2 10 2013

We noted an article a couple of days ago at the Bangkok Post on the long-proposed evictions and re-development of the Pom Mahakan neighborhood, at the centre of the so-called Rattanakosin Island. This article was by Michael Herzfeld who is said to be “the Ernest E Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, where he also serves as coordinator for Thai Studies in the university’s Asia Centre.”

His article is a well-made plea to abandon the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) plan, in place for more than two decades, requiring the eviction of residents. Eviction notices are again being issued by the BMA. Herzfeld asks: After so long, why now?

Good question. But what of the context?

PPT found two snippets of interest. The first is from a downloadable PDF and refers to the role of the Crown Property Bureau:

Pom 2

The second also refers to the CPB and is from a book at Google Books:

Pom 1

We wonder if the CPB has divested itself of this land and disowned the plan, which it desperately wanted in order to raise rents following the Asian financial crisis?

We wonder why the professor only mentions the BMA? We also found this article on official Thai government support for Harvard University where Herzfeld is heading a drive for big money. This quote from the professor is code for the monarchy’s relationship with Harvard University: “Given the fact that there is a long symbolic association between Harvard and Thailand, it is quite shocking that Harvard and across the university doesn’t have Thai studies.”

Does fund raising lead to quietness on some issues or is the CPB now irrelevant to this eviction? As we all know, doing anything vaguely academic related to the monarchy requires either some courage (if critical) or being very quiet.

Rich richer

15 09 2013

There are several measures of wealth around. There are also measures of poverty, but these are less likely to generate media stories unless associated with political strife.

There have been several media accounts of a report by Wealth-X, which each year delineates the really, really rich around the world. PPT uses a Wall Street Journal story that appeared at Wealth-X’s website. It begins: “In Southeast Asia, the rich are getting richer.”moneybags

The WSJ says:

Every country in the region tracked by the [Wealth-X] report – Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam – saw their population of ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNW), defined as those with assets of US$30 million and up, grow over the past year.

These UHNWs have done pretty nicely in the past year, for Thailand:

boasted the biggest growth of this specific group of wealthy, with its ultra-high net worth population up 15.2% to 720 individuals this year, compared to 625 in 2012. The wealth pool of these millionaires in Thailand has also grown, and they now control US$110 billion in assets, up from US$95 billion a year ago.

That’s about $150 million each for the 720.

Of course, US$150 million is a drop in the bucket when compared with, say, the announced royal wealth for Thailand, which is far in excess of $30 billion. And that doesn’t even include the taxpayer slug of US$436 million for making sure the royals are safe, secure and posterior polished. With the rich getting richer, we would expect the Crown Property Bureau’s assets and personal royal wealth to have at least kept pace in recent years.

Thailand, which has actually seen tiny improvements in its Gini Index and increases is incomes for the poorest in recent years. Even so, the National Statistical Office’s 2011 household survey revealed that the national average monthly income was 22,236 baht (US$741). The national average per capita income for the poorest 10% of the population was just 1,896 baht (US$63) per month.

A note from history: royals, omens, business

27 07 2013

This post is something of an oddity in that it is a recent article referring to events from several decades ago. It popped up at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin a week or so ago, and is a comment on events during a visit to the United States by the Thai royal family in 1960. This was a visit where the king addressed a joint session of the United States Congress and met the other king, Elvis Presley.

It begins by remembering:

Exactly 53 years earlier [19 June], the king and queen of Thailand flew into Ontario [California] … [and] the Thai royal family settled in for a weeklong stay [nine days]…. Using a home in La Verne [a small, affluent community in Los Angeles County] as their base, the royal couple and their four children saw the sights in Southern California. Much of their expansive retinue [numbering more than 35], meanwhile, lodged in Upland [a town in San Bernardino County, California].

And adds: “The main question: Why did the king and queen of Thailand stay in La Verne? Did they hear it was nice there this time of year?”

It seems the royal family visited at the invitation of Henry Kearns, who “owned a 60-acre property in the La Verne foothills.” Henry Kearns (1911-85) was an American international finance and business consultant. A Republican, he was Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs from 1957 to 1961 and President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States from 1969 to 1973. He also headed Kearns International, an investment and consulting firm. PPT will return to Kearns in a moment.

The report makes this point:

This wasn’t unprecedented: Unusual as it may seem, the [then] King of Siam, which later became Thailand, may have visited La Verne in 1926, and the prince, princess and son definitely visited in 1931. Both instances involved a local man named Ralph Lewis, who had connections in both Hollywood and the Orient.

The king and queen “were greeted by Mayor Dan Mikesell, State Department officials and Thai citizens, who bowed low to their ruler.” They were joined by their four young children.

