Toys for boys

22 02 2017

PPT has been trying to find a “space” for this post for a few days. Now we have it.

An op-ed at the Bangkok Post comments on Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, who doubles as the Minister for Defense, and his confirmation that “the Royal Thai Navy will spend 13.5 billion baht for one Chinese-made submarine, delivery guaranteed in 2017.” Another 27 billion baht will be paid “for two additional subs have been approved in principle.”

The op-ed states that this is “a disappointing rejection of both public and expert opinion that opposes the long drawn-out plan to equip the navy with submarines on every conceivable ground imaginable.”

That’s about as strong a rejection as possible! It gets stronger, saying the junta’s justification for the sub purchase “should be grounds for immediate cancellation of the order.”

The reason given by the navy “has boiled down to a single reason: neighbouring countries have submarines. This justification is entirely unremarkable.” The author continues: “That other countries have submarines can have no real bearing on Thailand…. But there is no arms race in the region, no palpable threat of war — nothing to justify taking 40 billion baht from the public coffers to begin a brand new military branch.”

The op-ed then mentions other military purchases that have been farces: an aircraft carrier that carries no aircraft that can fly and the army’s dirigible, the ill-fated Sky Dragon that has never been operational and the GT200 magic wand that was said to be a “bomb detector” but was a fake.

No one has ever been held responsible for these (and myriad other) ridiculous purchases. Who got those commissions?

The author concludes:

It is becoming more difficult by the day to shake the thought that the coup of May 2014 was more about the coup-makers than the nation. The junta, the prime minister and every ministry has refused to engage the public on every decision — political, social and economic. The purchase of these costly boats for the navy are often derided as “toys for boys”. The lack of credible justification for the purchase of yet more non-strategic hardware makes that tough to refute.

That seems a reasonable conclusion about an unreasonable regime.





Money for nothing II

17 02 2017

In a post a little while ago, PPT had the story of puppet legislators missing in inaction at the National Legislative Assembly. We mentioned Prachatai’s report of an iLaw study of the apparently unconstitutionality of some members of the military junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly. We used the word “apparently” because the details of “leaves” taken are considered “secret.”

At the end of that post we speculated that because “leaves” from the puppet NLA are “secret,” and because The Dictator’s brother is one of those involved, and because the junta’s work is at stake, we expected an announcement that the non-attendees were “on leave.”

Clean hands?

Clean hands?

Sure enough, we already have that statement. The Nation reports that Deputy Dictator and Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan has declared that “it is not a problem that General Preecha Chan-o-cha, the former Defence permanent secretary and brother of the prime minister, takes frequent leave from legislative meetings…”. Oddly, he also stated that “a committee is being set up to examine the case.”

And just in case you wondered, General Prawit declared that “Preecha took leave under normal regulations of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)…”.

Of course he did. And, if he didn’t, you can probably bet he has applied now and been approved.

As we understand it, even on leave – for almost all the six months he missed almost all meetings – he still draws his NLA salary that is in excess of 100,000 baht a month.

Money for nothing.

Prawit explained the “situation.” He speculated “that as Preecha also served as the defence permanent secretary he might need to take leave sometimes.”

In any case, the NLA is just a rubber stamp for the junta so missing meetings is hardly an issue for The Dictator and his dictatorship. Demonstrating its puppet status, “Prawit said he had already talked to NLA president Pornpetch Vichitcholchai. Prawit said they found no problems…”.

Still, to launder the record, General Prawit “told Pornpetch to go ahead with setting up a committee to examine the case.”

That will result in a finding that there’s no issue. Junta-led “investigations” of themselves always reach this conclusion.

Naturally enough, General Prawit was loyally supported by “Army Commander General Chalermchai Sittisart also defended the absence of NLA members from legislative meetings, including the PM’s brother.” Chalermchai did admit that the NLA “is far different from a normal House, as it draws members from various professions, many of whom are civil servants, meaning they also have their own work to take care of.” He means its a puppet, rubber stamping hoax legislature.

General Preecha’s record displays considerable evidence of corruption and nepotism. His protection by his brother and the regime is simply one more case of gross double standards.





Money for nothing I

16 02 2017

Many readers will have already seen Prachatai’s report on the iLaw study of the apparently unconstitutionality of some members of the military junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly. We say “apparently” because the details of “leaves” taken are considered “secret.”

The point made by iLaw – Prachatai’s report doesn’t seem to get it quite right – is that the stipulated requirements of the Assembly are that in order to receive the substantial salaries they receive, the puppets are mandated to attend one-third of voting sessions in the Assembly. The requirement to attend a stipulated number of voting sessions is mandated by the military’s interim constitution at Article 9(5).

