Updated: Giving and receiving

20 04 2020

While giving is often considered a way of making merit in Thailand, there’s also a strong effort to use gifts to gain favors or to cement alliances. Giving away a daughter to a powerful royal or aristocrat was one such strategy.

This makes the storm over Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s dealings with the richest – the Sino-Thai tycoons – interesting. As the first linked story observes: “Donation culture in Thailand has never been about altruism or humanitarianism.”

Pointedly, that linked article asks:

Do you think politicians and the rich elite call newspapers or post on Instagram every time they donate because of notions of the greater good? No, it is to satisfy a PR need or to show the world what a great person they are.

How else would you explain personal or party branding on hand sanitizer bottles?

In case you are wondering who is doing the branding look to one princess. Princess Sirivannavari is a shameless self-promoter. Her brand is given all kinds of preferences.

That story continues with this observation:

So if Prayut is really going to approach the 20 richest families in Thailand, the question he will have to ask himself before doing so is whether or not he is giving them anything in return.

It doesn’t have to be anything as overt as tax breaks or special zoning rights, it can merely be an opportunity for the super-rich to super-flaunt their super-niceness for those super-likes.

Thailand has one of the largest rich-poor gaps in the world with the top 1 per cent owning more than the bottom 90 per cent combined.

If Prayut goes bearing no gifts then he will unlikely get anything in return. That is not how donation culture in this country works.

Gen Prayuth has recently been “receiving” these donations from the filthy rich. He is reported to have “witnessed the delivery ceremony of cash donations from the private sector.”

And what did he see? The “Mall Group has donated 20 million baht, and the Thai Bankers’ Association has donated 50 million baht…”. Let’s get some perspective on this. The Mall Group is not publicly listed and so reported profits are more or less secret. However, Supaluck Umpujh and her family are said to be worth $1.6 billion. In this context, 20 million baht is loose change. The 50 million from the TBA is similarly a drop from their huge bucket. The TBA represents a bunch of Sino-Thai banking families and their money-making machines. Just one, the Bangkok Bank made a net profit of over $1 billion in 2019. Add in the other banks and the contribution is trifling. But it gets publicity, gratitude and is menat to make them look somehow generous. They aren’t.

It is reported that the “donated funds are to be distributed to King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Ramathibodi Hospital, Rajavithi Hospital, Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute, Siriraj Hospital, and the Thai Red Cross Society.” That’s less than 12 million for each hospital and institute.

Still, the groveling general “thanked the private sector for its contribution and the help given to hospitals and medical staff, enabling the government to work more effectively in the present health crisis.” Pennies from heaven perhaps?

Did someone mention the king? Despite his almost continual absence from the country, Thailand’s Kibosh “makes” what are called “donations.” All media tell us that the king and his major wife “have graciously distributed relief supplies to members of the public who are affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation, in Bangkok.” The poor people receiving these small gifts are expected to be grateful and to show their gratitude and loyalty for ever and ever. This is part of the palace’s propaganda to make Thais subservient to the monarchy. They have been doing it for decades.

Update: Gen Prayuth has sent letters to the rich list. He says he wants them to propose “projects” to assist Thais in need. He reckons these richest should also be bright. If the proposal by Forbes lister Prasert Prasattong-Osoth is anything to go by, Prayuth’s got it wrong. Prasert proposes a project that’s been going on since he was a kid. Then there’s the CP mask factory, built in just five weeks and already operating, donating masks. Great you would think, only to learn that it is fully automated and operated by just three persons. No work created there. And, as we have heard on the grapevine, it is likely to get BOI support and not pay tax for several years. Maybe instead of “projects,” Prayuth could consider ways of getting the filthy rich to pay tax and to stop hiding wealth offshore.


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22 04 2020
Patronage and ideas sclerosis | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] When they “give,” they do so for reasons that grow their wealth and power. […]

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