304th Meeting – Tuesday, August 12th 2008
The Administrative and Political Structure of Chiang Mai Province
A talk by Dr. Tanet Charoenmuang
Your Convenor writes: Dr. Tanet didn’t have a written text for his talk; he had it all in his head, and due to time constraints and prior commitments he was not going to be able to produce his own summary so he referred me to his book, “Thailand – a Late Decentralizing Country” which is a selected collection of essays, research work and papers written during 1990-2006. The following summary is not intended as a reconstruction of his talk; the extracts from his book reflect the theme and content of the evening. I take full responsibility for any typos and other minor errors in the text, which were probably generated somewhere between my eyes and my fingertips.
the Foreword by Dr. Lars Peter Schmidt, Representative of the Konrad
Charoenmuang, Associate Professor and Chair,
Department of Political Science and International Relations, Faculty of
Political Science and Public Administration,
Dr. Tanet was a student leader in the October 14th uprising in 1973. In 1991, he co-founded a strong citizen’s group, Chiang Mai Urban Studies Centre, which later became the Urban Development Institute Foundation of which he now serves as vice-president. In 1995 he helped launch the Chiang Mai Journal, a monthly magazine campaigning for a better Chiang Mai, which has been regularly published for 8 years now.
His other positions have included advisor to Mr. Jaturon Chaisaeng, Minister of the Premier Minister’s Office, 2001-2003, and Minister of Education, 2004-2005; elected member of Chiang Mai University Council, 2002-2004, 2004-2006; Chair, Local Government Studies Project, Faculty of Social Sciences, CMU, 1991-1996; Chair, Wiang Ping Council (Chiang Mai Citizens Group), 2000-2003; Chair, Chiang Mai Urban Studies Center, 1997-1999.
Dr. Tanet started his talk with a brief history of the development of
and administration systems in
Chapter 9 – Over Centralization and Urbanization: The Case of a
Chiang Mai is both a
city and a province. Established in
1296 by King Mengrai to be the capital of the
1960, it was praised and became a tourist city with many
unique cultural attractions and activities, a long history, and
scenery. In 1961, the government built
Convenor: Dr. Tanet then went on to talk about centralized and decentralized local government systems and, amongst other things, the reasons why ongoing problems in Chiang Mai such as flooding, air pollution, traffic congestion, waste disposal, high rise buildings etc. are not being remedied under the present centralized local government system.
The following extracts exemplify the main points discussed by Dr. Tanet. Section and sub-section titles and numbering are as they appear in the various papers.
Extracts from Chapter 2 – From Electocracy to Centralization
(A paper presented to the International symposium on Democratic Experiences in Southeast Asian Countries, Japanese Studies Centre, Thammasat University, December 1992)
Centralization and Its Impact
reform under King Rama V in 1892 has made
The biggest ministry is the Interior Ministry which commissions governors, district officers, and their deputies to administer all 72 provinces and sub-districts throughout the country. Although 6,954 Tambon heads and 63,364 village heads are elected by local people, they become salaried officials under the control of the ministry. Furthermore, these officials dominate two local government agencies; the Provincial Administrative Organizations (PAO), and Sukapiban, by becoming chairmen and committee members and controlling both the budget and administration.
Many years ago, there was only one deputy officer. By 1992, each district had 8-10 deputies and each province 2-3 deputy governors, compared to none in the past, whereas the number of local government personnel remained almost the same as many decades ago. In addition, the Interior Ministry appoints and controls 170,000 police officers throughout the country, while local government agencies have virtually no police force.
Extracts from Chapter 3 – Decentralization: Task of the Decade
(Originally a background paper submitted to the Canadian International Development Agency and the Thailand Development Research Institute. Revised in 1993)
II. Thailand’s Current Local Government System
structure of national administration in
characteristics mark the centralization system in
When the central
government felt that there were some new
projects which needed to be launched outside of
Second, local government agencies appeared mostly in form only. In reality, at both district and provincial levels they were dominated by appointed government officials and their budget, power, and activities were greatly restricted by a number of laws passed by former governments. As a result, these agencies have been weak, having small budgets and limited power to improve local conditions and oppose central government, and inadequate personnel to initiate new activities.
In order to understand these problems of local self government agencies so that appropriate solutions can be identified, one has to look at the problems of each local government agency in greater detail.
The Provincial Level
In all 72 Provinces
of Thailand, except
The local self government agency at provincial level is the Provincial Administrative Organization (PAO). Established in 1955, the PAO is divided into 2 branches; legislative and executive. The legislative branch is called the Provincial Council and consists of members elected by the people from each district within that province.