On the queen, it is observed that she “was a fashion plate who never wore the same dress twice; she arrived with 200 outfits, valued at $40,000 and tended to by three ladies-in-waiting.”

During their stay,

the family would visit Paramount and Desilu studios, Disneyland, Santa Barbara and Vandenburg Air Force Base. They toured the Mobil oil refinery in Torrance and the Douglas Aircraft plant in Santa Monica.

At Paramount Studios, they met Elvis Presley, as seen in the picture, which is still sometimes seen in tacky royal calendars.the_king_Elvis_with_king_thailand At Disneyland, the family was shown around by Walt Disney, and all was good until “the family’s public relations man, 42, collapsed of a heart attack and died.”

When the king and queen finished their holiday, the royal “children stayed behind at the Kearns ranch during their parents’ tour of the United States until the entourage departed for Switzerland and a 13-country royal tour.

But why Kearns? The answer seems to be that Kearns and the king were business partners, linked in the murky dealings of Siam Kraft, a paper manufacturing firm in Thailand and still a part of the Crown Property Bureau-controlled Siam Cement Group.

The insider trading that took place in the early 1970s landed Kearns in court, together with Donald Bostwick, formerly the executive vice president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States when Kearns was president and when both had been associated with Siam Kraft, which had received funds from the bank. Both sold their Siam Kraft shares to Mitsui, making a very large gain. Another Nixon cabinet member, Maurice Stans also got into some trouble over Siam Kraft.

Anand pontificates

23 06 2013

In a post several days ago, PPT commented on a 2Bangkok.com editorial. In that editorial it was noted that, “In Thai culture in general, it is expected that the elite and educated pass judgment on others….”. At the time, PPT explained that this is wrong, arguing that it is the elite that decide they have this position; the cultural bit is that years of military terror means that it is grudgingly accepted by the populace.

AnandThe same editorial briefly noted that the lining up of support for a coup, judicial or military, involved “expressions of disapproval and concern from military figures, those in the state bureaucracy, and elder statesmen (like Anand Panyarachun who this week spoke out against the government).”

It has taken us a while to get to it, but we thing the speech by the patrician Anand is the one reported in the Bangkok Post a few days ago. We won’t go through it all, and he does say some useful things about inequality, but let’s look at some bits of it, as the patrician pontificates. Anand begins on corporate governance:

Effectively addressing the issue of corporate governance in Thailand requires us to look at the broader picture of governance in the public as well as private sectors. The first occasion I spoke on this issue goes back as far back as 1998. At that time, the country was in the throes of the Asian Financial Crisis. I had attributed the 1997 crisis specifically then to the failure of institution-building.

The problem of institution-building in Thailand is that the royalist elite – of which Anand is a central figure – has spent eight decades destroying nascent democratic institutions while building the institutional monstrosities of military and monarchy, that tower over state and society, snuffing out political opponents and other institutions that are not aligned with these two pillars. The elite has been aided in this by a sniveling, slithering business class and the controlling and suffocating Ministry of Interior.

When Anand criticizes the corporate governance of “large listed companies which are family-owned,” we wonder if he is thinking of the myriad companies owned by the royal family and run by the Crown Property Bureau? The largest corporate conglomerate in Thailand, while some firms in it have been hailed for their corporate governance, none of these get proper public scrutiny and repeatedly get sweetheart deals from officials because of the royal connection. The CPB is one of the most opaque management outfits in the country.

Anand then skips to a critique of “public governance which, in recent years, has been deteriorating.” As expected from someone bound up in the extreme personalism associated with the monarchy and who is an author of the “all-politicians-are-corrupt-bastards” line, he makes claims of:

increasing political interference, cronyism, favouritism and other forms of unacceptable behaviour that occur when the line between public service and private interests gets blurred.

He continues:

Of most concern is our unstable and polarised politics. Our politics has not served the country and our people well. The pursuit of power and personal interest over the public interest continues to dominate Thai political life.

Anand is essentially making the same point that he has made before, going back to when he was twice an unelected premier: politicians screw things up when the great and powerful are not permitted to get things right for the people (whether they like it or not). The patrician complains that “the current situation gives me cause for concern and discomfort.” Predicting an economic crisis, Anand complains that “the people” see their capacity “to determine their own future is reduced.”

We don’t recall him expressing that he was discomforted by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s murder of it citizenry calling for a new election. He seemed unbothered by the military’s political intervention in 2006, seeing it as the coup we had to have.

