Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Bureaucracy: Problem or Solution to Thailand's Far South Flames?

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Bureaucracy: Problem or Solution to Thailand's Far South Flames?

Article excerpt

The conflict in the far south stems from a variety of factors. Foremost among these include: Thai nation-state building going back to when Siam had a relationship with the tributary state of Patani before 1892; the establishment of modern bureaucracies in 1906, which abolished the structure of traditional local elites; democratization after 1932; the assimilationist policies of the Thai state beginning with Prime Minister Phibulsongkhram's regime in the 1930s; and the injustices and misconduct of the government and military between 2004-09. The struggle of local Patani people (i.e., residents of the three southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat) centres on resistance to assimilation and oppression, and their desire to exercise greater control over the region's resources and their own culture and religion. (1)

Since the reemergence of violence in 2004, academics, think-tanks, bureaucrats and politicians have produced a number of studies and reports on the southern insurgency which examine the causes and possible solutions to the conflict. (2) Among the many variables, one that has often been singled out as a salient factor in fuelling the grievances of the Malay Muslim population is problems associated with the bureaucracy, both in terms of the Thai state generally and its presence in the three southern provinces in particular. This includes the "one-size-fits-all" mentality of bureaucracy design implemented in the early 1900s as part of the Thai nation-building strategy; the lack of "integration" among public agencies, including the police and military, to tackle the ongoing violence and mitigate dissatisfaction among local people; ineffective policy implementation by bureaucrats; and red-tape and inefficiency embedded in the design of the central bureaucracy. It also includes the problem of bureaucrats who have been posted to the region from other parts of the country and who are perceived by local residents to be irresponsive, discriminatory, insensitive and corrupt. As a consequence, insurgents have targeted state officials who are symbols and representatives of government authority, as well as locals who have been deemed to have "collaborated" with the state, including teachers, military personnel and the police. (3) This paper aims to discuss the bureaucracy in the far south in terms of its two components: the bureaucracy as the structure and the bureaucrat as the agent.

The first part of this paper describes the complexity of the bureaucratic structure in the far south and the numerous attempts by various governments to harmonize the activities of key actors in the region. The central government's goal has always been to create a more integrated approach to policy-making and policy implementation in the region. However, the results have been less than effective. This is mainly due to the unstable environment caused by continual reforms and the lack of consensus among key actors as to who should take the lead. In addition, recommendations to shift powers between actors in the bureaucracy often do not explicitly incorporate discussions of new governance arrangements that some locals have advocated. The second part of this paper addresses recent trends in the recruitment and training of bureaucrats in the region. Due to the ongoing violence, public agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to attract non-locals to work in the region. Thus some public agencies have demonstrated greater flexibility in finding ways to hire locals. This section provides an analysis of how this trend may affect other aspects of human resources management and also the governance structure of the region over the long term.

Aside from numerous official documents and academic reports, primary data used in this article is derived from in-depth interviews conducted by the author between 2006 and 2009 in the three border provinces. In total, over thirty interviews were conducted with government officials at the provincial and local levels, military personnel, policemen, teachers and officials at the Southern Border Province Administrative Centre (SBPAC), students of Prince Songkhla University (PSU) and national and local politicians. …

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