Thai PM’s Keynote Speech “Leadership in Crisis Management: Experiences from COVID-19” at the seminar “Leadership for Sustainability in the New Normal”, Aug 31, 2020

Prime Minister’s Keynote Speech on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the UN Global Compact and the 75th anniversary of the UN

Your Excellency, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Thailand

President of the Global Compact Network Thailand

and distinguished guests,

I am very grateful and honored to participate in the seminar on “Leadership for Sustainability in the New Normal” on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the UN Global Compact. The goals as declared by the network, and from the speeches by the United Nations Resident Coordinator of Thailand and the President of the Global Compact Network Thailand, call for shared commitment from all parties.

I have learned that the UN Global Compact, a project under the United Nations, encourages companies and the private sector around the world to implement policies with a greater focus on sustainability and social responsibility, and to conduct business in accordance with the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact in the areas of human rights, labor, environmental protection, and anti-corruption, which the Royal Thai government has always prioritized. I, therefore, am very glad to hear that currently the Global Compact Network Thailand has welcomed more than fifty company members. I firmly believe that they will become important partners of the government in reviving our country from the COVID-19 crisis and in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. From what I have seen so far, our performance has been impressive, but that depends on the continued cooperation from all sectors.

I am well aware that “human rights are the foundation of society and business.” Respect for human rights is a principle that all parties should uphold and follow, and that is why my government encourages the private sector not to violate human rights or seek only profit, and to operate with responsibility. I am proud that Thailand became the first country in Asia to adopt the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP) in 2019. The action plan is underpinned by three pillars – protection, respect, and remedy. I would like to extend my gratitude to many domestic agencies, including the Global Compact Network Thailand, for playing a leading role in advancing human rights-centered business operations. I sincerely hope that all sectors continue working together to bring the action plan to fruition. This will help enhance the quality of life of people and the Thai society, reduce inequality, and promote respect for human dignity.

The topic that I will address to you today is “Leadership in Crisis Management: Experiences from COVID-19.” I believe that we share the same opinion that this crisis is global. We have never experienced such a serious crisis in history. Since the spread of this highly contagious disease, we have to adapt our way of life and business execution to suit the “New Normal” era. It is along this line that leaders in every organization, including the government sector, must be ready for any changes as we are entering a new world. We may not be able to work the same way anymore.

The government will accelerate the transition of our working style to fit the New Normal model in accordance with 3 important guidelines as follows

Firstly, all sectors must join forces to help shape the future of Thailand. From now on, the government must encourage and engage all sectors at all levels in society to be involved and play a greater role in determining the future of the country. Every sector is welcomed to share its vision and idea about national development to the government. Recently, the government has formed a committee called “Thailand Forward Together” to monitor, expedite, rehabilitate and put in place solutions to problems faced by the people at the local level, starting with urgent problems that require laser-focused troubleshooting and adjustments that call for commitment and action from everyone to achieve concrete and timely results.

Secondly, stakeholders will be invited to assess the government’s performance. Everyone will be able to assess the performance of the government if it has created benefits for people as expected or not in order to streamline the operation and eliminate elements that do not yield real benefits. So, please monitor the work of our government. Everything must be continued and cooperative. The next thing I am planning to do is to encourage the public to play a role in evaluating and providing feedback on government projects directly to the senior executives in the government.

Thirdly, we will work proactively. In this rapidly changing world, our work must be integrated across agencies and departments, and must be more proactive. The government will set important urgent policies by taking into account the situation, circumstance, and tangible benefits for the people in order for ministries to bring them to fruition. I will be following closely on this urgent mission to ensure realistic and effective results.

In this critical situation, we have to prioritize public interest. After all this time, the government, government officials in every ministry, and I have been trying to do our best to take care of the lives of all people by controlling the spread of COVID and providing aids through various relief measures. These include strictly screening arrivals to Thailand from all channels to prevent imported infections, campaigning on social distancing and health and hygienic practices recommended by physicians and health workers, and mobilizing over a million public health volunteers who contribute greatly to keeping the spread at bay. These measures are to reduce the risk of domestic transmission, lessen the burden of medical personnel, help and heal all affected people in order to rebuild their confidence in the government, and to ensure preparedness of the Ministry of Public Health and related agencies. Every step is carefully planned and managed by Thailand’s Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), with me as the director of the center, overseeing the mission in all dimensions.

