Local leaders pledge to fight pressure from smaller parties to reform administrative law in the House

Yongyot Kaewkeao, President of the Association of Kamnan and Village Chiefs of Thailand: This is too radical.

The pro-reform Progressive Movement is mobilizing votes for its campaign in favor of constitutional amendments aimed at reforming the clauses relating to decentralization.

It aims to collect 100,000 signatures by the end of June, and if the petition achieves the goal, a motion will be presented to parliament, possibly in November, to revise chapter 14 of the constitution relating to provincial administration. .

If the goal of the movement is achieved, the positions of Kamnan (tambon leader) and Phuyai ban (village chief), which come under the Ministry of Interior and are now part of the centralized bureaucracy, will be a thing of the past.

Nonetheless, while administrative reforms aimed at empowering locals are widely welcomed, the group’s latest push for change goes beyond the changes to the ban on kamnan and phuyai that politicians and scholars have been calling for. ‘mind.

“Doomed” from the start

Yongyot Kaewkeao, president of the Association of Kamnan and Village Chiefs of Thailand, said the Progressive Movement’s proposal is radical and divisive and reflects its lack of understanding of public administration.

The country has made substantial progress towards decentralizing power over the years with local administrative organization (LAA) elections, which have also led to changes in the roles of tambon and village chiefs, he said. declared.

LAO is a general term covering provincial administration organizations (PAO), municipalities, tambon administration organizations (TAO) and specially administered local administration organizations (Bangkok and Pattaya). There are over 7,000 AATs nationwide.

“Kamman and phuyai ban take on the role of administrative officials and have clear job responsibilities. Their work is completely different from LAOs who are responsible for local development and public services,” he said.

While noting that the movement’s campaign could attract candidates who lost in the kamnan and village chief elections and attract support from reform supporters, Yongyot said he believed the proposed amendment would died on his arrival in parliament.

The opposition party Move Forward (MFP), which is the political ally of the Movement Progressive, does not have enough votes to help push through changes in parliament, he said.

The proposal to abolish the positions of kamnan and phuyai ban has already stoked the anger of association members who will be forced to act if the movement continues, he said. “But if the movement wants to make changes to the tenure of tambon chiefs and village chiefs, we are open to discussions. We have no problem with that,” he said.

He also downplayed criticism of the political influence of tambon and village chiefs at the local level, saying that while local leaders have support bases that can affect political competition, residents have access to information and make their own decisions.

Different roles

Trang Democrat MP Sathit Wongnongtoey, who helped draft the local government organization law, said some reform proponents see banning kamnan and phuyai as part of the centralized system that can be replaced by elected LAOs.

He used to think the same way, but he changed his mind.

The roles are not interchangeable, and he said the importance of these positions became clear to him during the Covid-19 pandemic, as kamnan and phuyai ban were actively engaged in containing the outbreak.

Public health volunteers, who do not have the authority to set up testing checkpoints, have relied on tambon and village chiefs to curb the spread of the virus, the Democratic MP said. “I think they are needed. They are part of the national administrative system and the link with other agencies – be it police, public health, agriculture. They also speak on behalf of the locals,” a- he declared.

In several large thesaban (municipalities) where there is no kamnan or phuyai, a community council is set up, with the chairman assuming roles similar to those of tambon and village chiefs, he said.

On their tenure, he said the issue could be discussed and resolved while suggesting that their performance should be reviewed every five years to ensure they are serving responsibly.

The political influence of tambon chiefs and village chiefs as political canvassers has declined in several communities due to various factors, Sathit says. “Their roles have changed and I think people are aware of the differences in roles [of LAOs and tambon chiefs and village heads]. The locals accept them because they are up to it, not because of their authority,” he said.

Limited term

These local leaders still play an important role in administering the daily affairs of residents, says Julapan Amornwiwat, deputy leader of the main opposition Pheu Thai party.

Their advantages are that they are connected with people and with a solid structure they can implement government policies. During the pandemic, several communities without these local leaders struggled to gain government support, he said.

However, like any organization, there may be flaws or weaknesses, but they are not enough to justify disbanding positions, he said. “Some people see these posts as unnecessary, so the issue should be debated to find common ground on the role and form of a system for the government to provide support to residents,” he said.

He said the process of finding occupants for these positions and the length of their service was hardly a problem and differences could be resolved. Parliament is ready to make changes to help these leaders better meet the needs of residents, but is unlikely to vouch for their dissolution, the Chiang Mai lawmaker said. “I think there should be a limit to their terms. If they don’t work or don’t measure up, the locals should decide their fate,” he said.

The days of tambon chiefs and village chiefs, who are seen as a political tool for those in power, are long gone, Mr Julapan said. “I don’t think they can influence people when it comes to elections. The political context has changed and people are not just taking orders like they used to in the past,” a- he declared.

Government agents

Under the Provincial Administration Act 1914, kamnan and phuyai ban are government officials who report to a district chief and are responsible for the maintenance of peace and order and development work , said Woothisarn Tanchai, secretary general of the King Prajadhipok Institute (KPI) and a specialist in local government.

With decisions made in such a top-down approach, a song Phuyai Lee was written in 1961 to poke fun at the centralized system where the development agenda was drawn up by the authorities and handed down to local communities for implementation, the scholar said. It took until the fifth national economic and social development plan for local contributions to be analyzed in order to design development projects that respond to local needs and problems, he said.

The positions of kamnan and phuyai ban have been kept intact although their roles have been adjusted to perform more specific tasks such as law enforcement and narcotics prevention – powers that are not given to tambon administrative organizations (TAO) directly elected. In remote communities, these local leaders know residents and local issues intimately and can mediate disputes and help BAT do their job.

Jade Donavanik, dean of the law school at Dhurakij Pundit University, said the provincial administration law involving kamnan and phuyai ban elections is a form of decentralization of power.

He said redefining the roles and responsibilities of these local leaders could help determine whether these positions are still needed or should be abolished. “If their roles are clearly separate from those of LAOs, there is nothing wrong with keeping them. But if their work overlaps and they work under politicians, they should leave,” he said. .

Mr Jade, a former adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee, said there was something wrong with the chain of command involving these local leaders who are selected by locals but operate under bureaucracy.

He agreed that the role of kamnan and phuyai ban as political canvassers is diminishing, noting that election-related violence in recent years involves AJOs, rather than tambon and village chiefs.

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