Public Policies through the Lens of Social Cohesion in Southeast Asia

(เอกสารประกอบการอภิปรายในการสัมนาระหว่างประเทศ เรื่อง  Social Cohesion in Southeast Asia ซึ่งกระทรวงการต่างประเทศ สถาบันพระปกเกล้า และ OCED ร่วมกันจัดขึ้นในวันที่ 21 กรกฏาคม 2554 ณ โรงแรม Four Seasons กรุงเทพมหานคร)


            Desirable public policies should bring about total, holistic societal development together with sustainable quality of life, health, equity, justice, peace, happiness, etc. for all of society’s population. Social cohesion is one factor that can contribute to such holistic societal development. At the same time, holistic societal development implies that there is social cohesion as one of the components of the desirable society.


            Public policies are undoubtedly the major factors leading to all the desirable components that will interact, interrelate, and interlink with one  another so that the end results (ultimate  outcome or final  impact) will be  what can be called “holistic societal development”. This may be measured by such indices as the “Gross National Happiness Index”, the “Genuine Progress Index”, the National Progress Index”, the “Green and Happiness Index”. (Thailand has been using this last index and is working on a program called the “National Progress Index (NPI) Program” supported  by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation and other Government Agencies).


            It is difficult and actually not necessary to single out what public policies lead to “social cohesion”. This is due to the highly complex  and very dynamic nature of all the major policies, both in themselves as well as the interrelation- ships  among them, not to mention the many factors that are involved in one   way  or another that come from both within the society(country) and from other  societies(countries).  Suffice it to conclude here that among the major public policies that should be undertaken in order to bring about social cohesion should be as follows:


            First of all, the formulation of all major policies at all levels (i.e., local, provincial, national, and international) should be carried out through an appropriate multi-stakeholder participatory (or publicly deliberative) process.  This should be accompanied by such tools as independent, objective and credible economic, social, health and environmental impact studies. Such processes will help prevent social conflicts and enhance social cohesion.


            Secondly, the system of national  administration should be  adequately   and appropriately  decentralized, in such a way that  all local communities are sufficiently empowered  to decide and manage their own  affairs in matters such as livelihood, education, health, culture, religion and  faith,  natural resources  and the environment , economic and social  projects that affect their  members’ lives, etc. In such a system, social cohesion culture and efforts can be localized, thus making it easier to manage and maintain.


            Thirdly, there should be policies that promote social cohesion at organizational or institutional levels (business corporations, public bodies, educational  institutes, etc.) through the development of better legal  and regulatory frameworks,  mode of operation systems, and development programs   such as the “Happy Workplace Program”  and the “Social Enterprise Promotion Program” in Thailand.  All these public policy interventions should indeed aim at  a higher set of goals  and objectives  that are  internal  (happiness, cohesion, etc.) organizational (efficiency, competitiveness, profitability, stability, etc.) as well as  external (social and environmental   responsibilities, good governance, etc.)


            When social cohesion is achieved at both the local community   and organizational/ institutional levels, it means that social cohesion becomes widespread throughout the society and thus becomes a very strong  base  for national social cohesion as well as social cohesion with respect to all major issues confronting or involving the society.


            Fourthly, the legal, judicial, political, administrative, economic, social and cultural  systems should be developed in such a way that  bring about justice, equity, fairness, respect for human rights and human dignity, inclusiveness in  all development  programs , culture of peace and peace-building  processes, multi-party participatory or publicly deliberative processes, and  other components   that promote social cohesion  while preventing  social conflicts.


            Fifthly, the nature and culture of greed, selfishness, power-seeking, consumerism and  materialism all have the tendency  or potential for leading     (in many cases through elaborate chains of causes and effects)  to  social conflicts, social disintegration, depletion and  degradation of natural resources and the environment, and many other undesirable  consequences, which in turn  bring  about further social conflicts and social disintegration that  run against social cohesion.   What should be promoted, therefore  are the nature and culture of love,  compassion, peace, sacrifice, contentment, and the “sufficiency (economy) philosophy” (suggested by King Bhumibol of Thailand and now widely practiced or attempted by a large number of local communities as well as business corporations).  In this way, a stable integrative, peaceful and happy society is more likely to be attained, with social cohesion being an important component   in such a society.


            Last  but not least, there is one most fundamental  factor putting great and increasingly serious pressure on all communities, social  institutions, societies, countries, continents, as well as humanity as a whole . That is the 3.5 times people-overcrowdedness  of Planet Earth.  This has led to a multitude of economic, social, political  and environmental problems including wars and conflicts of various nature, different types of natural  as well as  man-made  disasters,  serious shortages of food and natural  resources, and very  grave environmental  impact on Earth as well as its inhabitants  worldwide.  In such a situation social cohesion becomes difficult to inculcate and maintain.  So a nation-wide, as well as world-wide, set of  policies need to be worked out and agreed upon among nations, and among all the people in each nation, in order to seriously, continuously and consistently address this set of problems arising from people-overcrowdedness  of Planet Earth. It will not be easy, indeed it will be most difficult.  But mankind and all the people of the world have no choice but to try to seek solutions as soon and as effectively as possible, if mankind and the world’s population are to survive, live together peacefully and happily, with “sufficient standard of living” and “reasonable constructive progress”. Naturally and automatically, social cohesion is interactively included there, both as a cause and as an effect.


Paiboon  Wattanasiritham

July 21, 2011.

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