BANGKOK, 23 March 2015 - Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha will travel to Singapore on March 29 to pay his last respects to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, who died early Monday.

Gen. Prayut said that he had received an official invitation from the government of Singapore to join the state funeral and pay respect to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.

The Prime Minister said Mr. Lee was widely known as the founding father of Singapore who turned the small port into a wealthy global hub.

However, Gen. Prayut denied a report that he was scheduled to meet with self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on March 28 in Singapore. The Premier said he had nothing to do with Thaksin in the upcoming trip and he expressed his belief that the Singapore government would try its best in arranging different schedules for him and Thaksin in order to avoid an awkward encounter.

BANGKOK, 23 March 2015 - The Ministry of Tourism and Sports is preparing to hold a workshop with an aim to find effective measures to promote Thai products to international visitors.

Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul revealed that her ministry will organize a workshop with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and tourism entrepreneurs, with a view to brainstorming measures to upgrade Thai products and brands and gain higher recognition for them, especially from high-end foreign tourists.

The workshop is prompted by a survey of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, which indicated a downward trend in tourism activities as well as spending. The Tourism and Sports Ministry sees the need to push up the average per-capita spending of tourists on each trip from 48,000 baht currently to 60,000 baht within the next five years.

As for hotel occupancy, Ms Kobkarn stated that the occupancy rate this March is rising by 36 percent from the same month of last year. A growth rate of 14 percent is predicted for April.

BANGKOK, 24 March 2015 - A committee under the National Reform Council has proposed the formulation of national strategies that are passed as organic laws of the new Constitution.

Chairman of the NRC’s committee on the reform of public administration Theerayuth Lorlertrat told the committee meeting on Tuesday that in order for the national strategies, which are both short-term and long-term reform plans, to be truly in line with the intent of the Constitution and practical for everyone in Thailand, they should be passed into organic laws.

Mr. Theerayuth stated that effective national strategies should also be accurately measured and accepted by all stakeholders.

According to him, all strategies should be in the form of a long-term plan to be executed over 20 years through the collection of public opinions and academic analyses before a medium-term strategy, which runs for five years can be designed.

Members of the NRC have agreed with the suggestion to formulate the national strategies while advising the downsizing of government bodies to help materialise all plans and allocating special strategic budgets for all provinces to help facilitate the reform process.

BANGKOK, 24 March 2015  - A vice president of the National Legislative Assembly has suggested more attention be paid to details when planning the public referendum of the draft charter.

NLA’s First Vice President Surachai Liengboonlertchai said that if the public referendum of the new Constitution is to be organised, there will be many issues to be considered.

In his opinion one of the issues is whether the public will need to approve the entire draft or individual articles.

Mr. Surachai said that it is also to be decided whether the entire drafting process will have to start all over again if the referendum result shows the disapproval of the charter.

The NLA’s First Vice President added that he is confident the Five Rivers — all the bodies set up after the coup in May 2015 — will find an agreeable way-out for Thailand without allowing conflicts to get in the way.

BANGKOK, 24 March 2015 - The National Reform Council’s committee on the reform of politics will meet to debate the draft charter later this week.

Spokesman of the NRC’s political reform committee Wanchai Sornsiri said that the committee has agreed to be more participating in the review of the first draft of the new charter that the Constitution Drafting Committee will present to the reform council on April 17.

Accordingly, the committee has decided to hold a workshop in Chon Buri province during March 26 and 27 to discuss and plan the debate agenda related to all political issues including the parliamentary system and the origin of members of parliament as well as their duties.

Other political issues to be raised during the workshop is the election of the prime minister, the format of the political party and the election system — all of which the committee considers key problems of Thailand.

Meanwhile, chairman of the committee Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, who is a part of the delegation visiting Germany to get first-hand information on the country’s election system, has informed his committee members that the German-style election does have an issue of complication in the vote-counting process that may be problematic if adopted in Thailand.

BANGKOK, 24 March 2015 - The Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee has assured that Thai people will go to polling booths before the end of 2016.

