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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

'We Are One Team'

Confusion is illusion, says the industry chief


INDUSTRY MINISTER KORN DABBARANSI'S less-than-ideal relationship with Amnuay Viravan's team may have been one factor in the finance chief's downfall. A few days after Amnuay resigned, Korn, 52, discussed the politics of the economy with Correspondent Julian Gearing. Excerpts from their conversation:

There is much confusion over who is running the economy.

One very big incident that led to some confusion was the [recent] export seminar in Pattaya. It was organized to allow the prime minister to hear the grievances of export companies. Most of Thailand's exports are industrial, yet I, the industry minister, was not included. I was not even aware there was a gathering until I read about it in the papers.

Another incident was the excise tax proposed by the minister of finance. The culture of the finance ministry is secretive. When the proposal was put forward to the cabinet for approval, there were no objections. You know why? Because nobody had any information with which to object. After the Federation of Thai Industries wrote to me requesting amendments, we stated our case. The finance minister was very reasonable; he said he would go along with [any new] cabinet verdict, which is the official one, not the finance ministry's. All this has given the impression that the government operates with many economic teams, which is not true at all. We have different opinions, yes, but only one team, one cabinet.

Was it the excise tax issue that led finally to Minister Amnuay resigning?

If any political pressure was exerted on Finance Minister Amnuay, it did not originate from me. I -- and Minister Amnuay -- can assure you of that. Every meeting I had with him, I tried to help. For example, when he raised the tax on motorcycles but not Mercedes Benzes, I said to him, you should pay more attention to the luxury items, because there won't be any political repercussions. I even offered a 3-billion-baht oil fund as an excise tax [possibility]. Anything I could do.

Your party, Chart Pattana, and the prime minister appear to be friendlier with the new finance minister than you were with Amnuay.

I do not deny that, I do not deny that.

How do you intend to cooperate now?

I will tell the new minister of finance that we need to give some breathing space to the local industries suffering liquidity problems. The spending power of the importing community is still very strong. They wish to order more and more, yet the exporting community is unable to meet those orders because the local banks are very scared, very skeptical and very stingy. That should not be so. Export companies should be given a higher credit line.

What economic role will Chart Pattana play in future?

They are not a government economic team. They don't have any power. They are only advisers, and their recommendations are put forward to the prime minister only. If he deems them useful to pass to ministers in his cabinet, he will do so. If he puts them in the drawer, that is where it stops.

Though some measures have been announced to help the economy, implementation is slow. Why?

We, the cabinet, want change -- tomorrow. They, the civil servants, the bureaucracy, do not. It's something every government has faced. Our biggest weakness is that we change governments too often. The civil servants know that if they resist long enough, the administration will change. Again and again, we have to start from scratch.

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