Fumbling on Forbes

22 02 2012

About a month ago, Forbes published an update on the Crown Property Bureau. PPT commented on that article here. The Thai government, in the form of Arjaree Sriratanaban, Minister-Counselor at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D.C., has replied. That reply is reproduced below, with PPT’s comments included:

Dear Editor,

With reference to Mr. Simon Montlake’s 20 January 2012 article “In Thailand, A Rare Peek At His Majesty’s Balance Sheet,” I wish to stress the following points:

First, the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) was established under the Royal Assets Structuring Act of 1936, 1941 and 1948, which separate the royal assets into three categories, namely “His Majesty’s personal assets”, “crown property” and “public property.”  The Act also provides the legal framework for clearly differentiating the three categories of the royal assets.  It, for instance, states that the crown property and public property are eligible for tax exemption whereas His Majesty’s personal assets are not.

While the above it, as far as we are aware, is accurate, as far as it goes. The implication is that the king has no personal control over the CPB. Of course, this implied separation is simply a misrepresentation of the real situation. As has been shown previously, the king has great personal control. The best account of this is here.

Secondly, according to the Act, a Crown Property Board was set up, to be chaired by ex officio by the Finance Minister.  The Board is responsible for the overall supervision of the activities of the CPB, whose status has been elevated to a juristic person since 1948.  The CPB is responsible for protecting and managing the royal assets and property as well as supporting other activities for the benefits of Thai subjects and society based on sufficiency principle and in a sustainable manner.

Again, the implication is to suggest that there is no royal control over the CPB. That is dismissed in the last link above. Importantly, the notion that the CPB works for the “benefits of Thai subjects and society based in sufficiency principle” is a new invention.  As we recently noted, the sufficiency economy notion was largely an invention in 1997.

Thirdly, with regard to the estimation of the Thai monarch’s net wealth at more than $30 billion, there is still a lack of clear methodology or explanation on how Forbes has come to this conclusion.  Forbes seems to once again include assets belonging to the CPB, which are held in trust for the nation, into its calculation of the King’s personal wealth.  Meanwhile, a report “The World’s richest 200” of the Sunday Times on 29 May 2011 seems to recognize this inaccuracy. In that report, the first three wealthiest royals/heads of states are from other countries.

This claim is based on the implied denials in the first two points, which are disingenuous, and on a nonsensical failure to note the source for the new Forbes calculation of $37 billion. The Forbes article was based entirely on the (limited) new information or revised calculations released in the semi-official King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life’s Work: Thailand’s Monarchy in Perspective. The data there came from the CPB itself.

Lastly, in contrast to an ultra-rich image that Forbes has tried to portray of the Thai monarch, anyone who knows Thailand and has driven by Chitralada Palace in Bangkok can clearly see the agricultural research station His Majesty has built upon the palace grounds.  The laboratory serves as an incubator for ideas of over 4,000 Royal Development Projects in communities throughout the country.  His Majesty’s palace is probably the only monarch’s residence in the world to be adorned with demonstration rice fields, fish ponds, a cattle barn, a rice mill and several small factories.

This claim has been made previously. Mentioning Chitralada palace where only a small proportion of land is given over to such activities, most of them dating to the 1960s is a red herring. As far as PPT knows, when he was premier, General Prem Tinsulanonda, now president of the privy council, took almost all of the royal projects onto the state budget. In addition, there are now many royal palaces, used by various members of the royal family.

I hope you will publish this letter in order to provide your readers with a more comprehensive and fact-based perspective on Thailand and its monarchy.

Well, it was, but for anyone knowing anything about the monarchy, the fumbling and fudging is all too clear. If there were a real separation between personal royal wealth and the CPB, perhaps then there might really be some transparent information on both. We don’t think the monarchy would be willing to tell the world just how fabulously wealthy it really is.


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