Cabinet reshuffle coming soon, Thai PM finally concedes

PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha stated for the first time yesterday that he would be reshuffling his Cabinet, around the time his government completes its first year in power.

That will be clear when the government has worked for a year, or it may take place sooner," he said.

The current Cabinet started work in September last year, about four months after the coup led by then Army chief General Prayut on May 22.

Prayut said tongue-in-cheek that former finance minister Somkid Jatusripitak might join the Cabinet. Somkid, a co-founder of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party, served as finance minister in the government led by Thaksin Shinawatra.

When asked if Somkid, who is now an economic adviser to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), is among the ministerial candidates, the prime minister replied: "Yes, he is. I never mentioned him. It's the media that has nominated him. Do you have any other candidate?

"Please stay calm. I will make the appointment myself," he added.

However, the prime minister appeared miffed when a reporter suggested Somkid might help restore confidence in the economy.

"Have confidence in me. I am in charge. Why should there be confidence in other people? I am the leader and I order [the Cabinet members] to do their job," he said.

Prayut also ruled out a unity government, saying that no politicians would join his Cabinet.

"Politicians should not come in at this time," he said.

The prime minister said he would shake up his Cabinet because it was time for changes after the government has worked for some time already. The move was not because any ministers had done things wrong or the public wanted to see a Cabinet reshuffle.

Changes in his Cabinet would not be particularly aimed at improving the economy. The PM also hit back at politicians who criticised his government's handling of the economy. "I will also blame them for the unsolved problems. I have inherited a lot of problems. We are solving them and making things better. It takes time and I have no magic wand to change things overnight," he said.

Meanwhile, business leaders yesterday expressed hope that new economic ministers, expected to be appointed as part of the reshuffle, would bring positive changes.

Pimonwan Mahujchariyawong, deputy managing director of Kasikorn Research Centre, said the effectiveness of the new Council of Economic Ministers would partly be based on the level of confidence that the new ministers would bring. She expects current economic policies to continue without interruption despite the changes.

"Many of the speculated candidates are capable individuals; there is already a framework for the big picture and if the new team is already working alongside the old team then I expect little interruption, if any at all," she said.

Urgent issues that the new council should focus on were to continue with efforts to help farmers hit by drought, help for small and medium enterprises struggling with lower competitiveness, tackling the slowdown in exports, and accelerating a second stimulus package.

Isara Vongkusolkit, chairman to the Board of Trade and the Thai Chamber of Commerce, agreed with the need for a reshuffle in some key positions but he was also worried about the new administration's ability and stability of the government, as the current Cabinet team had coordinated quite well.

He said current economic ministers had worked closely with the private sector.

Prinn Panitchpakdi, country head at CLSA Securities (Thailand), said the new Council of Economic Ministers would take the reins at a tough economic time, such as the slowdown in exports and domestic demand. But their image might be boosted by the fact that the economy would be better in the fourth quarter, with or without changes.

"The economy will turn around in the fourth quarter," Prinn predicted.

He said Deputy Premier MR Pridiyathorn Devakula had done "a very good job" in laying the foundations for the future, including a master plan for the digital economy.

"If Somkid [Jatusripitak] takes charge as the new head of the council, it would improve the public relations aspect, something that has been lacking in the current council, especially in terms of managing information as Somkid is a thorough strategist," he said.