Guided by the three priorities as mentioned, together with the cooperation of the people and the whole nation, Thailand has received praise from the United Nations and the World Health Organization, as well as being recognized by the international community as one of the best countries in the world to have successfully handled the public health crisis, controlled the spread of COVID-19 with efficiency, and recovered from the situation.

The crisis of COVID-19 further emphasizes the importance of sustainable national development. Thailand is fortunate to have the philosophy of “Sufficiency Economy” as a guideline for national development. This strengthens our capacity and fortifies our foundation from within by focusing on “human development” and “human security” so that everyone in the country is immune to economic, social and environmental changes, and most importantly, so that we can progress together without leaving anyone behind. When everyone is immune, the progress will be truly sustainable. This is the essence of the philosophy which I recently addressed to the United Nations and the countries in the region at the UNESCAP conference in May.

Today, as we have escaped this challenge, it’s time for the government to leverage the potential of the country by mobilizing opinions and cooperation from all sectors, including the public sector, the private sector, civil society, academia, and all people, to build back better and thrive together. All sectors must join forces to “Unite for Thailand.” In this crisis, “we must survive and become stronger than before.”  We, Thai people, will overcome all challenges together because we and the world have a very clear goal ahead of us: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, which must be achieved by 2030. We do not have much time left, but I believe in Thailand and Thai people. If we work together, progress and success are within reach. And I would like to praise the role of the private sector, in collaboration with other sectors, in raising awareness and working together to achieve the SDGs.

At this moment when we have to look forward, there are 3 areas that I consider vital to the recovery from this crisis.

Firstly, the spread of COVID-19 reflects the importance of a strong health system. The government, therefore, has allocated appropriate budget to public health management, and established a comprehensive health coverage to bridge inequality among the people in society. The government also supports an already strong village health volunteer system, which plays a crucial role in helping Thailand gain effective control over the disease, the success story appreciated by many other countries.

Secondly, we must be prepared for the most severe economic challenges. We must put in place measures to alleviate economic impacts on the people. The government has always been implementing measures to assist and heal people, such as by reducing household expenses and utility costs, by financially supporting people who are severely affected – daily wage workers, freelance workers, farmers, the vulnerable, and tour operators – and also by managing existing debts, such as by delaying principal repayment period, reducing interest rate, and extending the payment period for financial institutions, and many others.

In addition, to make sure that the central resources are sufficient to support and stabilize the economic situation, the government has allocated a budget of more than 2 trillion baht, divided into two main parts:

1) budget taken out by the Ministry of Finance under the virtue of a Royal Decree – this one trillion baht budget will be used for three work plans, namely (1) 45 billion baht for existing and future medical and public health projects (2) 555 billion baht to rehabilitate those affected by the crisis (3) 400billion baht for the economic and social rehabilitation projects, and

2) budget from other sources which is more than one trillion baht.

This budget will be transformed into all kinds of investments and activities to create liquidity in economic system in order to solve problems, heal people’s suffering, and revive the economy affected by COVID-19 in a comprehensive manner. We expect to regain confidence in the capital market which will lead to employment and a stronger community economy.

Recently, I have established “the Economic Situation Administration Centeror ESAC tasked to formulating joint policies between the public and private sectors to recover and develop the affected economy and society. The economic policy advocacy committee under the ESAC will work to make sure each policy is implemented in a tangible and timely manner.

Thirdly, this crisis is an opportunity for the country to change and to plan for a sustainable recovery in order to prepare for the New Normal, especially in the areas of human security, economic foundation, environmental protection, and efficient resource management. This is also crucial time to address various aspects of economic development that are of global importance, such as reversing global warming, cleaning marine waste, and conserving biodiversity. If we do not take action now, a future crisis is inevitable.

To move the country forward, the following steps in the development of Thailand will focus on “sustainability” and “participation from all sectors.” Today, I am very glad to be able meet and exchange my vision with executives of Thai companies, both small and large, who are members of The Global Compact Network Thailand, which is committed to sustainable and stable business development for the benefit of the people around the world.

