Updated: More vaccine contortion

21 06 2021

The vaccine “rollout” is more like a cart with square wheels “rolling.” It is off-again/on-again, rescheduled, and still the availability of vaccine is limited, delayed, and unsure.

Clipped from The Rand Blog

So unsure is the Siam Bioscience delivery of AstraZeneca, the Japanese are donating 1 million doses to Thailand. And still the regime stays mum on the situation of Siam Bioscience. No transparency where the king’s money is concerned. A new spokesman has been appointed, but he ain’t saying anything. In any case, his appointment is meant to make the regime’s obfuscations seem more realistic.

The there was the special allocation of vaccine to the stupendously rich.

The Bangkok Post reports that “Chatchai Promlert, permanent secretary for the Interior Ministry, is insisting that his approval to provide free Covid-19 vaccine doses to over 70,000 Thai Beverage Public Company Limited (ThaiBev) employees and their families is lawful.”

ThaiBev is mostly owned by Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi and his family, who always rank near the top of Thailand’s billionaires. Last time we looked, his fortune was over $10 billion.

As far as we know, most private companies are seeking jabs from private suppliers, but not ThaiBev. The company “requested assistance for the vaccination of 43,201 employees and 28,244 families in Bangkok and 76 provinces.” And this is from the state’s free vaccines.

Permanent-secretary Chatchai “was asked whether such approval was considered appropriate because many people across the country have yet to receive their jabs…. Chatchai, who is also responsible for dealing with emergency situations and coordinating with provincial governors…”, defended the decision as “lawful.”

He argued that he “approved the allocation of free Covid-19 vaccine doses to ThaiBev under the guidelines of the National Communicable Diseases Committee.”

But, then, Chatchai somersaulted. He issued a new order, replacing the previous “lawful” one, rescinding the latter. According to The Nation,

The new order … told the provincial governors to ignore the previous order and adhere to the guidelines provided by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration in procuring and allotting vaccine to the public in each province with focus on comprehensiveness and no discrimination.

The new order also urged the governors to establish awareness and understanding with the private sector and the public regarding the province’s plans to prevent new Covid-19 cluster cases in each area.

It is clear that the regime and its hand-picked bureaucratic bosses are seeking to do favors for good friends (who also have lots of money).

The shemozzle seems to be getting worse.

Update: Was there any “shenanigans” in vaccine allocations? Of course not. So says the regime and Ministry of Interior. They are lying. As is usual in such cases, their denials are so silly that it is obvious that there were shenanigans. Indeed, in a country of double standards, this is exactly what would be expected. It is normal.





King’s reward

2 02 2021

Usually the monarchy and military get most of our attention. But we have long posted about the tripod of oligarchy and power in Thailand, with the third leg being Sino-Thai tycoons. They’ve given billions to the monarchy and lots of ideological support and they’ve done the same for Thailand’s nasty military regimes.

In an announcement a couple of days ago, the king provided rewards for quite a bunch of the plutocrats.

The Bangkok Post reports highlights that “Suthikiati Chirathivat, chairman of the board of Bangkok Post Plc and chairman of the board of Central Plaza Hotel Plc. He is one of seven people awarded the Knight Grand Cordon (First Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand.” The capitalists love these awards because they show acceptance and put them close to the monarchy and all the benefits that provides and has provided them for decades.

It reports that others who were repaid for their “loyalty” included:

Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, the founder of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Plc; Santi Bhirombhakdi, executive chairman of Boonrawd Brewery Co; … Chattip Tanthaprasas, president of Nitipeerachat Law Office; Polapee Tulyasuwan, managing director of Nitipeerachat Law Office, and Aswin Techajareonvikul, chief executive officer of Berli Jucker Plc.

We are not sure what services the Nitipeerachat Law Office provided. Maybe a reader knows?

But this report is somewhat sneaky, leaving out the big names. Prachatai (in Thai) reproduces the Royal Announcement and the names include all the whales of the Sino-Thai tycoons. First listed is CP’s Dhanin Chearavanont, second is Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi of ThaiBev, third is Charoen’s wife, Wanna, and the others on Thailand’s rich list follow: a bunch of Lamsams, more Chearavanonts, more from the Sirivadhanabhakdi clan, more Bhirombhakdis, Pornpraphasand so it goes on.

Whole families seem to have been royally anointed. This appears as a thank you award for Sino-Thais supporting the king.

We wonder if those not listed aren’t being urged to do more?

