Ex-commerce permanent secretary brings wealth of experience to NLA as adviser to DPM Somkid, says the nation needs to go digital, and embrace clean energy and inclusive growth
- By Cholada Ingsrisawang -
Despite having left the Commerce Ministry 18 years ago, former permanent secretary Sompol Kiatphaibool remains active in several roles, especially those pertaining to tasks related to the economic spectrum.
Mr Sompol began his career at the ministry in 1966 as an economist attached to the Department of Foreign Trade in 1966. He rose through the ranks in the ministry until he became permanent secretary in 1995. He held the position until he retired in 2000.
After leaving the ministry, Mr Sompol was appointed chairman of Nakhon Luang Thai Bank. He later took the same position at the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2009.
Afterwards, he held several important positions, including as a board member of the Thailand Board of Investment and chairman of the National Housing Authority.
As a member of the National Legislative Assembly Mr Sompol was recently picked to serve as an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak in charge of economic affairs as well as head an advisory panel to the commerce minister.
He said Thailand has developed economically on a gradual basis to try and minimise the risks of making missteps.
The economy started with farming for domestic consumption, with only few farm products left for the export market, including rice, maize and rubber. In the following period, the emphasis was shifted to producing agricultural products destined for foreign shores.
Next, the country entered a period of industrial development as its capital and money markets evolved. This, he said, provided more access to foreign money for investment.
Thailand has also turned into a tourist magnet, with more than 30 million foreign travellers visiting every year, a claim very few countries can boast of, according to Mr Sompol.
The commerce ministry’s role has also changed with the passing of time, he said. The ministry in the past gave weight to oversight and monitoring but now focuses more on supporting and facilitating business operators.
During his tenure at the ministry, Mr Sompol was assigned to oversee various key tasks. These included tackling falling crop prices through the establishment of a committee to sculpt a better policy for agriculture and come up with more measures to help farmers.
At the same time, the so-called Thong Fah (Blue Flag) low-cost scheme was rolled out to assist low-income earners in their communities.
In terms of international cooperation, the ministry played a part in supporting the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which later evolved into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Ever humble, Mr Sompol attributed his past achievements at the ministry to his good fortune in having talented superiors and colleagues.
In the future, the ministry must play a more supportive role in moving Thailand into the digital era, he noted.
Although the country has reached a respectable level of economic development, the grassroots economy remains riddled with problems, Mr Sompol said.
The government must try to make growth “more inclusive” in the interests of a fairer distribution of wealth and incomes, he said.
Other obstacles to national development are corruption and the ineffective disbursement of the state budget, both of which he said are eroding the country’s competitiveness.
In his opinion, Thailand needs to develop its sea freight industry as the country relies heavily on exports.
The government must also take into account clean and alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, water and biomass, he said, stressing that Thailand is more than capable of producing energy from these resources.
“The grassroots economy must be strengthened so people can rely on themselves,” said Mr Sompol. “Income distribution must be done equally.”
Efforts should also be made to curb household debt and ensure a peaceful political situation, he said, adding that these elements would be a boon for the country’s development that younger generations would embrace.