Please allow me to share with you how the Thai government views sustainable economic development and to ask you to kindly develop a business plan accordingly for our nation, people, and a sustainable future for the next generations. I know that many large private entities here in Thailand are multinational companies. The benefits from sustainable development that you have already created will spread to other countries, contributing to collective strength and power, but we must not forget our smaller partners. Grassroots businesses are also important and part of the foundation.

The Thai government is implementing a new economic model called “Bio-Circular-Green Economy” or “BCG”, which consists of bio-economy, circular economy, and green economy. The main guidelines are “the sufficiency economy toward sustainability”, “building strength from within, connecting Thailand to the world” and “moving forward without leaving anyone behind”.

The COVID-19 crisis brings out the potential of Thailand and countries around the world. National development after this crisis will depend on a strong foundation of the country and the ability to build upon, develop and improve from it. We have to switch from heavy use of resources and environmental destruction to optimal utilization and conservation with a focus on integrated management, coordination of all sectors, and knowledge-based and technology-based investment and development to create our own innovation with the local wisdom of the Thai people. I would like to call on the private sector to respond to the government’s policy on this matter.

For the BCG economic model, we will focus on sustainability in at least 5 dimensions: food security, health security, energy security, job security, and sustainability of nature and the environment. If we start now, we will be able to restore everything back to normal faster.

The government has been working on the investing and laying a solid foundation for the BCG economic model for a while now. Let me share it briefly with you hoping it could serve it as a guideline for your business.

  • We have established the National Biobank to conserve and efficiently utilize biodiversity resources. Thailand has a capacity to turn these resources into products with added value such as dietary supplements and food products with the use of microorganisms. This product group has been receiving too little interest until recently, so I would like to invite the private sector to create business ideas from it.
  • The Genomics Thailand Project is a study of the genetic information of Thai people to study dominant and non-dominant genes Thai people have. Once mapped out, these genes will inform us in advance how to prepare medication, preventive measures, and correct treatment. We already have many skilled medical personnel. This genetic map will further strengthen our health system.
  • We have established the Regional Science Park to conduct research at the local level and to help local people use research results to improve the grassroots economy, regional innovation, or even comprehensive food innovation to add value to the products available in local areas. I would like to ask for cooperation from the private sector to expand and increase investments at the local level so as to distribute wealth and bring out the full potential of each locality. We also have a wealth of resources which should be optimized with innovations to add value. The government will be the main supporter and has already established standards, such as the BOI, to accommodate the implementation.
  • We have the Biorefinery Pilot Plant to expand the production scale of biomass industry from the laboratory to the industrial level. Biorefinery is a process which transform raw materials (agricultural waste, biomass or industrial waste) with biotechnology or enzymes into a wide variety of industrial materials, such as chemicals, biomedicine, and biomass energy. This is an attractive area of investment for the private sector because biorefinery creates economic value while solving pollution and environmental problems at the same time
  • We have Thailand’s Big Data or a large database of Thailand, which is of great importance in helping the government solve problems on the spot and quickly. Projects which have been implemented using Big Data include

TP Map (Thai People Map and Analytics Platform) is built upon a data management system to locate population with low-income. The map will cover a broader range of population and problems such as the newborn, the elderly, education, housing conditions, and so on. This map makes it possible to identify various levels of poverty and specify the needs of the target groups, and the nature of their problems in order to bring about the solution.

Agri Map is created to improve specific areas of agricultural production with the use of water data and satellite data. With the map, farmers will be able to plan their production based on resources in each area.

  • In addition, there are plans to collect additional information about communities, One Tambon One Product (OTOP) Program, tourist attractions, and accessibility to government services. The information will be integrated to assist executives of all levels in making the right decision. In this regard, the government and various sectors must work together to achieve real results.

Concerning the economic opportunities of Thailand on the world stage, we must create opportunities using our inner strength and reduce our reliance on external factors, especially in the area where we have greater potential compared to other countries, such as food security. However, our agricultural and food exports are becoming increasingly low in value. It’s time we shifted from selling cheap price and large quantities to commodities of high value by using innovation and creativity. It is important that we shift the whole paradigm of Thai food production to establish a sustainable food system.