 

 





Royals, capitalists, and inequality

28 01 2021

An op-ed at both Asia Sentinel and Eurasia Review, titled “Hierarchy, Power And Inequality In Thailand,” and published a few days ago, there’s a useful, short account of the country’s oligarchy. We reproduce the interesting bits:

Although Thailand is one of the region’s wealthiest states and has been cited as a success story of modernization and development, the gap between rich and poor is widening. Thailand is placed in the world’s top inequitable countries, in terms of wealth and income distribution.

According to a recent Credit Suisse study, one percent of the population holds 66.9 percent of the nation’s wealth, with 36 percent of equity held by only 500 people. According to the World Bank, poverty has grown from 7.21 percent in 2015 to 9.85 percent in 2018.

It has probably grown further with the impact of the virus.  The article then moves on to the oligarchs:

While more Thais are struggling to make ends meet, sections of Thailand’s elite class have been increasing their wealth. A survey by Money and Banking Magazine with the Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy at Chulalongkorn University using Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) data, found that Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, the founder of Thai Beverage and chairman of the TCC Group, Vonnarat Tangkaravakoon, chairman of TOA Paints, and Khunying Wanna Sirivadhanabhakdi, chairperson of Sangsom Group and Beerthip Brewery, had actually increased their wealth during the pandemic.

Notice that three are mentioned but it is only two families. The discussion adds:

Thailand is economically dominated and ruled by a small close-knit elite composed of the monarchy, the military, and a small number of families who control Thailand’s major businesses. This small group is interrelated through family ties, intermarriage and long-held relationships.

Don’t for a moment think this is something recent. Back in 2011, PPT posted on “maps” of elements of the ruling class going back to the early 1950s. For us, what has changed is eerily reminiscent of the destruction of symbols of 1932. The ruling class has been re-sculpted to be royalist.

From 1932, the People’s Party and the regimes that followed, at least until World War 2, had altered the nature of the ruling class by limiting the monarchy and the princes.

It was the ninth reign that changed this. One of Bhumibol’s great successes was in rebuilding the monarchy’s enormous wealth. Forget all the propaganda about royal projects and a frugal king. He was a determined acquirer of wealth. He did this in alliance with the military and selected Sino-Thai capitalists. It is that arrangement which produced the oligarchy of today. Some of the names have changed, but there’s continuity too.

Of course, many of the top generals did exceptionally well. A much-neglected and very detailed doctoral dissertation by David Morell, “Power and Parliament in Thailand: The Futile Challenge, 1968-1971” has lots of data, including claims about the wealth and economic connections of the top generals who were also ministers. Here’s a taste:

Thailand has long been a highly unequal society, and the palace, the military and the connected capitalists will fight tooth-and-nail to protect the inequality that allows them to suck the wealth from the country. That also means controlling politics. As the op-ed has it:

Right-wing political groups with monarchist ideologies developed, representing the elite. The elite classes were boosted with ethnic Chinese business families, civil leadership developed at both provincial and local levels, and military personnel. Nationalism and monarchy became more important than democracy, a doctrine which has been espoused to maintain the establishment grip on power beyond question. This espoused cultural-political concept of ‘Thainess’ totally encapsulates the need to maintain status quo of the position of the elite within politics and society.





Tycoon panic

23 03 2020

Thailand’s Sino-Thai tycoons, many of them in retail and basic consumer goods, have probably done better than most as the virus crisis bites.

However, their panic looks class-based as they worry about “disunity,” with the headline, “Tycoons urge unity amid chaos.”

The story has them “urging members of the business community to join hands with the government in cushioning the economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak…”.

Thai Chamber of Commerce chairman Kalin Sarasin says that tycoons “including Charoen Pokphand Group’s Dhanin Chearavanont, Singha Corporation’s Santi Bhirombhakdi, Saha Pathanapibul’s Boonchai Chokwatana, and TCC Group’s Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi…” have agreed on measures to “help soften the blow of the coronavirus outbreak.”

As far as we can tell, they are most interested in PR.

Will they do anything to “strengthen… the competitiveness of SMEs, enhanc[e]… workers’ skills and bridg[e]… income gaps”? We doubt it. They’ve done next to nothing for decades in these areas as their own empires have expanded and they have become monumentally rich.

In any case, the Chamber seems to want government to do the work. As Kalin said, “TCC’s suggestions are always well accepted by the government.”

And, they reiterated the usual blarney: “Kalin said these tycoons also praised the TCC’s efforts in supporting the government’s Pracharath scheme, promoting good governance and adopting the sufficiency economic philosophy.”

