First phase in government service (1949-1959)
In 1949, after finishing his Ph.D., Dr. Puey returned to Thailand and entered government service at the Comptroller-General Department, Ministry of Finance. It was instrumental in negotiating loans from the World Bank for developing national infrastructure, such as the Chao Praya Dam to generate electricity and irrigate paddy field. The repairing Hua Lum Pong main railroad terminal, which had been damaged during the war. Also, expanding Bangkok’s main seaport. A low level official at that time, but well versed in economics and projects to be implemented, Dr. Puey shrewdness and cleverness, vital force in successful negotiations.
Apart from those capabilities, Dr. Puey discussed with high level American officials from the United States Operations Mission (USOM) and U.S. Embassy ministers about a joint proposal for the U.S. government to construct a Friendship Highway between Saraburi and Nakhon Ratchasima at no costs to the Thai government. That highway was the first to be constructed by international standards, paved with asphalt to provide smooth surfaces for high speed travel. The Thai Department of Highways adopted these standards for construction.
After three years of service, he was appointed technical assistant to the Permanent Secretary in 1952. In 1953, he was appointed deputy governor of the Bank of Thailand and board member of the National Economic Council.
At the end of the war, the economy, Treasury, and banking in Thailand were in utter disorder, as Dr. Puey described in his memoir:
“There were several exchange rates with foreign currencies; the official rate for rice export and some import goods such as books or goods imported by the government, another rate for tin export and yet another rate for rubber. Apart from that, there was also the market rate, fluctuating in disarray. Besides that black market rates. These matters put our economy in chaos. It was difficult to plan anything for government and private sectors. Owing to uncertainty in exchange rates, importing goods was risky, and businessmen had to add extra margin, for exchange risk, causing goods to be unnecessarily expensive.
Public finance was also in disarray. For many years, the government had fixed the income budget at less than half the expenditure budget. To handle the deficit, it had to borrow money from the Bank of Thailand or from abroad. There were no such things as the bond market or treasury bonds. Annual statements of account from the government were overdue for many years. Summarizes were uncertain, at best guesswork about unforeseeable results. Sometimes an urgent call had to be made to the Bank of Thailand civil servants requesting a loan to be able to pay salaries.
Solutions to improve the system for better economic function, banking and public finance were the result of concerted collaboration among my friends and myself starting in 1952. It took many years. A few, not all, were Khun Boonma Wongsawan, Khun Sommai Huntrakool, Khun Pisuth Nimmanheminda, Khunying Supabh Yossundara, and Khun Krongtong Jutima. Most were the new young generation of bureaucrats at the Bank of Thailand and Ministry of Finance.”
Many respected elders said that the vital mechanism in solving and revamping entangled problems was Dr. Puey. Exchange rates were finally integrated successfully into one single one. This resulted in smooth and efficient progress in international trade and other forms of economic stability.
After just over seven months as deputy governor of the Bank of Thailand, Dr. Puey was in the eye of a political storm. Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat planned to buy the Union Bank of Bangkok Limited from Mr. Sahat Mahakhun. However, this bank was required to pay a penalty of several million baht to the Bank of Thailand due to breach of regulations. The field marshal and other influential persons wanted the Bank of Thailand to wave the penalty but Dr. Puey would not accept a ‘’bend with the wind” policy. In late 1953, he was removed as deputy governor of the Bank of Thailand, the shortest tenure in that office in the bank history.
Police General Pao Sriyananda, national police chief and Minister of the Interior, tried to force the Ministry of Finance and Bank of Thailand to employ acompany in which he had financial interest as printer of Thai banknotes. The Minister of Finance sought the opinion of Dr. Puey, senting him to observe the operations of the Thomas De La Rue Company in the U.S. Upon his arrival, he met with Alan Dulles, the Director of the C.I.A. and brother of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration. Alan Dulles tried to persuade him to comply with the proposal of General Pao. However, Dr. Puey was considered General Pao’s company and in a memorandum to the Minister of Finance, recommended continuing print of Thai banknotes by Thomas de la Rue Company.
To blocking influential political persons affected his job security as well as safety. Dr. Puey contacted Professor Frederic Benham, his professor at LSE, to do research work at Chatham House in London. Instead, the Minister of Finance appointed him economic and treasury counselor at the Royal Thai Embassy in London, a newly created position.
From 1956 to 1958, Thailand joined the International Tin Council (I.T.C.), he was appointed representative of Thailand. He was elected deputy chairman of I.T.C. for 1958-1959. Dr. Puey successfuly negotiated with I.T.C. to increase the Thai quota of tin export from 7.35% to 8.88%.
He was the Economic and Public Finance Counselor at the Royal Thai Embassy until 1959. After Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat became prime minister, Dr. Puey returned to public service in further responsibilities.