Corruption and the military

18 02 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation (18 February 2010) sees a good side to the GT200 scandal, covered extensively by various newspapers and Bangkok Pundit. Pravit thinks the “GT200 hoax is forcing scientists to encourage Thais to become more rational.” He thinks that “superstition trumps logic in this country.”

He asks: “How else can one explain Army chief General Anupong Paochinda and forensics department chief Pornthip Rojanasunand insisting on using the so-called bomb detectors even though a Science Ministry test had proved that they are basically useless?”

Perhaps another way of looking at the issue is to think that corruption trumps all. In the Thai military, getting a snout firmly lodged in the trough is the most important task for all good generals.

The GT200 and related device purchases have cost Thailand of probably close to 1 billion baht, and that’s not counting the cost of deaths, human rights abuses and harassment that have derived from the use of a divining rod.

Wassana Nanuam (The Bangkok Post, 18 February 2010) points out that army commander Anupong Paojindawas the one who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The devices are mainly used in the south where Wassana says the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) now employs about 60,000 personnel in the South. The army has put in about 40,000 soldiers from 55 battalions around the country. The budget for the southern operation is more than 100 billion baht a year. A lot of the money has gone into the procurement of weapons.

She then turns to the army’s recent 350 million baht purchase of an advanced zeppelin which the army has named Sky Dragon.” The airship was purchased from the US company, Arial International Cooperation. Wassana explains that the airship is the brainchild of Gen Anupong and his second-in-command, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. They envision the airship as a sky-based surveillance and command station.” Leaving aside obvious questions about this assumption, the problem is that the airship can’t do what it is meant to, and there has even been trouble getting it into the air. The airship has seepage holes and it initially costs 2.8 million baht to inflate and then 280,000 baht a month to top-up. There has been considerable criticism.

The army decided to put on a show two weeks ago that was meant to deflect criticism. Thai PBS dutifully carried a long and generally positive report on this show. However, even the show flight was a failure and, according to Wassana, it remains in a hanger.

General Anupong had reportedly agreed to purchase three airships for the army. Wassana asks: is it a bigger sham than the GT200?” Maybe she meant “scam”?

At Bangkok Pundit on 6 February 2010, a comment was added by Reg, encouraging Bangkok Pundit to look into the zeppelin case. “Reg” stated: Why this machine and not drones as used almost everywhere else for this kind of recon work? What’s the track record of this model? What’s the price paid elsewhere? Have you seen dirigibles used in other insurgency situations? Seems like there’s a smell there as soon as it is wheeled out. A quick Google seems to suggest that this is a Thailand first (a manned airship for counter-insurgency).

Correspondent “Reg” then turns to the company involved and its website. He says: “Note its last stock trade was 1 cent. Have a look through the site and see if you have doubts about the company founded in mid-2008 and with 12 employees. How on earth did the RTA [Royal Thai Army] even know about them? It seems that one of the principals had previous experience with the RTA. According to their press releases, the RTA is their only client. It also seems that they are agents for the real manufacturers .

Reg concludes: “I remain suspicious, but maybe that’s just because everything the military buys involves commissions etc. But, hey, you might want to congratulate the RTA for a 10 million dollar gamble that might show the world of counter-insurgency the way forward via a penny company.

PPT agrees with Reg; there is a smell and the odor is money and corruption.

On a broader note, these are just examples of what happens when a military is politicized, when it runs a coup, and then has its budget increased by leaps and bounds. This is why there are so many very wealthy generals. This is what happens when a government owes its position to the military. The generals are in charge and they are hauling in the loot as fast as they can.

There are plenty of other examples. Just today the navy is reported to want two used submarines. Maybe they can dock them next to the used and idle aircraft carrier they bought several years ago, with planes that no longer fly.

Forget superstition, the beliefs driving these events are power, arrogance and filthy lucre.


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