In other words, the tycoons are protecting their interests and ideologically barricading themselves.





Is the regime in trouble?

24 02 2020

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times had a few things to say before the Future Forward dissolution that deserve some attention. He was writing of the military and its regime after the Korat massacre.

He says the “killings have cast the military’s persistent overarching role – including over ex-coup-maker [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s elected coalition government – in a new dim light as critics blast the brass for being more engaged in politics and business than overseeing their barracks and ensuring security.” He adds:

If that criticism gains momentum while the economy tanks and the government’s big business backers visibly thrive, a new era of political confrontation pitting the conservative forces now propping Prayut and new genuinely progressive ones coalescing in the political opposition could break into the open sooner than most expect.

While a political crisis might be seen off in the usual repressive ways, an economic decline would test the resolve of the big businesses that prospered under the junta. Thailand’s big banks “are unevenly exposed to a handful of big borrowers, namely the ‘five family’ corporations that contributed generously to Prayut’s Palang Pracharat Party’s (PPRP) election campaign…”. At the time of writing, Crispin argued that:

Those corporate links will come under scrutiny if the opposition Peua Thai and Future Forward parties deliver as avowed at an upcoming no-confidence debate that will target PPRP ministers, including Prayut, while looking past other parties’ ministers who, with a shift in political winds, could jump to join a future anti-PPRP government.

That might be less likely now that the Constitutional Court has done its job, but the threat remains that deals done with the Sino-Thai tycoons could be revealed.

Matching Ties: Prayuth and CP Group chairman Dhanin Chearavanont (2nd R) and ThaiBev founder billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi (L). Photo: AFP Forum/Chanat Katanyu (clipped from Asia Times)

Some of the deals included “a land deal involving an alleged subsidiary of ThaiBev created just a day before it purchased Bangkok land from Prayut’s family for 600 million baht ($19.2 million), a sum [that] … far exceeds the land’s underlying market value.”

The Sirivadhanabhakdi family’s investments include “One Bangkok” an “integrated development being built in league with the Crown Property Bureau…. The 120 billion baht ($3.5 billion) development … is the largest ever undertaken in the kingdom.” The Sino-Thai tycoons, the military and the monarchy have dominated politics and business for decades.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, economist Anusorn Tamajai, the director of the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Rangsit University’s Institute of Economics, commented on the dissolution of Future Forward:

He said that the case “showed that Thailand’s semi-democracy is being interrupted by anti-democracy elite.” He observed that “most democratic countries did not dissolve political parties because they were institutions of citizens that maintained the stability of the country’s democracy.” In Thailand, however, “[t]he anti-democracy elite’s attempt to maintain its authority shows that this country does not have the rule of law…”. He reckoned this “has caused a heavy impact on the economy and will cause more impact in the future, especially on investment.”

He further explained that “[t]he Constitution, laws, regulations, and independent organisations arose from the coup d’etat, so the legal form has been always questioned in terms of justice…”, adding:

If the Constitutional Court is able to rule based on justice and treats all parties equally, the conflict will be resolved. But if it is not, the dissolution of political parties and the revocation of political rights will occur continuously, resulting in conflict in society.

How much trouble is the regime in? Much depends a lot on the reaction of Future Forward’s supporters.





Thailand’s billionaires in 2019

7 03 2019

Forbes has released its 2019 billionaires list. It includes 31 Thai individuals and families.

To make matters a little easier, we have constructed a table where all persons with the same family name have been combined and we have listed just the top 10.

That aggregating mainly impacts the Chearavanont family who have several scions listed this year. Putting all of those individuals together reveals how vast the clan’s wealth is, expanding at a rate that means it rivals the king for economic power.

But, as usual, the king is missing from the list. This year that does seem rather odd as laws have been changed to make King Vajiralongkorn the personal owner of all crown property. Essentially, that is as it has been for a long time, but the current king just got rid of the quasi-legal mechanism to allow the government and the Crown Property Bureau to protest that the king’s property was not really his.

That charade is now gone, so Forbes should list him at number 1. A rough estimate of the king’s wealth would be at least $60 billion (using data from 2005, and estimating changes in stock and land values since then).

The table reveals how the top 3, including the king and his crown property, have moved well ahead of the rest in terms of measurable wealth. We do acknowledge that the fabulously wealthy are adept at hiding their personal wealth, so all those listed are probably a lot wealthier than these figures allow.





King and Privy Council

14 10 2018

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a well-known critic of the monarchy. He has a new article at The Diplomat. Most of it, though, will be familiar to PPT readers. However, it is worth remaking some of his points.

