The monarchy’s wealth (denied, again)

12 09 2011

A letter to the New York Times proves the strength of the royalist desire to “protect” a monarchy. A month after the original article, prompted by the seizure of a Boeing 737 in Munich, Arjaree Sriratanaban, Minister Counselor at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D.C. has responded in a remarkable statement that is obviously disingenuous.

The original article, by Thomas Fuller, used the seizing of the plane – which the then Abhisit Vejjajiva government claimed “belonged” to Prince Vajiralongkorn, raised questions regarding the remarkably opaque nature of royal finances and financing.

Arjaree claims ” the Thai side considered this impoundment a grave error based upon a misunderstanding that the aircraft is an asset of the Thai government and not privately owned by the crown prince.” In simple terms, the plane is the prince’s personal property. That is somehow transitioned from a state asset to a private asset is not addressed.

The letter then turns to “[t]he notion” that the “king of Thailand is the world’s richest monarch.” It states that this “needs to be reassessed.” Why?

Simply because Forbes magazine’s calculation of the world’s richest royals “included assets belonging to the Crown Property Bureau that are held in trust for the nation and not at the king’s personal disposal.”

The letter claims:

it should also be noted that Thailand’s 1948 Crown Property Bureau Act provides the legal framework for clearly differentiating the Crown Property Bureau’s assets from the personal properties of the reigning monarch. It is the duty of the C.P.B. under this act to administer the assets under its board of directors chaired ex officio by the minister of finance. Most importantly, the C.P.B. has been striving for a balance between the financial and social outcomes of its activities to benefit all of its stakeholders, letting out much of its property with rents below market levels.

This is simply a repetition of palace propaganda. PPT realizes that even having to trot this propaganda out must give the CPB officials heartburn. After all, it is only since the 2006 coup that there has been wider public attention to royal wealth. For another claim that “the king is not rich,” see here.

As we noted in our earlier post:

… the lack of transparency and control of the CPB by the monarch is associated with the current reign. The opaque management and operation of the CPB is becoming a serious issue, and it scares those who manage the CPB so much that they have taken baby steps to trying to appear more transparent. As Fuller says, “Much remains unknown about the bureau’s assets.” In fact, his statement is weak; almost nothing significant is known.

He notes that, in 2008, Forbes magazine “ranked the Thai king as the world’s richest royal, the Thai government strongly protested, saying the magazine had conflated the king’s personal wealth with assets managed by the bureau.” As others have pointed out, this is a nonsensical response. Only the crown controls the CPB and no recent government has ever sought to change this situation.

Fuller adds that income from the CPB “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.

There is sufficient academic and other commentary on the CPB to prove the inaccuracy of the propaganda. In another post, PPT referred to lese majeste defendant Somsak Jeamteerasakul who reacted to the Crown Property Bureau’s first public annual report. The original post was at Prachatai. We said:

This is a long post and worth reading in full. In short, Somsak takes up the CPB’s claim that “Crown property is state property and public property, for which the government through the Minister of Finance as the Chairperson is responsible, and which the CPB takes care of.”

Somsak says this “statement is not true, de jure and de facto.” He later concludes, following a listing of legal interpretations, that “the 2010 CPB Annual Report is an attempt to distort…”, adding: “That crown property and the Crown Property Bureau fall under the exclusive oversight of the King (and are accountable to no one else) is a fact known for a long time in all sectors, business or government, and even in public. It is therefore incredible that the 2010 CPB Annual Report tries to distort the fact by saying that CPB is under the ‘responsibility’ of the government.”

Of course, as Somsak points out, this CPB sleight of hand is to deflect attention away from the vast wealth controlled by the monarch and to obscure the fact that in most modern monarchies, crown property is state property. In Thailand, it is the king’s property. PPT might add that this is a politically-motivated statement, seeking to deflect the criticism that is made of this obscenely rich royal family.

PPT would add that the Arjaree’s comment on what is “Most important…” – its low rents, is right out of the palace’s playbook. The problem is that it doesn’t even match what the CPB itself states in its Annual Report: ”

2) Rent Rationalization – contract renewals for most tenants take place every three years; the CPB takes this opportunity to adjust rents so that they are aligned with others in the same community but always after carefully considering tenants’ capacity to pay.

And here is what academic Porphant Ouyyanont says in his Journal of Contemporary Asia article in 2008:

To manage its landed properties, CPB set up another new entity called CPB Property Company (Wang Sinsup in Thai) in 2000. Again new executives were hired, headed by Yos Euarchukiati, member of a prominent banking and industrial family, and including people with experience in finance and real estate….

The management of the CPB’s property portfolio was also restructured and reorientated to become more commercial and aggressive. The initial aim was simply to increase the cashflow as rapidly as possible. Private tenancies were renegotiated on an individual basis and, shortly after the [1997-98] crisis….

Porphant shows how rents were increased substantially, for almost all kinds of property, following the economic crisis. For a time, income from property was higher than the usual giants of the CPB portfolio, the Siam Cement Group and the Siam Commercial Bank.

Arjaree Sriratanaban has acted several times as MFA mouthpiece. As examples, see the letter to the Bangkok Post in 2010 and a statement in The Nation in 2006. It may seem remarkable that Thai officials are willing to put their names to letters that are obviously full of misleading information and falsehoods, but that seems to be Arjaree’s task.



2 responses

27 08 2012
Monarchies in comparison « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] many of these people assist in what amount to cover ups. Senior bureaucrats regularly come out with dopey letters denying royal […]

27 08 2012
Monarchies in comparison « Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] many of these people assist in what amount to cover ups. Senior bureaucrats regularly come out with dopey letters denying royal […]

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