Nontigorn Kanchanachitra, secretary-general of the Office of the Civil Service, has helped prepare Thai civil servants and state officials for the Asean Economic Community, which will be effective in 2015.
"In my opinion, the 10 member countries of ASEAN should not compete against one another, but they should work together to compete with other economies outside the regional grouping," he said.
"The government has to play the leading role in creating this awareness that as a member of the ASEAN Economic Community we should be outward-looking.
"We have had a lot of discussions on the economic aspects of the AEC, but there are also security, social and other aspects of regional cooperation.
"The year 2015 is the beginning of this journey, not the end of our effort to prepare for the community. In Europe, they spent decades working on the European Community, which is today the European Union.
"Besides economic issues, the ASEAN Economic Community will foster cooperation in security and political areas as evidenced by regional territorial and other conflicts involving member countries of ASEAN and its partners.
"As a community, our primary objective is to promote regional peace and stability. In terms of cultural and social issues, all stakeholders in the community will have to work together towards regional harmony.
"Regarding AEC, we expect our top-level training and orientation programmes to help leaders in the public sector get ready for regional cooperation.
One of the first programmes was aimed at permanent secretaries of various ministries, heads of major public agencies and provincial governors.
"We have [contacted] governors of provinces on the borders or near the borders with our neighbouring countries.
Kanchanaburi, for example, is a targeted province since it's on the border with Myanmar," where the Dawei deep-sea port and industrial-estate schemes will be situated.
"Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima are our northeastern gateways to the economy of Laos, while Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are close to Myanmar. We expect provincial governors to help the central government implement AEC and related policies. Some private-sector leaders have also been chosen to participate in these programmes.
"Meanwhile, I have to say that the salaries of Thailand's civil service are still less than those of the private sector. In terms of percentage, it's about 40-50 per cent of those of the private sector on average.
"However, the civil service's current entry-level salary of Bt15,000 per month is now on par or even better than that of the private sector, especially when compared with some SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises].
"For mid-level positions, state officials' salaries are still significantly less than those in the private sector.
The compensation difference is about 30-40 per cent. However, salaries for top-tier positions are vastly different.
"For example, the permanent secretaries now get slightly over Bt100,000 per month, but a comparable job in the private sector like a chief executive may get as much as Bt500,000 per month.
"One reason for lower salaries in the public sector is that there are as many as 2.7 million on the public payroll, consisting of 1.6 million civil servants and 1.1 million state employees.
"We are now allowed to hire only for replacements, but no new positions are created since the current workforce's salaries already account for nearly 40 per cent of the country's annual expenditure when welfare and other benefits are included.
"Another complaint is that the bureaucracy is often not adequately responsive to changes. Regarding the AEC, the permanent secretary for justice currently heads a committee to amend laws, rules and regulations so that our country is ready for the regional cooperation especially in terms of standards on goods and services whose trade will become freer under the AEC framework."