He focuses on the recent reorganization of the Privy Council and notes that the:

king’s decision to evict old members of the Privy Council close to his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the stripping of the power from its president, General Prem Tinsulanonda, as well as the appointment of his close confidants as new Privy Councilors, suggests that, more than just a process, this is part of the growing aggrandizement of political power of Thailand’s new King….

In fact, the king has not really done anything that should not have been expected. Any new king would want to have his most trusted advisers in place.

The dead king made sure he had pliant royalists as advisers “working outside the constitutional framework to compete with other elite groups for administrative and political power.”

They protected and advanced the king’s and monarchy’s positions:

Successive coups have over the years strengthened the partnership between the Privy Council and the military. The Privy Council played its part in endorsing past coups, including the most recent one in May 2014. Prem, in the aftermath of the coup, openly praised the coup makers for being a force that moved Thailand forward. This underlined the quintessential role of the Privy Council as an engine behind the Thai politics.

In the past reign, the link with the military mostly revolved around Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and, to a lesser extent, Gen Surayud Chulanont. The Privy Councilors

… constructed a complex web of relationships as a way to sanctify the royal power above other institutions outside the constitutional framework. In his overt intervention in politics, Prem placed his trusted subordinates in key positions in the bureaucracy and in the army. He had an influence on the defense budget, and dominated national security and foreign policy, and thus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Pavin also notes that the:

Privy Council under Prem also had its members seated on boards in major conglomerates including Bangkok Bank, Charoen Phokphand, the Boonrawd group, and the Charoen Siriwatanapakdi business group. For the Privy Council, reaching out to these powerful factions was as crucial as allowing them to reach in, thus consolidating a network of interdependence. The Privy Council’s strong ties with the bureaucracy, the military and businesses effectively circumscribed the power and authority of the government of the day.

The new king wants similar influence, but he’s been busy pushing the old duffers aside. Prem is infirm, doddery and being made essentially powerless:

On October 2, Vajiralongkorn added three more Privy Councillors to its team: Amphon Kittiamphon, currently advisor to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha; General Chalermchai Sidhisart, former army chief, and; Air Chief Marshal Chom Rungsawang, former Air Force chief. This latest move can be regarded as Vajiralongkorn’s plot in strengthening his political position by setting up a new trusted team to replace the old one—the team that has its links with the current military strongmen.

At present, 10 of the 16 councilors have been appointed by the current king. He can appoint another two. At the same time, he has already ditched three he appointed, presumably because they annoyed him about something or other. So the “trusted team” is being put in place, but there’s still some work to do or dying to be done.

Pavin also mentions the “law was enacted in regard to the ownership of the rich Crown Property Bureau…, [where] crown property assets reverted to the ownership of the king with the bureau’s investments now being held in Vajiralongkorn’s name.”

He might have mentioned that the king is now personally the largest shareholder in both the Siam Cement Group and the Siam Commercial Bank, the latter ownership having been seen in stockholder information fairly recently. (We also think Pavin should update the $30 billion assets of the CPB/king. That was from data collected in 2005 and imperfectly updated in 2011. We would guess that the real figure is closer to $50-60 billion.)

Pavin is undoubtedly right that while “many predicted that Vajiralongkorn, perceived as having lacked moral authority, could become a weak king.” As he now says, “He is quickly proving them wrong.”





Keeping tycoons with the junta

6 08 2018

We have posted a lot on the military junta’s campaigning and not enough on how The Dictator maintains his relations with the Sino-Thai tycoons.

Fortunately, the Bangkok Post has provided some insights on this process.

Before getting to that, however, a reminder of how well the really rich have done under the junta. A while ago we compared 2014 wealth – the year of the coup – and 2016 wealth. The totals for the top 10 show that their combined wealth has increased by almost $16 billion over that period. The top two families have increased by more than $9billion. Not bad pickings.

More loot awaits: “Activists and workers’ unions have demanded land development plans be immediately excluded from the terms of reference of the high-speed railway set to link Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U-Tapao airports, alleging it would monopolise involvement in the megaproject down to ‘a few large firms’.”

Activist Srisuwan Janya said granting land rights to the firm that wins the rights for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) railway project is “unnecessary.”

What’s necessary is throwing out infrastructure projects that produce great wealth for the big conglomerate that wins – we would bet on a CP or a Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi being involved. Based on previous experience, we might also expect that some bureaucrats and political leaders will also benefit.