The executive branch,
however, is headed by the governor who
is assisted by the chief of staff. In this regard, two major
In practice, this form of local government has the executive which is the top official appointed by the capital to administer the whole province with no accountability to the people or the provincial councilors. Since its establishment the PAO has been a very weak example of local self government. Elected provincial councilors have had very limited power in initiating projects, determining budget, and controlling the performance of the executive. The executive has the right to reject a motion or a question posed by provincial councilors by reasoning that they are outside the activities of the PAO as determined by law.
There are 2 types of local self government at district level. One is the municipality or Thesaban, and the other is Sukapiban (Sanitary Administration – SA). The municipality is the only local government agency in which the principle of decentralization is observed in terms of people’s rights to election.
Established in 1933, the law requires that in every district where the provincial office is located there must be a municipality. That all municipal governments, like the PAOs, have the same form and uniformity of all local government agencies reflects the power of the central government to decide what local units should be and how they would be run.
Each municipality is divided into two branches. The legislature is called the Municipal Council, whereas the executive consists of the mayor and his or her deputies. Municipal councilors are all elected by the people in the municipal areas while the mayor and their deputies come from the Municipal Council.
The major problems with the municipality system are as follows:
1. The budget of almost every municipality is too low because central government controls the power to determine types of income and income rates for each local government unit, as well as most of the taxes.
Each local government unit is financially dependent on central
1991, for example,
3. Municipalities are assigned responsibilities but not authority. They are required to provide services: electricity, water works, health care, waste disposal, etc. but they do not have authority over any of these services. They are also required to safeguard their properties but they do not have authority over the police force and they cannot ensure law and order.
The Sukapiban was
Unlike a municipality or PAO, Sukapiban is not divided into 2 branches but is based on a committee form which takes care of both the legislative and executive. Sukapiban has 3 types of committee members: position-based, elected and appointed. Automatic Sukapiban committee members are: the district officer, the deputy district officer, the district police chief, the district health officer, the district finance officer, the Tambon head, and the village head. When there is more than one Sukapiban in a district, the governor will appoint officers as members. The Sukapiban Act stipulates that the district officer and his deputy must occupy the two most important positions in a Sukapiban as Chairman and chief of staff.
Each Sukapiban has 9 officers elected by the people in that area but since the chairman and chief of staff are the two most powerful government officials in the district, the elected officers are virtually powerless. At Sukapiban level, decentralization takes place in form but not in practice. Because the Sukapiban is dominated by appointed government officials, local people feel that the organization cannot/will not do much to improve local areas, so they lose interest in local government affairs.
The Village and Tambon Level
The village and Tambon (5 to 10 villages make one Tambon) are the smallest government units and considered to be the foundation of the administrative system, as well as of national security. While government leaders have said that they supported democracy at this level because it means democracy at national level, this grassroots administrative system has been confronted with many problems that clearly contradict what government leaders have said.
Problems at the village and Tambon level are as follows:
1. The contradiction in the role and status of the village head, Puyaiban, and the Tambon head, Kamnan. Despite being elected by the people, both positions are assumed by the government to be officials of the central government and not local leaders. As such the tasks they administer are determined mainly by the appointed governor; no matter what local people want the Puyaiban and Kamnan have limited power and cannot work for local needs. In reality, they are elected locally but serve the interests of central government not the voters.
2. Until 1992, once elected Puyaibans and Kamnans were entitled to keep their positions until retirement age. Because of this, the positions became more bureaucratized and voters could hardly exert any influence on those elected. In addition, the longer they remained in office, the more power they accumulated.
In 1992, the law was passed that newly elected Puyaibans and Kamnans had a limited tenure of 5 years, but those already in office could still remain in position until retirement. This law has done very little to re-empower voters and the administrative system remains much the same as it will be at least a decade before the effects of the law have any impact on the local leaders.
3. The power gained by Puyaibans and Kamnans is not exercised to solve people’s problems. As unofficial government representatives, they listen to their voters’ grievances but can do nothing as there are other government agencies directly responsible for remedying problems. Puyaibans and Kamnans can benefit personally from local development projects such as new roads, small dams, bridges, water works and electricity but they cannot implement them. As vote-buying is a widespread practice, at election times Puyaibans and Kamnans are in a very good position to use their power to reap personal profits by mobilizing villagers to vote for certain candidates.
