Civil servants in most ASEAN capitals can be relied upon to produce brilliant blueprints but they are often found wanting when it comes to executing these best laid plans into action.
The crux of the problem according to former Thai Member of Parliament Professor Kriengsak Chareonwongsak lies in the pocket – that the civil servants are often paid peanuts to do the job.
Kriengsak who heads the Thai Nation Building Institute carries impressive credentials. He was a member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council (NESAC), was Chair of the Education, Religion, Arts and Culture Commission and also Vice Chair of the Economic, Commerce and Industry Commission.
Academically, he went to Oxford, is a Harvard Fellow.
In 2004, he was elected as a Member of Parliament for the Democrat Party and served until 2006 before resigning from the party in 2007.
Kriengsak is an Advisory Committee Member to an International Advisory Panel for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Business Council, and a Member of the Committee for Anti-Corruption Cooperation, at the Thai Ministry of Finance.
He is also Chair and President of the Political Leaders for Social Enterprise, USA, as well as Chair of the Social Entrepreneurship Institute, Thailand.
Kriengsak is well placed to observe the differences between Asian (and therefore ASEAN) civil servants from their counterparts in the west.
The west, said Kriengsak, seems more adept at camouflaging their errors and mistakes while Asians are not "that good" at it.
Failures aside, Asian administrators tend to have great blueprints for their nations,but are poor executors.
We don’t draw the right people because you pay them peanuts, and therefore with peanuts, you get monkeys
The Asian public sector – with some exception – does not attract the best brains as often they are paid peanuts and far lower than those in the private sector.
"Execution requires management capabilities which is not just a science. It is also an art, so that you are able to use every opportunity, every person you have, every circumstance, to achieve the objectives," said Kriengsak.
He explained that management of profit-oriented companies is far easier but things are more complex in the public sector.
“The public sector is the arena requiring a huge amount of capabilities but usually, we don’t have the right kind of people to be there. Usually, money draws the people to the business world - which is the easiest world to manage.”
"The tough world to manage is the public sector - We don’t draw the right people because you pay them peanuts, and therefore with peanuts, you get monkeys," said Kriengsak.
He does not mince his words when he said that when one paid poorly in the public sector, there is the tendency and temptation to play politics at the workplace and in execution of tasks.
"The monkeys become the politicians, rather than people who know what they should be doing. We suffer in the entire world when we have too many monkey politicians," said Kriengsak.