Public mistrust stems from secret drafting of bills


The government should have solid measures in place to hold public hearings and invite representatives from all the stakeholders to participate in the amendment process involving the Council of State and the National Legislative Assembly, it was argued.

The harsh critique came last Thursday at the National Broadcasting

Telecommunications Commission-hosted public forum entitled “Frequency Resources and the Direction of Communications under the Digital Economy Bills”.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute, said the big problem of the controversial bills was the government’s lack of “openness” and the resulting lack of public trust.

“To build the digital economy, firstly the government must ‘think’ like the digital economy and be an open government first,” Somkiat said.

He said the bills had three problems. The first was the thought process behind them, that it was a governmental mechanism rather than a market mechanism. “The bills tend to build a large ministry with a lot of national agencies and offer higher salaries. Meanwhile, the bills do not mention free and fair competition for the private sector,” he said.

The second was that the bills favour discretion over transparency in terms of law enforcement. “The bills open room for the authorities to choose ‘selection’ as the method for doing frequency allocation rather than mentioning ‘auction’ as the main method,” he said.

“The ‘selection’ method might be by a beauty contest or by a selection process, which means the frequency allocation would be done based on the discretion of the authorities rather than considering the benefits to the country. The ‘auction’ method is the best for frequency allocation when compared to the beauty contest or selection methods.”

The third problem was the bills tend to control people and media instead of encouraging digital literacy.

“The three controversial bills include the Cyber Security Bill, the Computer Crime Bill and the Personal Data Protection Bill,” he said. “The government should show that these bills will focus on cyber security rather than tending to abuse people’s rights.

“People are worried that the government wants to be Big Brother. If the bills are not revised, it is possible that the bills will not become laws at all. There are so many points of issue, and the way the bills do not promote open governance creates mistrust.”

The government should build public trust before the bills become law.

First, he said, it should instruct the Council of State to open the consideration process of the bills to other organisations, especially ones that disagree with the bills.

Secondly, once the bills reach the NLA, it should have guidelines on accepting parallel drafts of the bills from civil society so they are part of the consideration process. And NLA should invite representatives from all stakeholders to have a seat as commissioners when reviewing them.

The Electronics Transactions Development Agency is the public organisation responsible for drafting the bills. Its director Surangkana Wayuparb said the country needs the bills, especially the Cyber Security Bill, the Computer Crime Bill, the Personal Data Protection Bill and Electronics Transaction Bill because they promote and better protect online transactions, whether business or personal.

She public concern only related to the word “security” and insisted the security element in the bills related to cyber security, including confidentiality, integrity and availability.

Only cyber security deemed to be a national threat because it involved cyber warfare and terrorism would be handled by the military.

“There are so many steps in the bills’ consideration process that we can adjust the bills and we will have public forums along the way as well.”


First Published: The Nations, January 30, 2015