He complains of “entrenched patronage networks and cronyism, through which the country’s resources are now unfairly allocated.” In this, Anand is blaming elected politicians for a system created by the tripartite alliance of palace, military and big business. He warns that “Thailand is again at a crossroads” and of “devastating consequences for our future as a nation.”

He is essentially arguing for the standard royalist discourse on democratic politics that is ultimately undemocratic. In academic Thongchai Winichakul’s words,

the prominence of the monarchy was built up by engaging in the development of the parliamentary system. It was so, however, by being the moral authority ‘‘above’’ – on top of, higher than, superior to – the normal political institutions that are considered extremely corrupt. The royalists and the civic movement and intelligentsia, the ‘‘people sector’’ as they called themselves, shared a distrust of politicians. Their implicit alliance generated stronger distrust. They put forward the discourse of ‘‘clean politics’’ that proved to be detrimental even to a powerful politician like Thaksin.

Anand is again making this point. While he making a point about corruption it is in support of a royalist system that does not want to see electoral politics take root. That politics may be flawed, but Anand and his ilk fear that allowing electoral politics to take root and develop is threatening to their political and economic control of the country.

Supporting royalism 2013

9 06 2013

Some two years ago, PPT posted a comment based on a New York Times report by Thomas Fuller. In a long post on royal wealth, we noted this:

Fuller adds that income from the CPB [Crown Property Bureau] “is separate from the approximately $350 million in taxpayer money allocated for the royal household, royal-led development projects and other expenses related to the royal family.”

PPT added:

In fact, PPT thinks $350 million of taxpayer money is an under-estimate. For example, in the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s last budget the first three lines of the Ministry of Finance’s allocation was for royal things and amounted to about $100 million. Line after line in the budget allocates funds to the royals. This is public information, but as far as PPT knows, going through the Budget Bureau’s allocations has not been a task yet completed.

Now doing the rounds of the social media is this estimate for 2013, and drawn from the Budget Bureau. Our version is sent to us by a reader who says it is a Facebook translation provided via Andrew MacGregor Marshall. PPT edited some of this but didn’t change the data:

… according to the Fiscal Year 2013 budget Act:

- Expenses related to Royal Development Projects – 2,300,000,000 Baht (US $76.67 Million)

- Expenses related to traveling and welcoming foreign Heads of States – 700,000,000 Baht (US $ 23.34 million)

- Layout of plans for cherishing, safeguarding and protecting the monarchy institution to these government organizations:

1. Office of the Permanent Secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister – 635,066,000 Baht (US $ 21.2 Million)

2.  Office of the Secretariat of the Prime Minister – 2,104,446,500 Baht – (US $ 70.15 Million)

3.  Minister of Defense (22,760,700 Baht – (US $ 0.76 Million)

4.  Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department – 580,426,700 Baht (US $ 19.35 Million)

5.  Royal Thai Armed Force Headquarters = 260,000,000 Baht (US $8.67 Million)

6.  Royal Thai Army – 320,000,000 Baht (US $ 10.67 Million)

7.  Royal Thai Navy – 12,246,100 Baht (US $ 0.41 Million)

8.  Royal Thai Air Forces – 23,500,000 Baht (US $ 0.78 Million)

Grand Total: 6,958,446,000 Baht (approximately US $232 Million) per year

The version sent to us adds this, which confirms our earlier comment above on needing to drill down on the budget:

In an addition, several individuals provided the comments that most governmental branches are required to use their own annual budget to allocate for “cherishing, safeguarding and protecting the monarchy institution” on the top of the Official Annual Budget for Fiscal Year 2013.

The Thai of the translation  above is:

… ตาม พ.ร.บ.งบประมาณรายจ่ายประจำปีงบประมาณ พ.ศ.2556 ต่อไนี้หน่อยครับ (เพื่อนลิงค์มาให้ตามโพสต์ด้านล่าง)

 – ค่าใช้จ่ายตามโครงการอันเนื่องมาจากพระราชดำริ 2,300,000,000 บาท

- ค่าใช้จ่ายเกี่ยวกับการเสด็จพระราชดำเนินและต้อนรับประมุขต่างประเทศ 700,000,000 บาท

- แผนงานเทิดทูน พิทักษ์ และรักษาสถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์ จัดให้หน่วยงานหลักดังนี้

(1) สนง.ปลัด สำนักนายกรัฐมนตรี 635,066,000 บาท

(2) สำนักเลขาธิการนายกรัฐมนตรี 2,104,446,500 บาท

(3) กระทรงกลาโหม 22,760,700 บาท

(4) กรมราชองครักษ์ 580,426,700 บาท

(5) กองบัญชาการกองทัพไทย 260,000,000 บาท

(6) กองทัพบก 320,000.000 บาท

(7) กองทัพเรือ 12,246,100 บาท

(8) กองทัพอากาศ 23,500,000 บาท

If readers go back to the 2012 budget (clicking downloads a very large PDF in English), the centrality of the expenditures on and for the monarchy indicates how debased ideas about “national security” have become. In fact, these allocations are evidence of the extent of the warping of public public policy required by monarchism:

The FY 2012 budget allocation consists of 8 strategies and a list of expenditures on general administration under 49 programmes. Important aspects of the strategy can be summarized as follows:

Strategy 1 : Building of foundation for a balanced development towards the society….

