Another Model: From Bureau of Southern Border Provinces to "Three Cities"

Deep South Watch
            Even though the reception and reflection from main players in policy changes in Thai society towards proposals for a new form of administration in the Southern border provinces appears to be in a direction of doubt and emphasizing past "successes" from one's own perspective, these very same proposals appear to be an important topic of debate in the area, particularly among the elites who may become key mechanisms in the change.  There has been no clear conclusion and consensus in issues both in details and the core issues, such as the new form of relationship between the federal government and the locality under the Constitution and the principle of a unitary state.
Thus the previous proposal still receives interest.  However, the “Security Studies Project” which receives support from Thailand Research Fund (TRF) has just released the Security Studies Newsletter volume 69, published in December 2009, under the title of “Legal Models for Local Administration in Southern Thailand” as another model. This proposal is written by Amnat Sripoonsuk, researcher for the Security Studies Project and one of the prominent experts in government administration, with Surachat Bamrungsuk as the Project Head and Editor.
The mentioned model attemps to paint a different picture from the previously proposed models, particularly with the steps with gradual process and matters towards special local administration based on balance between the federal government and the locality, as well as other matters that will be useful in future debates on this issue.
            In term of power, there is an emphasis on the root of the problem that is related to “an inappropriate form of administration or structure and format of administration”, which has created a problem that could not be solved despite previously-existing special mechanisms. Thus there is this proposal for establishment of a special administrative zone in the Southern border provinces based on certain principles, e.g. tolerance of diversity in terms of ethnicity, language, religion, and culture, and that the state must make use of the “religious and cultural power” of religious leaders, religious experts, and religious teachers.  These principles also must be within the framework of the constitution by not amending the Constitution, but certain Acts must be amended, etc.
            The difference between this model and other models is in the details of the transition, which would gradually happen in 2 phases, i.e. the transitional phase which could last 5-10 years in ordeto adjust the structure and mechanisms of administration and create unity in administration, then there would be an establishment of a special form of local administration that would support greater decentralization of power for the locals.
๐ First Step...The Transitional Phase
            In this transtional phase which should last 5-10 years, Sripoonsuk proposed an establishment of the “Bureau of Southern Border Provinces Administration” in order for the leaders at policy and organizational level to establish policies, strategies, and approaches in solving the problems and develop the local area with a status equal to that of a Ministry with Department-level agencies being the provinces that were established in the old form of administration in order to avoid problems which may occur from attachment and self-identification.  The Govenor of each province would become the Director-General of the province, while regulations in each Amphoe, Tambon, and Village would remain the same, but would be under the new Bureau.
            However, an additional mechanism would be the establishment of a “Special Region” with a new Local Administrative Organization (LAO) to be in charge of the social and economic development in the overall picture of the Provinces, but its role would be divided in order to avoid overlapping with the previously-existing local administratie organizations and would be under the direction of the Bureau.  The Special Region would have a “Special Region Council” with 2 types of members: those who are directed elected with 1 representative for each Amphoe, and those who are chosen by the Provincial Administrative Organizations and the Municipalities in order to provide a linkage between each type of local administrative organization.  This Council would play a role in establishing a strategic plan in social and economic development and consider and allocate budget in order to perform the tasks.  In addition, there would be a “Special Region Social and Economic Committee” to serve as advisors for the Special Region Council with members from different sectors.
            The President of the Special Region Council would be the Head of Administration with a 4-year term, while the “Special Region Council Secretariat” would serve as the administrative and technical support unit with a Secretary as the chief.  In term of revenue during this Transitional Phase, the Special Region may obtain revenue from portions of the main taxes collected by the local administrative organizations from all loca administrative organizations in the area.  In addition, there might also be revenue from supporting budget provided by the state.
            As for the existing local administrative organizations, whether the Provincial Administrative Organizations, Municipalities, or the Tambon Administrative Organizations, it is proposed that during the Transtional Phase there should be internal re-structuring in order to correspond with the religion-based way-of-life and religion-led development by the establishment of a “Social and Economic Committee” in every previously-existing local administrative organization in the area with committee members who are selected according to the law, with priority for religious leaders, local leaders, and experts in various areas.
Authority would be increased according to the steps in de-centralization from the central government to the local government, and a greater importance would be given to the principles of Islamic laws or “Shariah” by increasng mechanisms in resolution of disputes based on these principles, which would be regarded as "nipping the problem in the bud" and decreasing the number of cases that would be brought to the court.  In addition, improvements would be made in local revenue collection by increasing both the power and the new sources of revenue to the local administrative organizations in the area.  Nonetheless, the supervision of the local administrative organizations would be transferred to the Minister of Southern Border Provinces Administration instead of the Minister of the Interior.
The mentioned changes during this Transitional Phase would not require amendment of the Consitution, although many laws would have to be created and many laws would have to be revised.  Sripoonsuk has compiled a number of laws, e.g. Draft Bureau of Southern Border Provinces Administration (Establishment) Act of B.E. ......, Draft Special Region (Establishment) Act of B.E. ......, Draft Local Revenue Act of B.E. ...., etc.
๐ Second Step...The Special Form
            In order to appraise the situation that the problem of unrest has subsided, the presentor provided a picture of the next stop to support the people and the local community to have greater independence in self-governance on the principles that is mixed batween an election system in order to have a strong executive, and having local councils consisted of members from the election and selection from leaders/religious gurus and experts.  In the mean time, the presentor also tried to answer the question of the relationship between the central government and the local government in this special from of administration.
            In the second step, the special form of local administrative organization during transitional phase such as the "Special Region" would remain, but an important transition would be the transfer of power from the Bureau to special local administration, i.e. changing from "Province" to "City" as in Yala City, Narathiwat City, and Pattani City.  The 3 Cities would become juristic persons with the same authority and duty as the City of Bangkok and Pattaya City.
            The three Cities would have major components such as the "City Council", who would be the legislative branch with members who would be directly elected from the citizens within the "Khet" (District) or Amphoe by the former definition and from selection of Municipality Council Members in the area.  Furthermore, there would be a "City Social and Economic Committee" with the same role as the Committee in the Special Region with members selected from various sectors, while the "City Governor" who would serve as the chief of administration, would be directly elected by people in the City (or the former Provincial boundary) with the "Permanent Secretary of the City", a tenured civil servant, serving as the superior of local civil servants of the City.
            The following level of administration was the "Khet" (District), or Amphoe in its former definition, which would have a "Khet Council" (District Council) as an advisory body for the administrative branch and consisted of members who were selected at 2 members for each Tambon, while the "Khet Director" who was appointed from the City Governor would be the superior of all local civil servants and play the role in implementation of policy of the City.  The former Tambon Administrative Organization would become a minor office or a branch of the Khet Office in establishing public policy at Tambon level, with the Khet Director acting as the District Chief and local official according to the law, while the "Municipality" would keep their former status but have a connected relationship with the City Council, as previously mentioned.

