Politiek faalt in Klong Toey krottenwijk.

Government policies fail the poor

**Despite of all the initiatives, the very poor in Bangkok are still mired in poverty **

By: By Parista Yuthamanop Published: 12/07/2009 at 12:00 AM Newspaper section: SpectrumThe stench of filthy water from a small open sewer permeates the air. Hundreds of houses line the small roads that branch into narrow concrete footpaths divided by the sewer. Dog faeces is scattered all around.

Near the entrance to the Klong Toey slums are a few derelict shophouses. The community is packed closely together, with one-storey houses standing cheek by jowl. Separated by narrow concrete paths, privacy does not exist in this community.
Occasionally, the sound of cranes moving cargo is heard from the nearby port. This is the “70 rai” community, part of Bangkok’s biggest slum.
Some 8,500 people in 1,200 households are packed into 11 hectares. Most subsist on port work, as street vendors or as labourers.
Wiphaphak Phengthanong hesitates to welcome guests to her house.
“I sort of don’t want you to see my house. It’s dirty,” she said, stooping to enter her house.
Her teenage daughter lies on the linoleum-covered floor beside a boy and a toddler, their eyes glued to the television. There are two bedrooms next to the living room, a small toilet and a small bathroom at the back of the house.
The two bedrooms and space in front of the television are where the family of 10 sleep at night. Ms Wiphaphak, 42, is the sole breadwinner and a grandmother of eight.
Ms Wiphaphak used to make and sell Northeastern Thai food, but she quit two years ago as the price of her ingredients went up, something that affected many residents of the Klong Toey slum.
And the global recession has squeezed people’s incomes even more.
Ms Wiphaphak now earns a living from whatever labouring work she can get. Sometimes, she sells lottery result papers and clothes. She needs to pay 3,000 baht rent for her four-square-metre house. The same amount can provide for her family for about six weeks if they can survive with just fried eggs for every meal. But in reality, this rarely happens.
Ms Wiphaphak has resorted to loan sharks who charge 20% interest bi-monthly. Sometimes they charge a “floating rate”, which means borrowers need to pay interest daily as long as they cannot pay the debt off in full.
“I cannot make enough to make ends meet, so I save and juggle my money every possible way I can. I borrow from lenders. When the money comes in, I return it to them,” she said.
Ms Wiphaphak said the best she can give to the children is a good education. For now, they have milk to drink and food to eat at the school, she said.
But the government’s free education campaign does not include the school supplies she needs to pay for.

Ms Wiphaphak only had a primary education because her parents couldn’t afford to send her to high school.
“I have to accept the situation and try to help myself as much as possible,” she lamented. “I know how hard life is without a good education. I have been through that. I don’t want my children and grandchildren to repeat the same mistakes.”
Ms Wiphaphak said her greatest fear is the children could be led into the vices of the community, known for its drug abuse.
“I want to get out of here. But I wouldn’t get a mortgage for a house because I haven’t a salary. I have no collateral,” she said. “I want the kids to have a future. It will be difficult in an environment like this. They sell speed pills near here. I don’t want the kids to learn rude words. But they surely will, as long as they are here.”
She used to be a heavy drinker and smoker - vices she would like her grandchildren to avoid.
“Friends used to ask me ‘How can you stand this?’ Some people get stressed and walk away from their children and grandchildren. If I go, how can they go on,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears.
Sumon Chareonsai, head of the Klong Toey Community Organisation Development Association, said Ms Wiphaphak’s case was an example of the increase of poverty in the wake of the global economic slowdown. More people in the community became jobless or earn less from labouring.
More cannot afford their own meals and seek food from NGOs and charity organisations. The trend towards higher rates of poverty has increased since the end of last year, he said.
“Things like this have rarely happened before, and if they did it was just a few cases. Another indicator is that thefts and drug abuse have increased,” Mr Sumon said.
Such problems should not occur in Thailand where there is co-ordinated expansionary policy in the wake of global economic recession.
The Bank of Thailand has cut the benchmark interest rate by a total of 2.5% to 1.25% in the six months from December. The government announced 40 billion baht of tax breaks to businesses and individuals in February, and a 116 billion baht supplementary budget in March to prop up the economy.
The objective to use fiscal resources in as comprehensive a way as possible, included 18 billion baht for the 2,000 baht handouts to workers, teachers and civil servants earning less than 15,000 baht per month; seven billion baht for those laid-off and unemployed new graduates; 15 billion baht for community grants; 15-years of free tuition, uniforms and textbooks; and a 500 baht monthly pension for the elderly.
The government has disbursed about half of the total budget as of June, with most of the 2,000 baht cheques paid in April. The government has also extended subsidies on petrol and public utilities for low-income households, a policy introduced in 2008.
Somchai Jitsuchon, research director for macroeconomic development and income distribution at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), said that overall poverty in Thailand has worsened since 2008, in the wake of increased oil and food prices.

