‘We screwed up and must do better,’ Thai health officials promise

Heeding public scrutiny, Thai officials this morning apologized for mishandling the pandemic crisis plaguing the kingdom and vowed to put public interests above their own.

Dogged by accusations they prioritized economic concerns, delayed necessary action and withheld critical information; those tasked with safeguarding public health signaled a new commitment to transparency and accountability.

“We serve the people and owe it to them to provide accurate, timely facts so they can be best equipped to take care of themselves and their families,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said. “We have failed at this, and I take personal responsibility. We’ve let people down. That’s simply not OK.”

Effective immediately, no political appointees will participate in media briefings, which will instead be led by the nation’s top epidemiologists. They will make available as much useful, verifiable information as is possible so the public is no longer left in the dark about current developments. 

Ed note: In case the appearance of words such as “responsibility” and “apology” in such close proximity to “officials” did not make it abundantly clear, this story is completely fabricated. To our humorless friends at the Ministry of Digital Economy (and Society!) and anyone else reading, none of this is true. 

“We realize that information isn’t to be feared; in fact, it’s essential to minimizing fear and equipping the populace with the knowledge necessary to make good choices,” said Sukhum Kanchanapimai, permanent secretary for public health. “We’re going to give you so much information, you’ll be begging us to stop.”

Anutin explained that in a toxic leadership culture where admitting fault is seen as weakness – or worst, courting greater scrutiny – the prevailing force is to conform. That would no longer be the case, he said, as it was incompatible with fulfilling their public trust.

“We’ve realized that simply being honest about our limitations – such as a lack of testing equipment or expertise – doesn’t make us look bad or incompetent,” Sukhum added. “The truth is, we only look fallible when we pretend that we aren’t.” 

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

The next mea culpa came from infotech minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, who said people would no longer have to fear frivolous prosecution threats.

“I think we realized we’d hit a new low by threatening to prosecute that young father who disclosed he’d gotten sick at an army venue,” he said. “We’re no longer going to treat our own people like the enemy when they speak true. Yes, public order matters. Yes, unity of purpose matters. But the best way to get there is by treating people like adults and telling them the truth.”

He said that the best way to reduce the spread of rumors was not through threats, but leaning into transparency.

Before leaving the stage, Anutin told reporters to expect, going forward, policies that have been thoroughly debated and vetted for unintended consequences.

“Instead of pulling the trigger on policies that ‘feel’ right only to have them immediately backfire, we’re going to actively imagine how all people might be affected, regardless of how awesome and decisive they might make us look.”

Again: Accountability? Contrition? Deference to the public? Certainly you didn’t take this flight of fancy seriously. And remember folks, don’t pretend to have the COVID.

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