Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Celebrating is well and good, but we need to do more

from Bangkok Post:

Celebrating is well and good, but we need to do more

Published: 8/12/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News


... few oath-takers do what they say in their oaths, and not enough Thais do what His Majesty says ...

The past few weeks have been festive. The month-long merit-cum-merry-making Kratin season ended with the Loy Krathong festival on Nov 21, after which the celebrations of His Majesty's 83rd birth anniversary immediately started, although the actual birthday did not come till Dec 5.

If one thinks this year's celebrations have been spectacular, wait until next year when His Majesty turns 84, completing the auspicious seventh zodiac cycle. Next year, Loy Kratong falls on Nov 10. I will venture to say this: Thais will start celebrating His Majesty's birth anniversary right after that and will continue on until the parties welcoming 2012 are over - for Thais are second to none when it comes to celebrating and having fun.

While I believe we should celebrate notable occasions, especially His Majesty's birthday, and have fun, I am convinced that the fun will be more genuine, more widely shared, and more enduring if we Thais were to cut down on expenditure for most celebrations, listen a little more closely to what His Majesty says, and use the saved funds for other worthy causes, especially for providing poorer children with more education opportunities.

His Majesty has said many valuable things during his reign of over four decades. If I were asked to choose one that I believe would make the greatest difference had we Thais been listening to him, and doing what he says, it would be about duty. Each year, His Majesty utters the word "duty" numerous times, especially when he grants an audience to judges, high-ranking government officials and cabinet ministers on the occasion of their appointments. On such occasions, they all undertake an oath that they will carry out their duties to the best of their abilities, and His Majesty often repeats the word "duty" in his remarks before wishing them well.

As part of the celebrations of His Majesty's birthday, the prime minister leads civil servants in taking an oath to faithfully carry out their duties and the royal guards do the same when they put on a spectacularly colourful parade.

But apparently, few oath-takers do what they say in their oaths, and not enough Thais do what His Majesty says, for if we did, we would have heard neither complaints about businesses having to pay 30% of project costs to those in power to win government contracts, nor reports about politicians soliciting bribes from civil servants who aspire to higher ranks or wish to move to different geographical locations.

There are no data on how much government agencies, as well as the private sector, spend on celebrating His Majesty's birthdays. They also honour him by putting permanent decorations on buildings, roads, bridges, parks and various structures, often with his large portrait and intricate lighting that consumes electricity year-round. Thais also spend a lot to celebrate many occasions throughout the year. Together, these expenditures must add up to a huge sum annually.

I have written about Thais donating large sums of money each year to Buddhist temples, to build many majestic structures and large Buddha statues, including in remote areas, while ignoring the school buildings around those temples that are in urgent need of repair.

This imbalance was again confirmed during this past Krathin season, when I actively participated in efforts to raise funds for rural children's education as well as for the temples.

The result was a no-contest, with children's education left in the dust.

If we were to rebalance our expenditure by cutting down on celebrations and on donations to temples to, say, about half and use the saved funds for schools, especially in the rural areas where schools are often short of just about everything, the celebrations may not be as spectacular but the fun would be more widely shared, by more segments of society, and would be much more enduring.

This is because the future of the country will be better, as more children would have access to more education opportunities.

The future will be even brighter were the rebalance of expenditure and donations to be accompanied by more Thais listening to His Majesty closely, more oath-takers doing what they say, and all Thais carrying out duties more faithfully.


Sawai Boonma has worked as a development economist for more than two decades. He can be reached at

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