The rich win again

9 01 2020

PPT’s collective memory chugged into action after we read a headline at the Bangkok Post. Wichit Chantanusornsiri’s op-ed carried the title “Rich get richer, poor get the picture.” We had a vague notion that we’d heard that phrase before, and a bit of searching reminded us that it is a song by the Australian band Midnight Oil. The band has been activist, especially on environmental and indigenous issues.

Naturally enough, we were also reminded of the news about Australia’s bush fires. But it isn’t just Australia that is struggling with climate change and its impacts.

In Bangkok, as a result of severe drought and much reduced water flows in rivers, residents are facing increasingly salty tap water as sea water intrudes further up the low-flow river systems. Meanwhile, “rice fields there are already withering and the government has now banned farmers [north of Bangkok] who are growing off-season crops from using water from the Chao Phraya and Pasak rivers from Jan 20.” And then there’s the pollution: “Bangkok on Wednesday recorded the world’s third worst air quality on Air Visual, a popular app monitoring pollution, while City Hall is on high alert for a predicted rise in PM2.5 levels until the end of this week.”

But Wichit’s not talking about the environment. Rather, he’s interested in the new land and building tax law. The new tax is mainly meant to impact the “super rich people who have owned land in amounts so vast that they would have to spend a good part of their life if they wanted to walk around every plot of their land.” This is essentially the first new tax in Thailand since 1992.

Wichit points out that:

the now-dissolved National Legislative Assembly (NLA), appointed by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order [the military junta], … passed the new property tax law, [and] watered down the rates recommended by the Finance Ministry and instead set more lenient applicable rates for the new tax regime that will mainly affect the rich (many of whom have served in parliament).

He explains:

In effect, this law will make the rich pay less than what they should do if the ministry’s proposed rates were adopted. For example, the NLA increased the appraisal value ceiling set on residential land and buildings, defined as principal homes, eligible for tax exemption to 50 million baht from the proposed ceiling of 20 million baht.

That means 99.96% of principal homeowners will enjoy such tax exemption because there are only about 10,000 people who own homes with an appraised value of more than 50 million baht.

While the op-ed loses focus, the point that the super rich have loopholes and got a better deal than they should have is clear enough. Of course, rewarding the rich in this way is standard practice for Thailand. The rich are indeed getting richer. We can’t imagine the king being asked for his full tax dues…. Meanwhile, the average Thai struggles on relatively low salaries, with little saving, a rudimentary welfare system and a rapidly deteriorating environment of choking air and water like fish sauce.

Midnight Oil’s lyrics do seem highly relevant, covering class, environment, war:


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