely on the vibrant export sector, but in the Assumption poll, respondents from 12 selected provinces said they had earned less compared to the previous quarter. Most said that their income barely covered their expenses. Two-thirds of them have no monthly savings at all.

The survey results give a more realistic picture of the Thai economy. The government has been excited at the economic growth figures but makes little effort to understand if this growth is actually meaningful to ordinary people. The Thai economic structure is still a failure, with the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer. As well as this, there is insufficient effort to foster contribution from the better-off sections of society to enable everyone to grow together. The massive budget earmarked to empower rural people is likely to be ill-spent.

Instead of superficial economic figures, the government should focus on providing educational and employment opportunities to the people who need them most, in order to ensure that long-term economic prosperity is attainable by all, especially for those in rural areas. If we cannot do this, an increasing number of people will continue to migrate to the big cities, exacerbating the problem of urban poverty.

Recently-released figures from the Finance Ministry reaffirm the size of the problem. Overall income distribution is now much worse than in 1992. The top 20 per cent of the richest people in Thailand account for 54 per cent of the country's combined revenue, while the poorest 20 per cent account for only 4.8 per cent of the country's total income.

Of Thailand's 64 million people, only 9 million submit tax payment forms to the Revenue Department. Of this number, only 2.3 million actually pay taxes, while the other 7 million are exempt from paying taxes because they receive tax benefits. Of the 2.3 million taxpayers, only 60,000 pay the highest progressive tax rate of 37 per cent.

These figures prove that only a small middle class is contributing to the welfare of the whole country. It is also worrying that Thailand is now ranked internationally as the 50th worst country in terms of income distribution.

These problems are unlikely to be solved if the Thai economy continues to follow this direction, where the people with good connections get all the opportunities, leaving the rest out in the cold. Thailand could easily move up from its shameful position on the worst income distribution list, but it's going to take great political will and sacrifice on the part of the wealthy to achieve this.

While the big cities have been growing, the rural areas have been largely ignored. Politicians in rural provinces don't care about sustainable, long-term initiatives to improve the well-being of their constituents. They think only of personal short-term gain when they should be developing their constituencies to make communities more self-reliant. These politicians are a burden on the state and the people. They aim only at seizing funds that will compensate them for money spent during the election season. They become richer while leaving their constituencies poorer and more dependent on handout money.

The Thai political crisis stems largely from this uneven income distribution and unfair access to opportunity, especially in education. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said many times that the government will bridge the gap to reconcile the division in the country. So far, no concrete action has been taken. What we have seen is the old vicious circle of massive spending approved for big projects in which a small group of businesses receive lucrative concessions. Development budgets are designated to rural areas but fall into the hands of corrupt politicians and officials. Little is being spent to enhance the strengths of the people of this country. The result is that many people leave their homes to do menial jobs in cities while also relying on government subsidies and welfare.

Political reform will never be successful unless this uneven wealth structure is corrected. The failure to distribute wealth and promote local strengths and competitiveness will only lead to future political conflict. Corrupt politicians should be ashamed of living in palatial houses in the rural provinces while many in their own constituencies are struggling with grinding daily poverty. A prosperous and sustainable society can only thrive if there is cooperation and fair access to education and economic opportunity.
Privacy Policy © 2009 Nation Multimedia Group
September 9, 2010 06:44 am (Thai local time)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

video link from Nargis typhoon in Burma