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Is Srettha planning to divest his finance portfolio to SET chief Pichai?

Written by World Events

The first Cabinet reshuffle of the Srettha Thavisin government is expected to take place after the close of the current Parliamentary session on April 9. Among the frontrunners for the finance minister’s post is Pichai Chunhavajira, 76, a longtime Shinawatra family loyalist. 

With PM Srettha reportedly wanting to give up the additional portfolio of finance that he holds, Pichai – currently chairperson of the Stock Exchange of Thailand – is widely tipped to be the new finance minister.

Pichai is already serving as an advisor to Srettha, with long and close political ties with the Shinawatra family, the political dynasty controlling the ruling Pheu Thai Party.

There were widespread rumours that Pichai had recently sold 1.2 million shares in BCPG, worth an estimated 8.5 million baht, in preparation for being named the finance minister.

He is currently an advisor to the prime minister and also an advisor to The Board of Investment of Thailand.

In addition he serves on the board of the State Enterprise Director Screening Committee and is a member of the monitoring committee solving problems of Thai Airways International Company.

Finance background

His educational background highlights his strong involvement with finance. Pichai obtained a bachelor of business administration (accounting) from Thammasat University and a master of business administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the United States.

He also received an honorary Ph.D. (financial management) from Sripatum University, honorary Ph.D. (financial management) from Mahasarakham University and an honorary Ph.D. (accounting) from Thammasat University.

He also earned a diploma for taking the Joint State – Private Sector Course Class 13, organized by the National Defence College which has a reputation for building political connections among the Thai elite via its training program.

He has a long track record running major businesses. He currently serves as chairman of the board of Bangchak Corporation Pcl, chairman of BCPG Pcl, and chairman of BBGI Pcl.

Previously, he was chairman of Thai Oil Pcl, a former acting president at Bangchak Corporation Pcl, besides serving as a director at many companies, including PTT Petroleum Exploration and Production Pcl, Thai Airways International Co, IRPC Pcl and PTT Pcl.

Among financial institutions, he was a director and member of the audit committee at Siam Commercial Bank.

When he was the chief financial officer at PTT Pcl, he reportedly played a key role in pushing for the privatization of the Petroleum Authority of Thailand.

The state firm was eventually listed on the SET on December 6, 2001 as PTT Pcl.

He had worked closely with the coalition government led by then-PM Thaksin Shinawatra from 2001-2005. The Thai Rak Thai Party’s second term was cut short abruptly when Thaksin’s government was toppled by military coup in September 2006. The Thai Rak Thai Party was a predecessor of the current Pheu Thai Party.

Political connections

Pichai has strong political connections. Among his major feats was helping the Thai Rak Thai government achieve privatization of the Petroleum Authority of Thailand by working closely with former energy minister Prommin Lertsuridej, who currently serves as secretary-general to PM Srettha.

He also was a strong supporter of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister. Yingluck, too, was toppled by a military coup in 2014.

After the coup, Yingluck was indicted by the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) over corruption in the implementation of the rice-pledging scheme by her government.

Pichai was among several witnesses who presented evidence to counter the NCCC’s allegation.

The Supreme Court in September 2017, found the ex-PM guilty of criminal negligence in the rice-pledging scheme and sentenced her in absentia to five years in prison.

Yingluck fled the country one month ahead of the verdict and has been living in self-exile overseas since August 2017.

Pichai has experience in monetary policy, as a former board member of the Bank of Thailand (BOT), which is expected to help him work well with the central bank.

Srettha has had a rocky relationship with BOT Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput, who has defied the PM’s exhortations to cut the policy rate.

Srettha has come under fire from economists for interfering with the independence of the central bank, although Srettha, as finance minister, could fire the central bank governor.

Challenge at Finance Ministry

Working in a coalition government may not be smooth sailing. For example in September 2020, veteran banker Predee Daochai abruptly resigned as finance minister in less than a month due to a reported conflict with his deputy over appointment of senior officials at the ministry.

Currently, former permanent secretary at the Finance Ministry, Krisada Chinavicharana, is deputy finance minister, under the United Thai Nation Party’s ministerial quota in the Pheu Thai-led coalition government.

It remains to be seen whether Srettha will place Pichai at the helm of the Finance Ministry, which has a key role to play in translating the PM’s vision.

By Thai PBS World’s Business Desk

 

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