Where to locate NGOs?

Pinkaew Laungaramsri of the Faculty of Social Science at Chiang Mai University has caused something of a stir by fiercely criticizing Thailand’s NGOs. She has done this in Prachatai’s new book, in Thai, A Molten Land: The Mandatory Transition.

Some of her points:

Thai NGOs are morphing into an extension of the state bureaucracy. More and more NGOs are choosing to work alongside the state, to the point where they can be said to be one part of the state….

Though NGOs in Thailand used to fiercely critique populism, they were willing to be collaborators with the junta as soon as it invited the private sector and civil society to assist in administering rural subsidies. The NGOs leapt at the chance! Tracing these developments, one should not be surprised that NGOs have willingly sat in junta-appointed committees, the National Reform Council or the National Reform Steering Committee….

Disappointed with elections, NGOs decided that their works need not be relevant to democracy. They became ready to work with whoever came into power, in order to ensure the survival of their works and organisations. Past goals of curbing the state’s power and increasing the power of the people — once the rallying point of NGOs — evolved into concerns with self-preservation and power. This is the current state of Thailand’s civil society….

… there is no point to NGOs existing if they have no principles regarding how the politics of this country should be. This dilution of NGO principles over the past 10 years has made the regime and substance of Thai politics irrelevant to civil society movements….

The key question is, in the wake of the coloured shirts — and in this society devoid of just laws but weighed down by a dictatorial constitution — who will act as the catalyst to mobilise those who have had enough of the junta’s rule?…

In general she’s correct in all of these observations. However, she’s also got a rather idealistic view of NGOs in the past. Like society in general, NGOs tend to represent the range of values and political positions in society. What she seems to suggest is that some individuals who were NGO leaders have moved to the right.

PPT’s view is that many of those who “shifted” haven’t moved that far, if at all. Thai NGO leaders have tended to believe that they were leaders of the people, leading them from ignorance and poverty into some better world. Usually they didn’t ask the people what they wanted. They thought of themselves as “good people” who deserved to be leaders.

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