4. The bureaucratic nature of Puyaiban and Kamnan leadership was further complicated by the establishment of the Tambon Council. Rather than promoting decentralization at grassroots level, the Tambon Council served to strengthen bureaucracy in rural areas.
The Tambon Council was established in 1956 by the then Prime Minister Field Marshal Pibunsongkram to support the local government system at village and Tambon level. The Tambon Council was divided into two bodies: the Tambon Commission which consisted of the Kamnan and all the Puyaiban in that Tambon, the district physician, and one public school teacher, and the Tambon Council with two elected representatives from each village. Similar to the Sukapiban, the Kamnan and Puyaibans, who acted as government officials, were appointed to control the Tambon Council.
The Tambon Council Act was revised twice; in 1966 and 1972, and each revision further weaken the role of the elected councilors by eliminating the Tambon Council and keeping only the Tambon Commission. The Commission then acted as both legislative and executive body. In it, Kamnans, Puyaibans and physicians were position-based members and the other members came from elections. The elected members had 5-year tenures while position-based remained until retirement. In addition there was an advisor, who must be a deputy district officer or a development officer, and a secretary who must be a public school teacher. The additional positions were appointed by the district officer.
The undecentralized nature of the Tambon Council was evident firstly in the domination by government officers, both official and unofficial, over the elected members’ weaker role and limited tenure, and secondly by the limited role that it played. The Tambon Council Act stipulated that it had six responsibilities:
1. To carry out the work which is determined by the Governor
2. To approve projects concerning Tambon development
3. To cooperate with other voluntary and public organizations in order to solve problems of Tambon development
4. To disseminate the government’s development work
5. To carry out the work set forth by the laws on Tambon areas
6. To carry out other work which is determined by the government
All of which clearly indicates how a supposedly decentralized organization could not be a local body. There is nothing in the Council’s remit that states that it can initiate any task approved by the local people or that local people can play any important role in the Council.
Analysis of Local Government Problems in
Here I would like to touch upon the major problems of local government systems and explain why the system has failed.
The problems are:
1. The nature of the failures of local government systems
2. The growing centralization system
3. A strong top-down approach
4. Many major obstacles to decentralization
The Nature of the Failures of Local Government Systems
For the provincial level two major problems are:
1. The domination of the PAOs by government officials, especially leaders sent by the Interior Ministry
2. The authority of PAOs overlaps that of Tambon Councils
Problems at municipality level:
1. The council system encourages abuse of power by the executive which has strong support from the majority of municipal councilors
2. The limited power of the municipality
Problems at Sukapiban level:
1. Domination of district-level government officials
Problems for Tambon Councils:
1. Domination of government officials
2. The overlap between the authority of the PAO and the Tambon council
1. Why have government officials been able to dominate local government agencies for such a long time?
2. Why has the local government system failed?
3. Why has the decentralization policy not been implemented?
Three main reasons:
1. Lack of government support
2. Political instability
3. Lack of active participation by the people
1. Lack of Government Support
All governments since 1932 have promised to improve the local government system, in practice most of them have not. There are many factors for this:
First, some leaders view centralization as the most effective method of running the country and think decentralization is costly, creates chaos and cannot produce solutions to problems because of conflicting views.
Second, some leaders with a strong bureaucratic mentality think that ‘ordinary’ people are not smart, have little education, are incapable of ruling themselves and make simple mistakes whereas the elite class is well educated, well informed and capable of running the country because they are accustomed to exercising power and commanding others.
Third, some leaders fear separatist movements if the administrative structure is decentralized.
Fourth, bureaucratic agencies increase their budget, personnel and subsequent power at the expense of local government agencies.
Fifth, a great number of government officials at local levels are looking for career advancement to become district officer, governor and other high-ranking, lucrative positions. Advancement means an increase in power and income. An increase in the number of locally elected officers would be detrimental to government officials’ potential career opportunities. The attempt by government officials, particularly those in the Interior Ministry, to dominate local government systems for personal gain was a prime motivation for the initiation and establishment of Sukapiban. In the early 1950s, municipalities were not being established fast enough so the government initiated another form of support agency, the Sanitary Administration (SA). This new creation provided government officials at district level, especially Interior Ministry officials, with more positions of power from which to dominate the local government system and enhance their own personal income and enjoy other privileges. The Sukapiban were closely followed by the PAOs and Tambon Councils. The result was that in the 1950s, in the spirit of personal gain, government officials of the Interior Ministry who were administering tambons, districts and provinces throughout the country were authorized to dominate the newly set up government systems and legally make additional salary and enjoy privileges from it. These officials are more than satisfied with a centralized system of bureaucracy and a weak local government system and have no interest in moving towards decentralization.