             However, the relationship between the central/regional authority and the new mechanism in local administration is very important.  In the second phase, the Bureau should change its role into that of a "mentor" that would drive the new mechanism to become stronger by changing the role from that of an administrator into that of a "development director" and transfer to role to a government representative in the coordination and integration of national-level and local-level policies.  A Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister would be appointed to oversee the Bureau instead of the orignal Minister to the Bureau.  A "Southern Border Provinces Development Coordination Committee" would be established with the authority to determine national-level policy and strategy in development of the area and cooperation in regional social and economic developments.  The "Office of the Southern Border Provinces Development Coordination Committee" would be establish as a department-level agency to serve as its secretariat.

            Like the transitional phase, the presentor also depicted the necessity of drafting and amending certain laws to support the changes e.g. Draft Yala City, Pattani City, and Narathiwat City (Establishment) Act of B.E. ...., Draft Office of the Southern Border Provinces Development Coordination Committee (Establishment) Act of B.E. .... , etc.
๐ Changes and Success
            The presentor also made observations that the Bureau would be the main host in determining the strategy in solving various problems, but this process would have to be co-hosted by security agencies in determining the tactics to respond to the strategy.  However, the authorities must establish a Road Map in order to prepare for the mentioned changes in order to show sincerity and acceptance of the local's participation in the autonomy process, which is in accordance with what is regarded as a "factor for success", i.e. a clear expression of Political Will according to the claimed "Politics before Military Policy".
            Furthermore, the revision of certain policies and practices is also important, such as accepting or certifying the use of the Malay language as another official language, accepting the use of Islamic Laws (Shariah) in judicial trials in the area, or practices in zoning entertainment venues and places of vice that are against religious principles, as well as consideration of making Friday and Saturday public holiday to be in accordance with religious rituals, etc.
            All of these proposals are only one of the "Models" that have been promoted in the situation, where the process of solving the problem of violence by political re-structuring is currently an issue.  Even though the voice on this issue has been lost in the Thai society on certain occasions, but the interest in the issue among those who are living their daily lives in violence has never faded.  At present, it cannot be said as to which model would be the most appropriate and have enough strength to stop the violence, but opening up forums for "political" debates in such dimension, with continuity and assurance against being targeted by any side, may allow for expansion of the space for political negotiation that would decrease the necessity to come to arms.
In this aspect, this might be the "Politics before Military Approach" with a completely different implication from what has been previously advertised.