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Thai Army: Surayud fans winds of c

Subject: Thai Army:  Surayud fans winds of change 

                                        November 4, 1998 

                 by Kanjana Spindler

 Surayud fans winds
 of change

 Barely a month after taking over as the army commander-in-chief,
 Gen Surayud Chulanont is gently fanning the winds of change in all
 directions. But the big question remains: Will he be able to make the
 changes stick, will he be able to shape, redefine, restructure and
 reengineer the army in an enduring, quantifiable manner?

 Since Thaitanic struck the iceberg of greed in July 1997, much has
 been written about the need for change, for an end to corruption, for
 transparency in all matters, for restructuring the economy and the
 public sector. But what has really happened? It's all been much ado
 about nothing.

 After a year of words without action, the public, the long-suffering
 silent majority, got really fed up. None of the Thaitanic culprits had
 been prosecuted, let alone punished. Born out of this intense
 frustration we have entered into a new era - the corruption explosion.
 Emboldened and empowered by the spirit of the new constitution,
 people have begun to turn on their masters. No deal is now secret, no
 long-time, vested interest relationship sacred.

 Suddenly we have turned the lights on. We are not surprised by the
 pile of maggots we find, we knew they were there all the time. But we
 are elated to see them squirming in the harsh light of public disclosure.

 However, our elation may be short-lived. Corruption is a seamless
 facet of everyday life in Thailand. Committees of public officials
 collectively hide it. The paperwork is correct, the signatures
 appropriate, the bidding procedures scrupulously followed. If only we
 expended as much effort, as much creativity, as much intelligence on
 productive activities, we could have achieved a good, sustainable life
 for all our citizens.

 Enter Gen Surayud. What are his chances of affecting real change in
 the army? Collectively, the armed forces represent the most
 impenetrable bastion of elite vested interest in Thailand today.
 Thailand's modern history is a chronicle of the armed forces
 attempting, unsuccessfully, to maintain their control over and
 ownership of this country.

 But driven back, almost, to within their barracks, the armed forces are
 now in search of a new role, a new legitimacy, one more in tune with
 these rapidly changing times. Leading this search is Gen Surayud who
 has the intellectual, professional and ethical resources to at least
 attempt such a Herculean task.

 Acknowledging the realities of the present situation, Gen Surayud has
 been quick to articulate a new, internal, four-point policy for his

 * Conserve resources seriously, both time and money.

 * Transparency in everything. Everything is subject to investigation and
 everything must be ready to be investigated.

 * Justice and fairness towards subordinates, particularly with reference
 to transfers and promotions.

 * Competence (professionalism) in all areas, taking into account the
 various limitations.

 It all looks fine on paper but what about implementation? Gen Surayud
 is a realist but he is also totally committed to downsizing the army and
 radically increasing its professionalism. He's not surprised by the wave
 of corruption issues hitting the army because, he says, "it's part of the
 process of a society in transition". In fact, he may welcome the
 increasing public scrutiny as it will help his own sweeping reform plans
 gather momentum.

 However, being a realist, he doesn't underestimate the challenges
 ahead. "I've set myself a target. I know in so doing some people will
 get hurt. But I'm prepared to be hurt as well."

 * Kanjana Spindler is Assistant Editor, Editorial Pages,
 Bangkok Post.



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 Last Modified: Wed, Nov 4, 1998
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