2. Political Instability in the Country
From 1932, when absolute monarchy was abolished and the parliamentary
was established, until 1993 democracy in
a. Democratic forces’ preoccupation with the struggle against military intervention has prevented them from paying attention to local government and bureaucratic reform. Weak local government has brought about weak democratic forces and the uncontrolled expansion of bureaucracy means a strong foundation for an authoritarian regime.
After almost every coup the military junta has dissolved
popularly elected local government agencies and appointed government
to dominate local bodies. This has further weakened locally elected
consolidated the power of bureaucrats outside
3. Lack of Active Political Participation by the People
Since the establishment of the local government systems, the primary role of the people has been to cast their ballot at election times with little or no expectation of post-election political activity or involvement. Many people do not understand the significance of having local government bodies, do not know the differences between the PAO, the municipality, the SA, and the Tambon Council, and do not know how and why these bodies were set up.
This lack of knowledge is not surprising when one looks at the education system. Students at high school who want to enter university must study very hard to memorize, but not necessarily understand and never question, a set body of knowledge required to pass the forced choice A-B-C-D type examination system. Few will read books outside the classroom that are not useful to success in passing the exam. Thus, few develop any analytical ability or critical thinking skills.
At university only political science majors study courses on local government systems, and the content of these course are full of concepts used by procentralization lectures; local people are not ready to rule themselves, the government is working hard to support local government systems, local people should not be allowed to elect their governor because criminals or ‘influential’ people will be elected who will exercise power for their own interests, and many provinces will secede from Thailand to form independent states.
The way lectures and discussions are conducted is based on institutional and legal approaches: identify each type of local government agency and then only look at minor problems. The message relayed is that the system works and there is no need to examine the negative effects on the local population of the administrative structure dominated by bureaucracy.
A political science course on local government in a Thai university is one designed by the Interior Ministry. It is not intended to be an academic exercise seeking to provide students with different and contending approaches in order to understand local government issues and problems and search for alternative solutions but to ensure that without knowledge university graduates will not take part in or pay attention to local government issues.
Why are university courses conducted in this manner? Because, until recently, all universities were government universities and all lecturers were bureaucrats in a society dominated by bureaucracy. Governments that are not interested in supporting local government systems have no interest in abandoning the Interior Ministry’s approach to teaching. This type of political education ensures a weak role for the people in monitoring and controlling legislative and executive bodies.
The Growing Centralization System
Instead of encouraging increasingly stronger local government systems
centralized bureaucracy has extended its influence on regional and
administrative systems. Because the central government did not trust
capacity of provincial government officials or local government
universities in the Northern, Northeastern, Eastern and Southern
all been placed directly under the control of the ministry in
Since the first national economic development plan was approved in 1961, after which a great number of development projects were carried out, the number of Bangkok-directed agencies in the provinces has increased dramatically. In 1991, in Chiang Mai there were 35 regional agencies, directed by government officials, and 194 agencies directly under the control of central government. Since 1934 Chiang Mai has only had one municipality, since the early 1960s the number of SAs has risen from 16 to 25, and the number of Bangkok-directed agencies has risen from 10 to 194.
The most recent example of this was the organizing of the 18th
Games in Chiang Mai in 1995. No local members of the organizing
present at the press conferences in
A Strong Top-down Approach
Looking at the historical development of local government systems, it has been the elite and the government which initiated each major change within the local government structure; local people merely did what leaders told them to do.
a. SAs were set up for the first time under the reign of King Rama V, at his instigation.
b. Under the reign of King Rama VI, SAs continued to exist but grew weaker because of His greater interest in the democratic experiment at Dusit Thani in the royal palace. Without elite support an agency cannot prosper.
c. In 1933, under the reign of King Rama VII the government established the municipal system, the goal of which was to have a municipality in every Tambon throughout the country (over 4,000).
d. In 1952, Premier Pibunsongkram ordered the setting up of Sukapiban, and in 1955 ordered the establishment of both the PAOs and the Tambon Councils, hoping to strengthen the local government system.
e. In 1972, the military government abolished the Tambon Council, and in 1975 founded the executive system (direct election of the mayor by the people) followed by the setting up of a manager system (a professional is hired to handle management work) in Pattaya in1978.
