Opinion: Weekend ThaiBev saga shows public trust in government at all time low

This weekend’s saga involving the government and one of Thailand’s largest conglomerates, ThaiBev, showed how nepotism and the lack of transparency still hinders government operations and public trust.

The Interior Ministry Permanent Secretary, Chatchai Phromlert, last week sent out a ”most urgent” letter to tell all governors to send Covid-vaccines to ThaiBev’s operations in their respective jurisdiction.

The letter also said that the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration has instructed the Ministry of Public Health to consider the same thing.

The reason that was given is that Thai Bev has more than 43,000 employees and they have more than 28,000 family members in all 77 provinces. As they are a large company, their employees must be vaccinated to prevent the spread of Covid.

Chatchai said on Sunday that the ministry was acting according to the national vaccine plan of prioritizing potential clusters.

“We are not doing this for Thai Bev only and every organization can make the same request based on the regulations,” he said.

If one were to be fair, there is nothing wrong with the request on the prioritization of work camps and factories where closed proximity is guaranteed is not an altogether bad idea.

However, the public seized on the leaked announcement and roundly criticized the government for nepotism. After all, ThaiBev were one of the largest conglomerates in the country with close ties to the government. Their leadership, while apolitical to the public, have been accused of privately bankrolling the ruling party in the lead up to elections.

There must be some kind of corruption here, the social media posts over the weekend said.

Critics added that this was another case of the government supporting a corporation with close ties to the generals in power. ThaiBev, like the other multi-billion baht companies, are one of the businesses owned by the “20 families” that fund the political system.

Regardless of the public health arguments in favor of vaccines going to big companies, the social media outcry was enough and by Sunday evening the saga drew to a close with the Ministry of Interior withdrawing its orders.

But maybe this is a case of the boy who cried wolf. Because there is certainly benefits to companies like ThaiBev, CP, Thai Union, et al receiving vaccines to make sure clusters don’t emerge in their work place.

But because the public’s trust in the government is so low and because there is such an expectation that there must be collusion between the government and big business (and often times there is) that there must be something nefarious going on in this case.

The government is a victim of its own failures and unless it starts being more transparent and more communicative, situations like his will continue to happen.

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