CDC Chairman Borwornsak Uwanno told the meeting of charter drafters that his trip to Germany during March 15 and 20 has allowed him an opportunity not only to get first-hand information on the German-style election system but also to discuss the business of the Constitutional Court.

Mr. Borwornsak said that he has also acquired some information about the party-list proportional representation and the administration of the election.

He has also learnt that, in Germany, any protest to the election result needs to go through the House of Representatives, which will set up a committee to review the petition while the petitioner can also opt to go to the Constitutional Court for help.

According to the CDC Chairman, Germany has had problems with electronic ballots due to the failure to keep tracks of the votes cast.

In any case, he is confident that Thailand will see a new election no later than 2016.

BANGKOK, 24 March 2015 - Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asserted on Monday that a revamp of the tax structure is necessary, while the government will only raise the VAT rate when the time is right.

General Prayut said the revamp of taxation was necessary as it would provide future governments with additional tools for reducing disparity and fostering fairness. The value added tax (VAT) is a tax that allows every member of the public to contribute to national development. He added that the VAT rate would only be raised under appropriate circumstances.

According to General Prayut, the less-than-expected amount of revenue collected by the state partly has to do with the decline in exports. Exports, which make up as much as 70% of the country's GDP, has contracted in line with the global economy. He also noted that Thailand's manufacturing cost is higher than her competitors'.

The government's working team on economic affairs has been performing well, but improvements have to be made in the aspect of disseminating information to the public, Gen. Prayut added.

BANGKOK, 24 March 2015 - The government expects it will be able to set up a central data center for all state agencies within 1-2 years' time, in an effort to reduce redundancies associated with data center investments in the public sector.

According to Deputy Prime Minister M.R. Pridiyathorn Devakula, the promotion of the 'digital economy' model emphasizes five development areas, namely physical infrastructure, services, legal infrastructure, economic development promotion, and digital society development. Significant process has been made in all the five areas, according to the deputy prime minister.

M.R. Pridiyathorn indicated that all areas of the country will have access to fiber optic networks by 2017. Meanwhile, it will be 1-2 years before the databases of all state agencies can be merged into the central data center. He explained that the private sector will be invited to invest in the central data center.

BANGKOK, 24 March 2015 - The minister of foreign affairs has sent a letter of condolences to his Singaporean counterpart for the passing of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

The letter from Minister of Foreign Affairs, General Tanasak Patimapagorn, states: "Excellency, I wish to express my deepest condolences to you and through you, to the people of Singapore on the passing away of His Excellency Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the Founding Father of Singapore and the first Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore. His Excellency Mr. Lee Kuan Yew has left behind an everlasting legacy on Singapore and the region at large. He will always be remembered for his bold and visionary statesmanship in developing Singapore into a stable and prosperous nation. We in Thailand are very grateful to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew for his significant role in the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Thailand and Singapore fifty years ago, in which the seeds of friendship have fully blossomed today. We also pay tribute to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew for his contribution to the formation of ASEAN. My thoughts and prayers are with the Singapore nation and its people during this difficult time. Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.

General Tanasak Patimapragorn Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand" Mr. Lee, who was Singapore's prime minister for 31 years and who oversaw the island nation's independence from Britain and its separation from Malaysia, passed away on Monday after spending weeks in hospital on life support.

BANGKOK, 24 Mar 2015, Kasikorn Research Center yesterday cut its nation's economic growth projection from 4% to 2.8%, thanks to the slow economic recovery rate and shrinking exports.

According to the center, the less-than-expected global economic growth and dropping commodity products prices are the main factors behind the sluggish performance in the export sector. The center anticipated exports to decline 3.9% growth in the first quarter.

Other reasons affecting the first quarter's economic growth included weak consumer spending, and slowdown in investment from the private sector.

However, KResearch predicted that tourism, the government’s economic stimulus policies, and low inflation would likely help the nation’s economy to recover sooner than expected.

The center predicted no growth for exports this year, down from 3.5 % projected earlier. Imports would also be down from 5% to 3.5 %, and inflation down to 0.5% from 1.5% predicted earlier.

Page 6 of 905