On the surface, Thailand has been racing against time to "do everything it can" to solve human trafficking and slave labour issues and extricate the country from Tier 3 of the US annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), which is expected soon.
Truth be told, deep down, Thailand wants badly to improve its internal security governance, which has been neglected for decades. The country, which is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the ASEAN Community at the end of this year, needs an agile internal security management amid growing complexities within Thai society and open regionalism.
Over the past year, the government has seriously pursued the most unbelievable (lua chua) follow-up in terms of bureaucratic and juridical process to prosecute wrongdoers for transnational crimes. Daily reports of dismissals and arrest of officials, high and low, as well as collaborators are good examples. More heads are expected to roll as the investigation deepens.
Even with his absolute power under Article 44, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is still stuck. The rotten Thai bureaucracy allows officials, uniformed and civilian, to ride on the system and benefit from it. Moreover, the PM's job would have been easier two decades ago when the marine food industry had not yet reached its current level of influence.
Prayut realised early on, his legacy would be established if he managed to clean up, first and foremost, the whole trafficking business because it reflected the government's failure to strengthen its security governance. Last year, he was shaken by the rapid movement of foreign workers out of the country in large numbers following rumours of immediate security threats. Since then, the current administration has been working hard to register workers from neighbouring countries and tightening immigration controls.
Prayut has a safety valve in that many of his political opponents live outside, in Laos and Cambodia. Apart from the influx of migrant workers or asylum seekers, Thailand also faces a proliferation of foreigners who come in and out of the country with little or no record - some of them well-known transnational criminals. Due to easy access, Thailand currently hosts a large number from the Middle East diaspora, many officially unaccounted for.
Working to Prayut's advantage has been growing external pressure from the US and EU over the sub-standard treatment of foreign labour and illegal maritime activities. The current administration is very tolerant of criticism from Bangkok-based international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others over its alleged wrongdoings over human trafficking. Throughout Thai history, external pressure has often been a lightning rod for internal change.
The Prayut government's extraordinary effort has been its two-in-one approach. Using foreign pressure and the PM's anti-corruption initiatives to come up with a better security management system. Prayut is also the first Thai leader who has a clear security perspective of Thailand in the era of borderless ASEAN. That explains why he now chairs sessions on Thailand's preparedness for ASEAN community-building.
By comparison, Malaysia, Venezuela and North Korea, which are also in the same tier in the TIP report, have not responded in as enthusiastic a way as the Thais. They view the report as another diplomatic tool by Washington to pressure their governments. Both Venezuela and North Korea have just remained silent. In the case of Malaysia and the Rohingya, Kuala Lumpur has made timely responses by providing search and rescue at sea, including a one-year shelter for the refugees.
The Thai government is now hoping that the new TIP report on trafficking will offer a favourable evaluation of Thailand's status this year. Failure to recognise the country's efforts would obviously have far-reaching repercussions on the slowly improving Thai-US relations. It would also send a wrong message to the international community and local officials here that the efforts of the past year have been in vain.
Positive response from the TIP report would encourage the Prayut government to continue working on its internal security governance. Even without it, the government could look back at progress it has made in coordinating all concerned agencies, 17 in all, to take a common approach, which was lacking previously.
In view of growing new threats and challenges, Thailand still needs to improve its internal structure that would provide a comprehensive and integrated "homeland" security.
In the next five years, Thailand will focus on border security to improve and manage infrastructure to ensure the same attention, at both local and national levels. Closely linked to border security is the strengthening of maritime defences, which seek to protect the country's maritime resources and safety of navigation in both the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand.
Other issues central to this security scheme include cpmbating transnational crime, preventive diplomacy and promotion of joint military operations with other countries.