Major Obstacles for Decentralization Policy
Throughout almost a century of its establishment the local government system in Thailand has been characterized as being weak, dominated by government officials with a resultant lack of local people’s active participation, lacking government support, subject to the top-down approach, and overlapping responsibilities and territories of different local government agencies. These characteristics are obstacles for local government reform.
III. Shortcomings of the Current Local Government System under a Centralization Policy
First, it does not possess local autonomy in order to solve various problems.
Second, the taxes collected from local areas are accumulated in big cities, especially the capital, while local areas constantly face the problem of limited resources.
Third, a weak local government system due to a dominant central government limits the capacity of local people to initiate projects and to be more responsible for their own area.
Fourth, as the free-economy system has continued to grow over the past 3 decades and problems have continued to mount, it becomes clear that there are more and more problems but fewer people who will solve them.
The Benefits of Decentralization
First, decentralization would mean that for the first time in a century people in local areas could be allowed to exercise their rights, to look at each local problem closely and with great concern because they realize that those are their problems, and attempt to solve them using local knowledge.
Second, once the power is delegated to local people through local government agencies, central and regional government officials will be relieved of the responsibility and will thus have more time to solve problems at a national level.
Third, problems will be solved. Local people are in the best position to understand the cause of a problem and find the correct solution, one that will also satisfy the needs of the community.
Fourth, decentralization means that local people can exercise their rights and freedom in local affairs. The democratic system will become stronger, an important foundation for democracy at the national level.
Fifth, decentralization will mean greater development for each area
help to reduce the vast differences between urban and rural areas,
income disparity, and at the same time increase educational and job
opportunities for people in the provinces. Fewer people will need to go
Sixth, long-established democracy in advanced industrialized countries is always coupled with strong and effective local government systems. Decentralization will help bring about social prosperity and national progress for the country as a whole, while the present system of centralization creates national disunity which will lead to secession.
A Strategy for Decentralization
“To say that local people are not ready for self rule is just another way of saying that the elite are not ready to relinquish their power in local government.”
The Interior Ministry, political parties and social development groups have, as yet, not put forward their own strategies for decentralization. The following is the strategy for decentralization proposed by a group of academics:
1. To hold governors’ elections, starting in major provinces and later proceeding to all provinces.
2. To abolish the PAO because it overlaps with the Tambon Council.
3. To replace the council system of Municipality with a strong executive system in which both the mayor and councilors are directly elected by the people.
4. To abolish the Sukapiban system and replace it with the strong executive system of Municipality.
5. To set up a full-fledged local government agency in each Tambon. The people should decide if they prefer the council form, committee form or the strong executive form of government.
6. To oppose the Interior Ministry’s plan to maintain the council form of municipal system.
7. To maintain the regional administrative system for the present and gradually transfer government officials under it to operate under the authority of local government agencies.
While these proposals are not without their weakness, and lack a politically tactical approach to make them acceptable by government officials, they are a first positive step forwards.
Back to Chapter 9 for this overview of the failings of centralization
Factors Making Chiang Mai a
Items 1 & 2 describe global trends in tourism.
3. An authoritarian and centralized political and administrative system has sped up the decision making of each government. In most cases, there have been no referendum, public hearing, request for data, public accountability of politicians and officials, or public opinion. Each policy and decision has been made, claimed the government, in order to continue national development and to better the living conditions of the people.
4. There is a weak local government system with limited power and lack of people’s active participation. The regional level of bureaucratic agencies have not monitored but dominated local government units.
The regional level bureaucratic agencies are highly fragmented, with
a ministry in
6. The professionalized or specialized education system with little, if any, emphasis on a holistic approach and good citizenship knowledge, particularly local knowledge, has weakened not only academic circles but also each class of graduated. Society lacks the major force to challenge policies which are shortsighted, unfriendly towards sustainable development and environmental protection, and materialistic. The education system has failed to produce graduates to flash lights of truth and wisdom so that local areas will be sustainably developed.
7. The state policies and the public works of both the state and private sectors have been materialistically oriented. Their goals have been economic growth, trade of commodities, search for wealth, job creation, profit maximization, and consumerism. This orientation has led regional, urban, and local community development, and development of quality of life to support economic activities which support those goals. The goals of balanced and sustainable development in the meantime have been ignored.
Convenor: And there was so much more. Throughout his talk, Dr. Tanet provided a wealth of detailed information, examples and anecdotes. Everything you wanted to know about local government and the reasons why it is not serving the local people.