Strategy 2 : National Security

The government has allocated the budget for protecting national security, upholding and preserving the monarchy and maintaining domestic order by strengthening and developing readiness and potential for the national defence system….

The amount of 190,300.9 million baht, equivalent to 8 per cent of the total budget, is allocated for this strategy and can be classified by the following programmes.

2.1 Programme on upholding, protecting and preserving the monarchy

The amount of 11,208.8 million baht will be allocated to uphold, protect and preserve the monarchy from any offenses by providing a security system and organizing events on upholding the monarchy at appropriate occasions. In addition, His Majesty’s suggestions will be implemented along with the promotion and promulgation of the Royal Projects to make people aware of his kindness and maintain their loyalty to the monarchy and the fact that the Thai society is the society of unity and sufficiency living.

2.2 Programme on national defence

The amount of 164,615.4 million baht will be allocated to strengthen and develop the national defence system to be prepared with potentials to protect independence, sovereignty, security and national interests from internal and external threats….

2.3  Programme on maintaining domestic order

The amount of 14,476.7 million baht will be allocated to preserve national interests and maintain domestic order….

All for Fu Fu

16 03 2013

The German newspaper Bild has reported on yet another European shopping expedition by Thailand’s Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, apparently getting stuff for kids and dogs.

The report begins:

He flies his own Boeing 737 around the world. His father has a fortune of 30 billion euros. He sends his jet from Bangkok to London to his favorite (takeaway) spring rolls…. And now the 60 year-old prince is in Hamburg with a large entourage for a shopping spree!

As usual, the prince is reported to have flown “his” Boeing 737-400 and as soon as it landed, two large Mercedes Benz sedans and eight vans were waiting on the tarmac to collect the prince and his entourage. The prince was whisked off to a suite at the Atlantic Hotel. The story reports that normally goes for 4500 EUR a night, although PPT found that it was only 3,800 Euros tonight. But we guess that the prince gets it for free as it is part of the Kempinski Hotels group, owned by the Crown Property Bureau.

Then the shopping began: “The caravan of ten cars stopped at the first tier Accessories Shop “Pet Shop Boyz” at the Schmilinskystraße (St. George).” Apparently several thousand Euros when on dogie delights and toys. Fu Fu will be ecstatic. The prince then drooped more loot at a toy store near by. The report says the shopping will continue in Munich.

For earlier stories on the prince’s plane, see here.

For earlier shopping stories, see here, here, and here.

More on CentralWorld fire

1 03 2013

A week or so ago PPT posted on continuing court case on the CentralWorld arson in May 2010.  The South Bangkok Criminal Court is scheduled to deliver its ruling in the case against the only two remaining defendants after two juveniles were earlier acquitted. In another case related to the event, The Nation has a very short account.

The Civil Court has ruled that Deves Insurance, a company owned by the Crown Property Bureau, “must pay the compensation plus interest of 7.5 per cent per annum from March 31, 2011 to Central Group, following the 15-month lawsuit.” In addition it had to pay the Central Group’s legal costs. Apparently Deves claimed the burning of the department store was “an act of terrorism” and thus exempt from an “all-risk insurance policy.” The court ruled that the arson was not a result of terrorism.

The report states that the total claim against Deves was “Bt2.7 billion for property damage and another Bt990 million for loss of income as CentralWorld was closed from May 19 to September 28, 2010…”.

CPB continues evictions

17 12 2012

In a follow-up to our earlier post on Bloomberg’s exposé of the Crown Property Bureau’s plans to become a developer and the evictions this necessitated, the Bangkok Post reports that:

500 traders at Chalermlarp Market in Pratunam area on Monday morning walked in protest past Government House to lodge an appeal with the Crown Property Bureau, which has recalled the market’s land.

It is reported that the Crown Property Bureau had “called for bids for its use by a department store without notifying the traders in advance, thus depriving more than 1,000 vendors of land to live on and to make their living from.”

The traders “gathered at Pantip Plaza … marched to the Office of the Crown Property Bureau, and submitted a letter calling for it to review the decision to call for bids and to help the traders.”