  • The agricultural sector must become smart farming. Small farmers must be strong, resilient, and able to use technology to increase productivity and add value. It is essential that they acquire management knowledge, use online channels to sell products, understand the entire system from production, processing, to adding value. I ask executives and administrators to draw on agricultural innovations from other counties and apply them to our domestic agricultural sector to solve urgent problems, for example, shortage of water and arable land.
  • Thailand must be able to produce innovative food products. These products, combined with the strength of Thai medical standard, should be designed for niche markets to make sure they meet various consumer needs, for example, food for the elderly, medicinal diet, organic food, healthy food, low-calorie diet, etc. Thailand is blessed with premium raw materials. Currently, we are growing a wide variety of rice in response to particular markets. This should be supported and continued.
  • The government will allocate annual investment budget to agricultural innovation projects. This will be a binding and continuous investment so that research and development can be carried out in the long term and to be further used for marketing purposes. We also support comprehensive research funding from the laboratory, manufacturing, and marketing to accelerate the entry into the market of the products developed by Thai people. The research and development budget is currently managed by a single organization, which means the approval process is simple. People are invited to submit their projects for consideration.

Another main strength of Thailand is Creative Economy. Thailand has diverse cultural roots. We have elaborate and refined community handicrafts and food cultures unique to each locality. Unfortunately, in the past, the tourism industry has utilized these cultural capitals and valuable natural resources in terms of quantity rather than quality at the expense of the natural environment. Therefore, the government will focus using Thai cultural strength to increase value. We will promote creative tourism offering tourists with direct experience of local life so that they can learn, exchange, and interact with local people. We will also support local startups or local artists who create economic value with local cultural heritage. This is a way to distribute wealth and incomes at the local level.

Regarding public health services, we already have an efficient public health management system, but what Thailand is still lacking is that we still need to import medical products such as drugs, materials and medical devices. It is necessary that we rely on our health and medical capacity, and make our medical industry truly comprehensive and connected from researching, testing, to packaging. Our production line needs to be flexible and agile enough to handle opportunities and challenges, for example, the production of vaccines and medicines for COVID-19. Our strong health system and traditional medicine, coupled with self-reliance on medical products will make Thailand the medical hub of the world.

Everything I have said will come true only when Thailand has an efficient, safe, reliable and economical transportation system. A good system will enhance the competitiveness of Thai businesses, link regional production bases, resulting in employment and systematic urban development. Failure to develop one will cause long-term problems. At present, the transportation system in Thailand is unable to fully satisfy commuters due to the disproportionate focus on the road system. What the government is planning to do is to replace passenger vans to minibuses for long-haul and inter-provincial routes, upgrade taxi cars to Smart Taxis, and open smart bus terminals to offer more convenience to public transport users. In this area, the private sector can contribute to establishing connection between provinces.

Furthermore, the government is accelerating the development of a comprehensive and ubiquitous rail network. For the rail system to play a greater role in transportation, we plan to develop a double-track railway system in all regions, electric trains in Bangkok and vicinity, high-speed trains connecting 3 airports, and the Thai-Chinese high-speed trains which is going on as planned, and mass transit systems, such as new train lines, in major provinces. I have a dream that in the near future Thailand will have a comprehensive public transportation network in all areas, no matter how remote they are. I would like the private sector to actively join forces with the government in this regard, and we will not leave anyone behind.

As I have mentioned from the beginning regarding the development of Thailand, we are now becoming an aging society. Thailand’s working-age population is declining. We must find a way to bring out the potential of people of all ages to the fullest. We have to promote active aging, keeping the elderly healthy and capable of working longer for society. We unlock and maximize the potential of women by eliminating sexual harassment and reducing the inequality between women and men in all dimensions. We are empowering women through welfare support for pregnant employees and single mothers and by offering opportunities for female entrepreneurs to gain access to funding and for women to use digital technology. In addition, the government places great emphasis on the care of migrant workers who constitute an indispensable human resource for the Thai economy.

In addition to the large private sector, we need to support small entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs, giving everyone a platform to create and contribute to the country’s development. We ask the business sector not to neglect SMEs. The government is well aware that SMEs are a very important mechanism of the Thai economy, and account for over 96% of the overall economic activities. SMEs alone have created jobs for more than 14 million Thais nationwide. I urge all of you in the private sector to fully support small entrepreneurs, both SMEs and startups by helping them enter into the supply chain, supporting them with funding and market opportunities, especially during this time when small entrepreneurs are greatly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Since April this year, I have been meeting with various business associations, including representatives of small and medium enterprises, retail associations, farmers, and fishermen, and people who make a living to make ends meet to directly listen to their opinions, to understand their real suffering, and to find solutions.

