THE GOVERNMENT’S actual expenditures on advertising and public relations exceeded Bt6 billion last year, according to the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), far higher than the Bt1.94 billion stated by the Budget Bureau.
The government had used monies from special and other budgets in addition to those specifically earmarked for advertising and PR, the TDRI asserted.
A report titled “Suggested Regulations for Controlling Government Advertising and Public Relations”, by TDRI researcher Itsakul Unahakate, said that in the past seven years (2007 to 2013) the government had set its annual budget for advertising and PR activities at between Bt1.5 billion and Bt2.2 billion.
Last year, the highest budget of about Bt677 million went to the Prime Minister’s Office, followed by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports with Bt237 million and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives with Bt136 million.
“The [reported] information regarding the government’s annual advertising and public relations expenditures may be lower than actual spending. This is because many government agencies have allocated such expenditures from other sources, such as central and other support budgets,” Itsakul said.
He added that these findings were in line with a recent report by the Media Agency Association of Thailand, that the government spent up to Bt6.33 billion on advertising and PR last year, the fifth-largest expenditure after the automobile, skincare, telecommunications and entertainment sectors. Yet the Budget Bureau put the outlay at only Bt1.94 billion.
According to the TDRI research, there are three major problems that could lead to corruption and lack of transparency. First is the use of government advertising budgets to promote political campaigns of individuals and parties on television, radio and billboards. Second is a lack of transparency in the procurement process for such activities. Third is the failure of media to investigate what the government is up to in this regard and its working processes.
Itsakul said Thailand should have legislation in place to control the government’s advertising and PR activities, covering all stakeholders, including the administration itself, state enterprises, and independent entities. These controls should emphasise three areas.
The first is that any advertising and PR activities should be conducted for the interest of the general public.
Second, such activities that are directly or indirectly connected to particular politicians or political parties should be prohibited.
And third, certain independent entities, such as the Office of the Auditor-General, should be in charge of investigating government advertising content and making annual reports on how such activities are conducted. These reports would be made public.
First published: The Nation, April 18, 2014