The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), a project that will strengthen not only the country’s economic performance but also its competitiveness, is making rapid progress, which is commendable.
The project’s overnight success can be attributed to political stability under the military regime. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last year invoked the powerful Section 44 to enable authorities to bypass some laws and regulations that may put the flagship project on hold.
Wichit Chantanusornsiri is a senior economics reporter, Bangkok Post.
Such a decision invites criticism but it indeed secures the project, which is based on a study called the “New Engine of Growth” by Kanit Sangsubhan, who was later appointed secretary-general of the EEC Office.
The study focused on 10 S-curve industries which comprise next-generation cars; smart electronics; affluent, medical and wellness tourism; agriculture and biotechnology; food; robotics for industry; logistics and aviation; biofuels and biochemicals; digital; and medical services in three EEC strategic provinces, namely Rayong, Chon Buri and Chachoengsao.
There is a clear development time frame for five infrastructure plans which will lay foundations for the EEC. They include the high-speed rail networks, improvements to U-tapao airport, and the Eastern Airport City; an aircraft maintenance centre at U-tapao airport; the third phase of Map Ta Phut port; and the third phase of Laem Chabang deep-sea port. The development plans involve massive investment, totalling more than 500 billion baht.
It is inevitable that the Prayut government is pinning great hopes on this flagship project which will also help eradicate poverty.
Currently, 11.4 million people — almost 20% of the population — still earn less than 100,000 baht a year, or less than the 300-baht minimum wage.
Of the group, more than five million are in the under-poverty line group, with less than 30,000-baht income a year. Last year, the government had to fork out more than 70 billion baht for its welfare scheme. Yet I don’t think people want to depend forever on state welfare as it only hurts their dignity.
It is my belief that everyone would appreciate a chance to stand on his or her own feet, and contribute to the country’s growth.
So there are hopes this flagship EEC project will make a difference. If things go as planned, it would raise gross domestic product a further 2%, from the current 3-4%. If we are to release ourselves from the so-called middle-income trap, the country must achieve at least 6% growth for 20 successive years.
This is no easy task. We need strong political will to achieve the goal.
Indeed, such rapid progress is unprecedented in our development history. But to make the EEC a success, it requires strong confidence from investors, which can be secured only with political stability, as well as the vision of the people who will run the country in the post-coup period.
It is unfortunate our politics still face an uncertain future. We have no idea if the simmering political conflicts will intensify after the elections. Will we be able to escape what was known as the “lost decade” when Thailand was trapped in political strife and divisiveness, or will it come back and haunt us?
Without a doubt, such uncertainly would be bad for investment which would affect the much-touted EEC project.
In particular, we see little, if any, commitment on the part of politicians regarding this flagship project. But that commitment, especially assurances that politicians from different parties can look beyond party interests for the sake of the EEC, is important. It’s possible some may be wary of the project as it is the work of the military regime.
But I don’t think the regime can stay forever. Prime Minister Prayut should look at the noble example set by Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda who relinquished his power in his day as prime minister. It’s time for Gen Prayut to start working out an exit strategy. He should know that overstaying his welcome will do more harm than good.
Gen Prayut must stick to his commitment to keep the country out of political crisis. Otherwise, the EEC, even with such noble goals including raising the country’s competitiveness, will come to nothing.
That would be a mistake which Gen Prayut and his regime cannot afford.