Thailand History

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Throne Hall (Anantasamakom), the assembly hall for the Thai government
Courtesy National Archives

A civil service career continued in 1987 to be widely regarded as a desirable route to financial security, social status, and power. As a result, despite the universal complaint about the inadequacy of government salaries, and despite many well-paid jobs becoming available in the commercial and industrial sectors, the civil service continued to attract many of the most promising young men and women.

Personnel administration was in theory centralized under the Civil Service Commission, which reported to the prime minister. In actuality the commission’s functions were limited to standardization, general guidance, coordination, and record keeping. Recruitment, assignment, promotion, and discipline were handled by each ministry and other public entities. After 1975 government service was divided into eleven position classifications. The top five grades (seven through eleven) were "special grade officers"--the elite of the civilian wing of the bureaucracy. Entry level for college graduates was grade two, and, for those with master’s degrees, grade three. Ordinarily, the district officer was either grade five or six, and the district section head was grade three. The provincial governor, deputy governors, and assistant governors were special grade officials, as were mid- to top-level managerial officers of the central ministries. Provincial section chiefs were grade four.

An informative study by Thai political scientist Likhit Dhiravegin revealed that as of 1977 the Ministry of Interior had the largest bloc of special and first grade officials (29 percent and 26 percent, respectively) because of its role as the backbone of the country’s far-flung administrative system. This study indicated that the administrative service continued to be elitist, dominated by families of government officials and businessmen. In 1977, although these families accounted for only 10 percent (1 percent and 9 percent, respectively) of the national population, they claimed 41 percent and 33 percent, respectively, of the special grade category and 31 percent and 27 percent, respectively, of the first grade category. This meant that these families produced a combined total of 74 percent of the special grade officers and 58 percent of the first grade functionaries.

Geographically, a strong bias favored the Center (including Bangkok), which had 32 percent of the total population but had 68 percent and 63 percent, respectively, of the special and first grade officers assigned there; Bangkok alone had 39 percent and 33 percent of these two categories. In terms of male-female ratio, of the special grade and first grade officers, only 11 percent and 23 percent, respectively, were women. Many of the female officers were in the ministries of university affairs, education, and public health. Likhit pointed out that, insignificant as it might seem, the number of women in managerial positions was impressively high when compared with other Asian countries.

In terms of education, about 93 percent and 77 percent of the civil servants in the special and first grade categories, respectively, had college educations, which compared favorably with other Asian countries such as Japan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Singapore, and Burma. The Likhit study also showed that 33 percent and 20 percent of the elite categories had foreign training, the United States accounting for 71 percent and 78 percent and Britain for 11 percent and 9 percent. The BritishUnited States connection was attributable to Thailand’s close relationship with Britain before World War II and with the United States since that time.

According to the Likhit study, foreign influence was least evident in the ministries of interior, justice, and public health--ministries that had the largest number of locally trained civil service officials at the elite level. Most of the locally trained senior judges, public prosecutors, lawyers, district officers, and provincial governors were graduates of Thammasat University. In the 1980s, several other Thai universities were expected to have an increased share of graduates applying for government service.

Civil service promotion was based on merit, but many observers believed that favoritism was an important factor in career advancement. A civil servant normally retired at age sixty. In 1980, however, the law was changed to permit extension of tenure up to age sixty-five in cases of extreme necessity for the benefit of the country.

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