Judging from their recent acts and views over local administrative organisations and decentralisation of power, the people in authority have given us some hints what they think about those matters.
ML Panadda Diskul, PM's Office Minister and the permanent secretary of the Prime Minister's Office, recently criticised prevalent corruption and abuse of power among local administrators. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) earlier suspended elections to local administrative organisations and replaced their administrators who had just completed their terms with appointees. It has been widely speculated that some forms of local administration may be dissolved. For example, the provincial administrative organisation may be merged with the city municipal government to form a "provincial municipal government", and the tambon administrative organisation may become a "tambon municipal government".
Under a speculated new form of local administration, there could be three levels of municipal government - provincial, district, and tambon (cluster of villages). It does not matter what they are called. What matters is the scope of their jurisdiction and responsibility.
We are in fact heading towards decentralisation of power. It has been proven that the practice of power centralisation does not bring about positive results for the local residents. Real development can only happen when local people are given the power to rule themselves. Power decentralisation also will allow the locals to have their say in deciding about how their areas should be developed.
Excise taxes and revenue earned by local administrative organisations can help fund local projects and help with their potential to develop. With sufficient revenue and budget, smaller administrative organisations can be upgraded to a higher level. For example, a tambon municipality may grow to become a city municipality.
However, under the new format of local administration expected to be proposed, the status of administrative organisations would seem unchangeable. For example, provincial municipal governments and district municipal governments are expected to be designated for fixed areas, and it is difficult for them to be upgraded.
In fact, it should be admitted that many local administrative organisations are problematic, in terms of personnel as well as the overlapping authority with other agencies. There have been repeated proposals for provincial administrative organisations to be dissolved on grounds their scope of authority overlaps other existing administrative bodies. However, they still co-exist with the other administrative bodies with overlapping powers.
There is also an important proposal for half of local administrative organisation members to be elected and the other half appointed.
It is true that there are problems involving local politicians. But there is no guarantee that appointed members of local administrative bodies will not bring problems. In fact, the central government sends its people to run local administration through the Interior Ministry, such as provincial governors and district chiefs. Appointed members of local administrative bodies are unlikely to be different from people sent out by the Interior Ministry.
Critics say power decentralisation involves self-rule by local residents. So their local administrative bodies should consist only of people they elect, and not state officials appointed by the central government.
The goal of local administration should be to allow local residents to elect people to run their local administrative bodies. And the local bodies should be allowed to improve their potential for development of the areas under their jurisdiction. The goal of power decentralisation should also be left intact. People involved in reforming the local administration should ask themselves whether they sincerely expect this reform to benefit local residents.