HIGHLIGHTS

  • Post war period, he led Thai’s financial community with unquestionable integrity of his financial planning and management, and instigated the reorganization of the country’s trade, foreign exchange and fiscal policies.
  • He sustained reforms through the introduction of the Commercial Bank Act of 1962, low interest financing of raw material stocks for industry and creation of a central planning agency.
  • He upgraded the training of Thailand’s future technocrats and was instrumental in in the establishment of higher education programs in the country.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his dedication, unquestioned integrity and high order of professional skill brought to the management of Thailand’s public finance.”

 CITATION

The career of Dr. PUEY UNGPHAKORN confirms that a single individual can make significant contributions to the progress of his country, despite a tendency toward official corruption evident in many developing lands. Thailand’s relative prosperity and steady growth matched by stable finances are a measure of his accomplishment.

After wartime service in the Free Thai Movement and doctoral studies in England, Dr. PUEY joined the Ministry of Finance in 1949 as a third-grade official in the Comptroller General’s Office. Hardworking and brilliant, within the next three years he became one of the principal negotiators in securing World Bank loans for rehabilitation of his country’s railways and port facilities and construction of a large irrigation dam.

Proven competence won him promotion to Technical Assistant to the Permanent Undersecretary of Finance and concurrently Deputy Governor of the Bank of Thailand. In these posts Dr. PUEY instigated reorganization of the country’s trade, foreign exchange and fiscal policies. A government monopoly on rice exports was replaced with a flexible premium system that made Thai rice competitive in world markets while keeping domestic prices of this staple within the budget of ordinary citizens. A single, more realistic exchange rate supplanted the former multiple exchange system while an Exchange Equalization Fund stabilized the currency. Thai accounting and budgetary methods were reformed.

When manipulation of import controls threatened abuses, Dr. PUEY requested leave but instead was posted to the Royal Thai Embassy in London. Promoting foreign investment in industry for his country, he also mastered the intricacies of the world tin market, winning an increase in Thailand’s quota and election as Vice-Chairman of the International Tin Council.

The Revolutionary Party that took power in Thailand in 1958 brought Dr. PUEY home to direct a new Budget Bureau and Fiscal Policy Office. In 1959, when a bank note printing scandal forced resignation of the incumbent, he was made concurrently Governor of the Bank of Thailand. Among the cautious yet continuing reforms he introduced were the Commercial Bank Act of 1962, low interest financing of raw material stocks for industry and creation of a central planning agency. Through this agency he initiated construction of highways to open inaccessible land for diversified farming, installation of an adequate drainage and sewerage system for Bangkok, and improvements in education to meet growing manpower needs. Over the past year he has also served as Dean of the Faculty of Economics at Thammasat University.

Exemplary in the conduct of his personal affairs, Dr. PUEY, his wife and three sons live modestly on his salary as Governor of the Bank. He has avoided participation in tempting business ventures and gives earnings from his other posts to deserving people and social services. Repeatedly jeopardizing his career to abide by principle in defense of the public interest, he has become perhaps the most respected civil servant in Thailand.

In electing PUEY UNGPHAKORN to receive the 1965 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his dedication, unquestioned integrity and high order of professional skill brought to the management of Thailand’s public finance.

 RESPONSE

In accepting the 1965 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for having bestowed on me this great honor. To be called a dedicated, honest and competent government servant in the presence of this illustrious gathering is indeed the highest reward for all the toils, anxieties and sometimes courage demanded of a civil servant; but to be associated with the name and spirit of the Great Man, and to be thus included in the select list of worthy Awardees, is an honor which overwhelms me and make me feel humble and profoundly grateful.

I hope the Board of Trustees will bear with me when I submit that their citation in my case has been very generous. Whatever deserving contribution I have made in service to my people would not have been possible without the collaboration and encouragement, indeed in many cases the initiative, of many of my friends and colleagues in the Bank of Thailand, the Ministry of Finance, the Budget Bureau and the National Economic Development Board. In times like this my mind also turns back to my old teachers at Assumption College, Bangkok, whose guidance in both moral and intellectual spheres has been invaluable. More fundamentally, I was most fortunate in having in my deceased mother—a widow without means—a woman who never gave up fighting against the most difficult circumstances in order to provide her children with the best available education and who expected from them, in return for her pains, only that they observe the highest standard of behavior. How much I owe to my wife, only I know well enough; and I also know that she would not like me to mention it.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, recently when my students at Thammasat University came to my room to congratulate me on this Award, they pledged themselves “to follow, through your example, the great spirit of Ramon Magsaysay.” These words of theirs filled my heart with joy and great hope for the younger generation. My youngest son, Giles, aged twelve, a stamp collector, also recited to me the following words: “Naniniwala ako na ang taong kapos sa buhay ay dapat punan sa batas.” [“I believe that he who has less in life should have more in law,” the excerpt from Ramon Magsaysay’s Credo printed on his commemorative stamp.] Thank you for bringing this noble inspiration to the youth of Thailand.

 BIOGRAPHY

PUEY UNGPHAKORN was born in the family home in Talad Noi—the heart of the business section—of Bangkok, Thailand, on March 9, 1916, the fourth child in a family of five sons and two daughters. His father, Nai Sar Ungphakorn, who had migrated from China and was a wholesale fish merchant, died when PUEY was only 10, leaving the support and upbringing of seven young children to the mother. Nang Soh Cheng, a spirited second-generation Thai-Chinese, was determined that her children have a first-class education, although as PUEY reminisced to a friend in later years, “she had a very hard time trying to earn enough to support and educate all of us.”

PUEY studied diligently at the elementary and secondary schools (French Section) of the Catholic Mission’s Assumption College in the Bangrak district of Bangkok. His marks were particularly good in French and mathematics. Upon graduation in 1932 he was retained by the college as a junior instructor at a salary of Baht 40 per month—a sizeable income at a time when the starting salary of a government clerk was Baht 15. Mentioning to a family acquaintance that her 17 year old son gave her Baht 30 and retained only Baht 10 for his own expenses, his mother said proudly: “PUEY is now taking my place in the family.”

In 1934 a new government University of Moral and Political Science (UMPS)— later to become Thammasat University—was established in Bangkok. Class attendance was not compulsory; published lectures were distributed by the university at a nominal cost of about Baht 2 per course to enable working students to study at their convenience. Like several thousand other ambitious young Thais, PUEY enrolled at UMPS while teaching at Assumption College. Studying evenings and weekends, he was graduated in 1937 with a degree of Bachelor of Law and Political Science. Thereupon he resigned from his teaching position and was employed for about eight months as an interpreter for a French professor at UMPS.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)