LIVING TOGETHER: Wiphaphak Phengthanongand and her family of 10 live in two tiny bedrooms and a living room.

He said the number of poor increased from 5.4 million in 2007 to 5.7 million in 2008, 11.4% of the total population, 5.2 million in rural areas and 570,000 in towns and cities.
The poor, according to the TDRI’s definition, are people who earn between 1,749 and 1,800 baht per month.
“The number of poor increased particularly in the first half of 2008. But the increase was not substantial. I am more concerned for the figures for this year, the first quarter in particular, because unemployment has already risen,” Dr Somchai said.
That the informal workers are not covered by the existing pension fund system, nor entitled to unemployment or health benefits, was a factor in high poverty rates in Thailand.
According to the National Statistics Office, six out of 10 of the labour force are informal workers. The term defines workers more than 15 years old and not covered by the Social Security Office, including part-time or sub-contracted workers, farmers, vendors, home-based and short-term workers.
The number of informal workers increased steadily from 22.5 million, or 62% of the labour force, in 2005 to 63.7 million, or 24.1% of the labour force, in 2009. Some 60% of them work in the farm sector, following by trade, hotels and restaurants, manufacturing and construction.
The current pension fund system in Thailand consists of an old age pension under the Social Security Office covering private sector salaried workers, which totals nine million members, the Government Pension Fund for government employees, which totals about 1.2 million members, and private provident funds, which cover about two million.
Several governments in the past have campaigned for crop price guarantees as an important measure to increase the incomes of rural households.
But a study by the TDRI recently found that farmers received only 40% of public money used for such projects, with millers and general corruption accounting for the rest. The study also points out that the benefits are confined to rich farmers who can produce rice in excess of their consumption and sell it.
Meanwhile subsistence farmers are marginalised.
In any case, Dr Somchai said the rise in food prices over the past few years has helped rural people save money, and that helped cushion the impact of the global economic recession.
“The impact of poverty might not be too bad this year. But it needs watching. If economic trends don’t improve over the next few years, poverty may not be reduced, and will remain chronic,” Dr Somchai said.

FREE SCHOOLING: Tuition is free but parents still have to pay for many extras.

The number of informal labouring jobs will tend to rise in the future, as more people lose full-time jobs. Unemployment stood at 820,000 in April, 2.1% of the total labour force, 440,000 more than the same period last year.
Dr Somchai said a lack of data to locate the poor due to red tape has remained a weak point in the government’s policy.
For example, the government has abandoned the idea proposed in 2008 and 2009 to give food coupons to the poor because of a lack of data.
Most of the government’s poverty reduction policies was designed to build politicians’ popularity rather deliver to the people who deserve it. The crop price guarantee project is a good example, he said.
“Existing policy cannot reach out to the poor. For example, there is a free education campaign, but poor parents still have other expenses. Thailand has no vigorous policy to resolve poverty, which is regrettable,” Dr Somchai said.
The government should also have a policy to address cases similar to Ms Wiphaphak, where poverty will be transferred to the next generation through low levels of education. One possible measure is to help with her children’s education and monitor their progress.
Somkid Duangngern, president of the Network of Informal Labour, said the government should have micro policies to help the labour force, rather than focusing on bolstering the macro economy.
He said the network has proposed a 2,000 baht cash handout, but this was rejected by the government.
“Prices have leapt. People get poorer. Independent workers have less income. Orders were apparently on the decline for the past two years,” Mr Somkid said.

Bron: Bangkok Post