Academic and activist commentators spend a lot of time criticising the Thai state, in its various democratic and less-than-democratic forms. Much of the criticism is, of course, justified. There are strong violent and authoritarian streaks running through Thai public life. Corruption is common. And many observers are alarmed by the seemingly low standards that many Thai politicians observe.
But the Thai state also has some redeeming features. I recently saw a draft report about the performance of Asian countries in terms of the various Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I only had a chance to glance at the report for a few minutes so I cannot comment in detail on its findings. But one thing did jump out.
Thailand has performed very well indeed.
A visit to the UNDP’s MDG site for Thailand makes for interesting reading. Here are the key points on Thailand’s performance.
Target 1: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. Scorecard for Thailand: Target already achieved.
Target 2: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Scorecard for Thailand: Target already achieved.
Target 3: Ensure that, by 2015, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. Scorecard for Thailand: Target highly likely.
Target 4: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015. Scorecard for Thailand: Target already achieved.
Target 5: Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate. Scorecard for Thailand: Thailand has made great progress in reducing child mortality since 1990. In general, child and maternal health care, for example vaccination and pre-natal care, is universal. Lack of adequate health care is evident primarily in the remote and mountainous northern provinces and in the southernmost provinces.
Target 6: Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio. Scorecard for Thailand: Target not applicable. Starting from an already relatively low level, maternal mortality continues to fall.
Target 7: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. Scorecard for Thailand: Target already achieved.
Target 8: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases. Scorecard for Thailand: Target already achieved for malaria Target potentially achievable for tuberculosis.
Target 9: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources. Scorecard for Thailand: Target potentially achievable.
Target 10: Halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Scorecard for Thailand: Target already achieved.
Target 11: By 2020 to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers (globally). Scorecard for Thailand: Target likely.
Of course, there will always be valid arguments about the usefulness and validity of country reporting on some of these goals. Some of the judgements about achievement may be questionable. And, as we have noted many times on New Mandala, there are very significant regional disparities in Thailand’s human development performance.
But the big picture is relatively clear. On a wide variety of human development indicators Thailand has performed well. Politics in Thailand may be messy, sometimes authoritarian and often corrupt. But in delivering basic services to the Thai population, the Thai state (both before and after the MDG goals were set) seems to have got many things right.