I develop policies around the comments that I received. The four areas we have come up with include (1) government procurement – to purchase goods or services from local SMEs and distribute income to listed grassroots businesses (2) the reopening of stores, commercial places, and markets – to allow retailers to make a living while being safe thanks to the disease control and preventive measures strictly implemented by most business operators (3) organizing seminars – government agencies asked to host seminars in hotels or venues within the country to generate income for the local tourism industry, and (4) participatory problem-solving - to brainstorm about community-based solutions to water shortage in agriculture and to other chronic problems in the fishing sector, such as by setting local fisheries guidelines and commercial fishing restrictions.

What makes me confident that Thailand will be able to move forward quickly after the COVID-19 crisis is the unity of all Thais. As we can see in the news that many Thai people, even with limited means and time, never hesitate to share. An example is the pantry of sharing. Moreover, our country has a large number of talented people with great ideas and energy who are ready to work for the nation with no condition. I wish our society cherishes this spirit of ours. We need to seize more opportunities for ourselves and find new markets both inside and outside the country.

Therefore, the government is committed to increasing participation of all sectors in sustainable national development, especially by engaging the civil society, academia, and the general public in the form of “volunteer work.” Thai people are generous, and this is proven by the fact that we have more than 10 million of registered and non-registered volunteers, reflecting the interests of our brothers and sisters in cooperating with the government and advancing sustainable development in various dimensions.

The government sees volunteer work as a mechanism with great potential for all sectors in driving sustainable and local development, because volunteerism provides space for the general public to participate in the development process. Volunteers can also play a role in localizing government policies at the community level, helping the voices of the people be heard during the policy development process.

Not only in the country, but the government also continues to work with the international community to promote volunteerism across borders. Under the program “Friends From Thailand: FFT” of the Department of International Cooperation or TICA, which has been in operation since 2003, we have sent Thai volunteers to help with developmental work in countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bhutan, Timor-Leste, Benin, Mozambique and Lesotho. The development cooperation of Thailand under the FFT program, focuses on spreading and advancing the philosophy of “Sufficiency Economy” or “SEP” in the real context. We have already seen some results and increasing prosperity in local areas. Thailand helped establish SEP learning centers in 9 countries and SEP model communities in 12 countries, proving that the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy of Thailand is globally relevant and can be used as a tool for achieving sustainable development.

Moreover, Thailand has been receiving great cooperation from our friends, and we also receive knowledge and policy recommendations from the United Nations agencies which are helpful for the Thai government in combatting COVID-19 comprehensively without neglecting vulnerable groups, such as women, the elderly, children, people with disabilities, and migrant workers, who are the most severely affected by the pandemic. I would like to take this opportunity to confirm that Thailand adheres to a multilateral system, universal values, and international cooperation.

What I have shared with you today covers the government policies to help Thailand build back better. There are two main points to emphasize: “sustainable development in accordance with the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy” and “collaboration from all sectors to improve the country”. Everyone here, including Global Compact Network Thailand, can definitely play a role. Besides, our development must be inclusive and leave no one behind. Our work must be based on a win-win policy, a multilateral system, and cooperation with the international community.

When we start working in a new way, we may expect to welcome objection or criticism, which is a challenge. Please do not give up. I am ready to listen to opinions and suggestions from everyone, especially the private sector and youths because I firmly believe that we all share a common goal, which is to move forward and change Thailand for the better. I would like to invite Thai people of all generations and ages to join the mission “Unite for Thailand.” I am confident that the COVID-19 crisis will make Thailand even stronger, more united than ever before. Our coordinated effort will help not only Thailand to become better but also contribute to the sustainable development of the global community.

Each and every one of us, people of Thailand and all countries of the world, must work together to rethink and recreate new ways of working and living in order to overcome this crisis together.

This is an unofficial translation

 

Speech by
Author
Prayut Chan-o-cha
Prime Minister of Thailand
Prayut Chan-o-cha
UN entities involved in this initiative
UN
United Nations