Those funds lubricate a whole 1980s-like political system, dripping corruption.

In this case, the winning firm gets “both operation and land development rights under a 50-year concession.” That’s after the 200 billion project is completed.

Srisuwan explains: “These firms will just be receiving the land around the railway as an added bonus at cheaper rates, compared to the actual, substantially higher value of such land.”

The reports adds that the State Railways “must hand over the land it owns around the Bangkok-Rayong route to the winning firm, including 150 rai in the Makkasan area.” That’s smack bang in central Bangkok and a prime piece of real estate worth billions of baht.

That’s ample lubrication.





Updated: Party pilfering II

5 05 2018

The claimed non-political/apolitical/not headhunting/not seeking support campaign cabinet/junta visit to Buriram, home of the masters of the Bhum Jai Thai Party is upon us.

Newin Chidchob and Anutin Charnvirakul are beside themselves with anticipation and preparation for the non-political/apolitical/not headhunting/not seeking support campaign cabinet/junta visit.

The Bangkok Post reports that they have arranged for 30,000 people to greet The Dictator and his junta’s cabinet on Monday. Where? Of course, in Newin’s football stadium in the town Newin essentially owns before toddling off to the motor racing circuit Newin owns.

Both stadium and circuit are sponsored by Chang Beer, meaning that the Sino-Thai monster tycoons of the Sirivadhanabhakdi family get free advertising across Thailand during the visit and their name back The Dictator.

The ridiculous claims that the visit is non-political/apolitical/not headhunting/not seeking support campaign cabinet continued, as if every Thai is considered some kind of automaton unable to recognize the theft of an “election” that is underway.

Bhum Jai Thai’s Sanong Thep-aksornnarong led the way in feigned claim that “there was nothing unusual about the mobile cabinet visit on Monday.” He lied added: “I assure you there’s no special instruction from our party leader and Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] wants to check the progress after a state budget of 100 million baht was approved for Thailand to hold the MotoGP here.”

Any question about why those funds were approved? Helping Newin and BJT? No, couldn’t be. Could it?

Sanong babbled on: “We don’t want to hear about MP-luring rumours because it’s not going to be easy here. We have dignity and was set up long before the new [military] party…”. True enough on timing, but its always been a party of the military and the military is rumored to have poured millions into it in 2011 in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the election of the Puea Thai Party.

Update: The lies (the practice of communicating lies is called lying, and a person who communicates a lie may be termed a liar) associated with the the sucking sound enveloping Buriram have become infectious. Gen Prayuth has joined the chorus of obvious deception. He trumpeted these disingenuous claims:

“There is nothing special. I am not going to strike a deal with anyone. I don’t want to meet politicians,” Prayut told reporters.

“But I don’t want to prohibit politicians from welcoming me either. If you want to, do it. Do you think I can bar people from greeting me?” he added.

Presumably he doesn’t think piling money into Newin’s ventures and visiting them to be “greeted” by 30,000 of Newin’s “people” is a problem either. Perhaps The Dictator feels this is what he deserves, and Newin sure knows how to spread on the political honey.

It is as if none of these men – and so far they are all men we’ve been hearing – has an ounce of truthfulness or dignity. In fact, though, they are displaying their utter contempt and disdain for the ability of the Thai people to discern fact and fiction.





Rolling back 1932 one piece of property at a time III

12 04 2018

PPT has been posting on the king’s and Crown Property Bureau’s efforts to (re)secure the so-called Royal Plaza, rolling back changes that were made when the monarchy was put in its (proper) place as a constitutional monarchy rather than a grasping, absolutist and despotic regime.

While the CPB “declined to confirm reports Wednesday that it was evicting two state universities built on land it owns in Bangkok,” Khaosod reports that the CPB was “formulating a response to reports the palace would terminate leases with Suan Sunandha and Suan Dusit universities when they expire in five years.” Apparently, the big shots were flummoxed that “the news got out.”

The report continues:

A former residence for King Rama VI’s family members, Suan Sunandha was turned into a university by the civilian government following the 1932 revolt that overthrew absolute monarchy. The same revolution also gave birth to Suan Dusit University in 1934.

The land abuts other plots the CPB has been reclaiming for the monarchy.

We should add that we think the final claim in the report is in error. It sates that with “more than 16,000 acres under its oversight, the Crown Property Bureau is the largest landowner of Thailand.” In fact, while its lands may well be the most valuable landholding, we believe the largest landowner title belongs to the Sirivadhanabhakdi family of beer and whiskey fame.