The travel industry considered her as the eminence grise at the Ministry of Tourism. Named as the Permanent Secretary for tourism and sports, Sasithara Pichaicharnnarong has been removed early this week and named as an adviser to the Prime Minister. According to local newspapers, ongoing conflict with the current Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa came over the appointment of four officials at the Ministry. Despite being nominated by Ms Sasithara in September, positions remained vacant as the Minister refused to endorse them. Chumpol insisted that the decision for Sasithara transfer was only implemented by the cabinet due to poor implementation of government policies and inadequate coordination of state officials. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the transfer was made for administrative reasons. Ms Sasithara declared meanwhile to the Bangkok Post that she had been surprised by her immediate transfer. “I have never done anything wrong or been involved in any corruption. I have carried out many projects to promote sports and tourism,” she explained to the Bangkok Post in an interview.
But personalities clash is most likely the hidden reason behind the move. Sasithara was very well known in all tourism circles, had many connections in international tourism circles. Her knowledge on tourism, the fact also that she masters perfectly English and French – in contrary to the Minister ‘unimpressive’ English skills – made her most probably the Ministry of Tourism and Sport pivotal figure.
The transfer has immediately drawn protests from the Tourism Community. On January 22, Thailand’s Daily, the Nation, published the plea from the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations (Fetta) to the Minister to reinstate the Permanent Secretary. They argue that Sasithara’s knowledge of ongoing projects and its implementation were of great value as Thailand’s tourism is starting its recovery. Ongoing projects include the preparatory plan for the Thai tourism sector to join ASEAN Free Trade Agreement as well as a new bill on tourism, to be completed by the end of February. On the same day, the Bangkok Post reported the words of Anake Srishevachart, President of the Thai-Japan Tourist Association, who declared that the private sector was very concerned by the transfer of a skilled professional, as many tourism initiatives, such as some in China, have been made possible thanks to Ms Sasithara personal involvement. “We need her and her connections to promote many projects”, Srishevachart declared to the newspaper, adding that
it would be hard to achieve the government target of 16 million tourism arrivals iN 2010 without Ms Sasithara remaining in the post.