CAN THAILAND SUCCESSFULLY COMPETE WITHIN THE AEC? – Thailand was initially due to sign the AEC treaty for membership in 2015, however, late last year the Thai Government announced that the country was not yet ready to join due to some areas of the agreement needing more clarification and therefore pushed back its possible involvement until 2016.
So what is stopping Thailand from joining the AEC? There appears to be two distinct areas, these being education and corruption. Both these elements produce critical barriers that many feel could see Thailand being the weakest AEC partner; which could have serious economic consequences.
All countries have a degree of corruption; even the most developed of countries have a modicum of corruption. However historically poor and developing economies generally have higher levels of corruption and when it comes to Thailand it appears that no quarter is left untouched by those who use their power for political and financial gain.
Corruption breeds contempt for the greater good of a nation and it has long been established that a very few wealthy individuals rule Thailand behind the scenes; these are often referred to as the Bangkok Elite.
The underlying issue with corruption is that it touches every facet of a society often with a detrimental effect; these notably suppressing key areas of economic growth and prosperity for the masses.
A number of Thai Universities and pressure groups have conducted polls into the public’s perception of corruption and it is disturbing to witness that corruption is acceptable in many people’s eyes.
The consensus appears to be that corruption plays a key part in allowing people to get what they want; a notable example of this is Government paying for votes, a practice that is widely known and in some minds acceptable.
The consensus here appears that the poor make quick money and that the politicians are put in power in order to fleece the system continuously. It is obvious here that the main benefactor for this type of corruption is those buying the votes as their financial gain is sustained over the long term.
There have been countless court cases of politicians being caught up in corruptive practices and yet even the judicial process often fails to address the illegal activities as judges are said to have been paid off.
Corruption is a short term gain but one that often leaves a country devoid of any real future; you simply cannot continue to rape a system financially and expect continued forward growth of the economy and development of the population.
Earlier this year it was uncovered that prospective teachers were caught cheating on the Government Teacher’s Exam; there were also cases of individuals paying off Government Officials in order to obtain a Teacher’s Certificate.
With this revelation coming to light the question therefore must be posed; ‘How good is the quality of education?’
Common sense dictates that if you attempt to teach a subject that you know little or nothing about then pupils are simply spoon fed information that is either outdated or completely inaccurate.
Recently the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok was attacked by foreign diplomats for allowing its students to create a ‘Graduation Banner’ that depicted Adolf Hitler. Many graduating students were photographed standing in front of the banner and even engaging in the act of giving a Nazi salute, the sieg heil.
This particular incident gave rise to the debate of ignorance many Thai students have on world affairs and indeed world history. The debate attempted to highlight the lack of education in Thai schools and universities.
It could be argued that the Second World War was simply too far removed from Thailand at the time and therefore the atrocities are simply not widely known. Others might argue that Thailand should have been more than adequately educated considering Japan’s occupation of Thailand in the 1940’s where the Japanese Imperial Emperor attempted to force the King of Thailand to sign a declaration of war with Britain.
We in the west readily accept history as a key part of our education system as it is design to allow us to look back on the triumphs and mistakes so that future decisions can either be exploited or avoided.
During the past 18 months the Thai Government has insisted it is going to step up to the mark and improve education to an international standard. The Thai Government have openly acknowledged that Thailand will find it difficult to complete with other AEC member states due to the lack of education; most notably in their lack of ability to speak, read and write the English language.
Thailand is surrounded by potential AEC partners, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, The Philippines and Indonesia, all of whom have a population who are far more adept at the English language.
Could this be the underlying reason why Thailand has opted to push back involvement in the AEC until 2016 and is it likely they will opt for further abstention?
A recent study looked at the skill levels of working populations within the AEC member states which revealed a disturbing realization for Thailand. Some 85% of Thailand workforce is consider unskilled whereby Singapore’s unskilled labour work force comes in at just 15%; the reality here is that Thailand has little to offer in the way of migrant labour therefore swinging the balance of work in favour of other member states.
Unfortunately for Thailand migrant labour flows two ways in that other AEC member state citizens will have the right to come to Thailand and work. Would or could this result in a mass number of Thais losing their jobs?
Glancing towards The Philippines this is also a country that is highly corrupt and yet they have the distinct advantage of being a nation that readily speaks, reads and writes English – could their position pose a threat to the tourist industry jobs that so many Thais rely upon to sustain a living?
Salaries within The Philippines and Thailand are fairly similar so there’s no expectation that employment costs would increase for employers; but of course the benefit to the tourist industry would be the ability to have staff that are able to communicate to their guests.
There are no doubt other facets that could be considered as to why Thailand has sustained from joining the AEC for the time being but the dilemma remains as to whether the Thai Government really wants to educate the people sufficiently in order to compete with other AEC member states.
Many have considered the possibility that those in power really don’t want the masses to be educated for this often breeds’ opinions, leading to debates, leading to the insistence of change.
It could be said that once the population is educated this could open their eyes to the overall detrimental effects of corruption and will therefore rise up in order to suppress such activities. This in turn wouldn’t allow those in power to buy votes or engage in practices of corruption for financial gain. This brings to mind the saying that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ – with those hungry for power and control how easy will it be for them to give up such a position?
Currently, with the level of corruption and the poor situation with education, it is unlikely Thailand could compete with other more developed and educated AEC member states.
As with any developing countries it takes time to change and often the progress is slow in adopting new attitudes. However Thailand may be in a race against time for it could well find itself being left standing alone and having to site on the sidelines watching member nations flourish whilst it languishes in corruption.