As usual, the CPB had made “compensation” offers of “50,000 baht and a trading space did not help the traders at all because the space was in a remote area not suitable for business.”

CPB, land and evictions

12 12 2012

There’s an important and long story at Bloomberg on the Crown Property Bureau that deserves considerable attention. PPT won’t summarize it; rather, we highlight some points.

The story is essentially about how the CPB is trying to boost the returns it gets from its vast land holdings in Bangkok. In doing that, it is shifting many of its long-term tenants, including the use of evictions, which is usually a sensitive issue for the CPB – probably the country’s largest landlord – and one they try to suppress as much as possible, to limit the damage to its reputation. That has been relatively easy to do when the reporting was mainly by Thailand’s tame, self-censoring and timid mainstream media.CrownProperty

The story’s headline must evoke collective angst at the CPB: Monarchy Fund Evicts Elderly to Boost Profit in Bangkok Renewal. The CPB self-portrayal as an altruistic outfit that keeps rents low and supports communities is smashed as it plans to build condominiums to “boost returns and regenerate Bangkok with its first commercial development project.”

The CPB’s attacks on the elderly and poor are part and parcel of its decision to “shift to build commercial properties, instead of just leasing land to private developers…”. According to the report, the CPB “earned income of at least 11.1 billion baht last year. Of that, rental income provided 2.7 billion baht…”.1000baht

This move to boost income from property is justified by apologists who keep to the CPB’s mantra of a paternalistic landlord. Others, like Chan Bulakul, CEO of The Brooker Group, say, apparently without flinching: “This is not a profit-maximization organization, but they have to survive…”. With assets of around US$41 billion, “survival” hardly seems the right term, unless succession exposes the CPB to looting or worse.

Members of the royalist elite like the Democrat Party’s former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, is totally dismissive of the poor tenants:

All resources within the country should be put to the best social and economic use…. For property which is obviously in commercial areas, or is already being used commercially, for the crown to expect commercial returns from other people using those properties is perfectly reasonable.

Of course, critics of the CPB are hampered by the lese majeste law and the fact that it is never required to be transparent. Academic Kevin Hewison says: “Because it is opaque, we know little about how its profits support the monarchy and the royal family.” If the CPB is opaque, the Privy Purse Bureau is an impenetrable secret space.  An insider states: “The extent of the Privy Purse’s landholdings and revenue are unknown … because they aren’t disclosed…”.

The king’s personal holdings are said to:

include shares valued at $63 million in companies including Minor International Pcl (MINT), Thailand’s biggest hotel operator, which runs local franchises for Burger King Worldwide Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Privately held land includes the sites of Siam Paragon and Siam Center malls in central Bangkok.

The report also notes that the royal family rakes in taxpayer funds, with the government having:

allocated 7.4 billion baht in tax money to fund travel, security, development projects and agencies related to the palace in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, a 10 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the budget.

Pile of moneyRoyalists dismiss calls for transparency. In doing so, they make some bizarre claims: “You cannot go into the bedroom of the king…. This is unlike in the U.K. — you can take the picture of the naked someone in the palace. That’s not our culture.”

In fact, naked pictures have been taken in a palace and circulated, more than once. Another culturalist apology crashes and burns….

Apparently related to this very fact of naked picture related issues, the challenge for the CPB, apart from simply filling bigger bags of cash,  is that “operations would change under a different monarch.” This seems to amount to “unforeseen events.”

After the king, who are Thailand’s richest?

30 08 2012

As usual, Forbes list of Thailand’s richest leaves off the king and royal family. However, they usually include them in the richest royals list out later in the year.

This year’s richest list generally sees the richest getting richer. As Forbes observes:

For a country seen by some outsiders to be beset by political turmoil and rural insurgency, never mind last fall’s calamitous flooding, Thailand has done remarkably well by its richest. Their collective wealth is up by better than 20% for a second straight year….

Many of Thailand’s wealthiest are looking to take on international rivals, on the strength of an expected 6% growth in the Thai economy this year.

The list of Thailand’s richest is here. The wealthiest is Dhanin Chearavanont who “boasts an estimated net worth of $9 billion.” He’s followed by the Chirathivat family with $6.9 billion, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi worth $6.2 billion, the Yoovidhya family with $5.4 billion, Krit Ratanarak with $3.1 billion, the Bhirombhakdi family with $2.4 billion and the Maleenont family worth $1.8 billion. Quite a few royalists and Democrat Party supporters amongst this lot.

If the wealth of the top ten in the Forbes list is combined, then the total comes out roughly the same as the assets of the Crown Property Bureau.



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