Thai villagers to gain greater role in use of resources

BANGKOK (The Nation/ ANN) - Villagers in Thailand will have more say in the management of natural resources in their communities under planned changes to the natural conservation laws.

Changes proposed by National Social Sector Reform will enable villages to manage their resource more effectively and to use sub-districts as centre for economic and social development at the community level, said Amphon Jindawatthana, a member and spokesman of the commission, on Wednesday.

He said sub-districts and tambons would play a greater role in the coordination between state agencies and local communities in their bid to boost the living standard and say of the grass root people.
Law will be amended to allow villagers more say in the management of local resources, he said. 

For example, if farmers were cultivating teak wood or other rare and endangered trees in their own land, they could cut it without authority’s approval as required by the current natural conservation law, he said.

Planting big trees in their own land would increase the land value and they could use them as collaterals when borrowing money from the financial institutions.

Local financial institution would be governed by the new law which will facilitate fund disbursement to the communities, he added.
Should villagers develop their community economy, they would no longer be looking for jobs in Bangkok or other big cities where they face high cost of living and other difficulties. 

The local financial institutions would also support community enterprises and provide savings service. If villagers are equipped with financial literacy, they could manage their savings and investment effectively and could have enough savings in their retirement , according to Amphon.
The government’s effort to encourage people to save more via the National Savings Fund has yet to achieve the target of 20 million members, with just 500,000 participated in the savings scheme so far. 

About 25 million people in the country are not covered by the social security fund and government pension fund. Most of them are farmers and self-employed who are most vulnerable in their old ages.

Asked how the reform commission could narrow the inequality between the rich and poor, Amphon said that would be a national agenda incorporated in the 20-year national strategy plan. 

Thailand is among the worst countries on income inequality as the earnings of the top 20 per cent are 15 times that of the bottom 20 per cent.
Critics have long blamed centralised economic and political power in Bangkok as the main cause of the lagging economic development in the provinces. 

Amphon added that the reform would not touch on the current political structure.