Behind the Thai pavilion at CommunicAsia

25 Jun 2012

One of the tragic comedies of CommunicAsia 2012 was the story of the Thai pavilion - how the once vibrant and classy pavilion has descended into what amounted to little more than an orphaned mutt this year.

Custodianship of the Thai pavilion used to be with the ICT Ministry, the office of the permanent secretary to be precise. Later, when the ministry set up the software industry promotion agency (SIPA), it was made host and during that time towards the middle of the noughties, the booth grew and became quite classy if not quite huge.

Being a communications event, the Thai pavilion was then passed on to telecom regulator NTC and its telecommunications research and industrial development institute (TRIDI), and that was the case until last year.

With the establishment of a new, converged telecom and broadcast regulator, the director of TRIDI found himself reshuffled to the broadcasting side and TRIDI itself disbanded. The Thai Pavilion, with no clear host, floundered. MICT was not interested and in the end it was through hard work and sheer stubbornness that the pavilion got the go-ahead at all.

It was Software Park Thailand, a software incubator under the ministry of science’s national science and technology development agency that came to the rescue. Scrounging up a skeletal budget of just $62,000 (2 million Baht) from the department of international trade promotion, coupled with a few pennies it saved in the kitty litter, the software incubator managed to sponsor a delegation of 15 companies to the big event in Singapore, 11 of which were software companies under or once under its incubation program.

When the ICT ministry was established in 2002, the plan was for Software Park to be transferred over and become SIPA. Ten years later, that never happened and the country still has two sort-of competing software promotion agencies.

Head of delegation Suganya Chatkaewmorakot put a diplomatic face on it, making it out to be a shift from cheap hardware to creative software, but the word from the show floor was hardly one of peace.

Things turned sour when the Thai ICT minister visited the pavilion and expressed surprise that there was a Thai delegation here at all. After all, it should have been his job, not the ministry of science to send this delegation. The fact that the pavilion’s personalization consisted of one small banner due to budget constraints making it look positively shabby also led to resentment.

But it was a member of his entourage whose totally clueless comments made many feel even more resentful. One political aide went around saying that this and that should be done with the Ministry and - totally oblivious to the years of resentment between the two organisations and how they have been banging their head against a wall for what seems like an eternity - invited everyone to come over and see what projects could be done.

“Of course it should be done by the MICT. It is their job. It has been their job for ten years and they are still not doing it,” one of the staff said before sharing vivid images of violence.

The problem with the Thai way of doing things is that when people at the head of an organisation change, projects done by their predecessors are scrapped as a matter of course or re-worked heavily so that it is “better” without necessarily being better (the NBTC’s new 3G auction rules that is still a mess come to mind).

The other problem that is painfully clear is that ten years on, the ICT ministry still does not have the competence and the human resources to do its job. Work is still being done by the ministry of science, on a shoestring budget. But it is this latter fact that is causing resentment.

The ministry has both an ICT promotion bureau and SIPA, both with huge budgets, yet their work seems to be concentrated not for the greater good of the industry, but for political gain. Boards and presidents get swapped with each new minister and events are left as little more than PR stunts and propaganda, the way a lavish event was set up around the opening of a Taekwondo match by a certain previous ICT minister in her hometown comes to mind.


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