Clipped from iLaw

Clipped from iLaw

The big noise in all of this is that, yet again, The Dictator’s brother, General Preecha Chan-ocha, features. Preecha appears to play by his own “rules,” engaging in all kinds of nepotism, while pocketing the loot of his relationships and his military position, with impunity. Preecha is included in the graphic above, with 4 + 1 attendances.

We can also extrapolate a little on these findings. By not attending for the stipulated proportion of voting meetings, prima facie, membership of the Assembly is ended. Thus, by continuing to receive a salary for doing nothing or very little, such members are potentially engaging in an act of corruption. It can also be suggested that any Assembly actions they take are also unconstitutional. In essence, decisions the Assembly has taken, that these members have been involved in – when they managed to attend – may also be deemed unconstitutional.

We can surmise that, because “leaves” are secret, because The Dictator’s brother is involved, and because the junta’s work is at stake, that an announcement will be made that the non-attendees were “on leave.”





Busy “adviser”

8 02 2017

Perhaps if the Office of the Ombudsman paid Metropolitan Police chief Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn 50,000 baht a month, he might have been able to supply it with the documentation on his monthly payment from Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi’s ThaiBev.

Instead, the “busy” General “has asked the Ombudsman for another month to explain his paid advisory role with giant alcoholic drinks producer Thai Beverage Plc.”

How complicated can explaining a 50,000 baht payment for being an “adviser” be? The report states that “Thai Beverage had submitted a written explanation, but details could not be disclosed until the city police chief submitted his clarification.”

More complicated might be explaining the curious math in his assets declaration. He might like to explain how a policeman with a yearly salary of 1.4 million baht (and that’s now, not earlier in his career) can accumulate cash deposits worth about 44 million baht (with his spouse). Throw in other assets held like land and houses, and the policeman and his wife are worth more than 93 million baht.





Planes, trains and beer

5 02 2017

What do planes, trains and beer have in common? The answer is they are all great money spinners.

On planes, despite the junta having ordered that only one agency deal with the poor, confused British Serious Fraud Office, multiple agencies are still trying to appear that they are doing something about money-spinning corruption.

The Bangkok Post reports that “Rolls-Royce has refused to supply information about its bribery admission involving Thai Airways International (THAI) with the national flag carrier’s probe panel.”thai-rr

Refused! Wow! Thai Airways really want to find out! Who did get “kickbacks totalling 1.28 billion baht, which were allegedly paid to help the British firm secure deals with the carrier”?

So they went to RR, not the SFO. The carrier’s president “revealed” that “a request for information linked to the graft, Rolls-Royce refused to share it with THAI’s probe panel, saying the information it gave to the SFO was confidential…”.

Just to confuse the SFO, the president said his company “had also asked the SFO for relevant information on Jan 24 and the British anti-graft authority replied it would respond to the request within 20 days…”.

He added that “the national carrier stood ready to supply all related information to state agencies tasked with probing the case.” He finally came around and said: “As for the inquiry into who received the bribes, the NACC will play a key role in investigating the matter. So results of the NACC’s probe, which is gathering information from all sides, must first be concluded…”.

Finally, he “conceded it is unlikely that THAI would be able to receive information from other parties apart from what has already been publicised.”

So what was the point of the story? And why go to RR? We assume its to confuse things. After all, commissions are lucrative and running interference may maintain that source of wealth.

Another Bangkok Post story tells readers about trains and some other forms of transport. It says that the junta’s “raft of big-ticket infrastructure projects has grown to 2.2 trillion baht in value…”. That seems to us math-challenged dopes to be $68 billion. Agents, contractors, top bureaucrats, not to say Chinese state transport and engineering firms, must be counting the money in their dreams. And this is only the big ticket items.trains

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong says these projects are meant to power the economy. All other sectors, apart from tourism, seem to have tanked. The problem with this “infrastructure Keynsianism” is that the wealth created is mostly captured by the royalist elite and Sino-Thai tycoons.

So how does beer fit the pattern?

Yet another Bangkok Post account asks, in an editorial, why people are fined for producing “craft beers.” It cites Prime Minister, Dictator, General and expert on everything, Prayuth Chan-ocha and why it it so problematic to make “craft beers and microbrews to go on sale legally.” He babbled about “[c]onsumer safety, fair trade and an ability by producers to maintain standards and take responsibility if things go wrong…”.

Odd, we thought, aren’t there microbreweries all over the place? Even in the provinces, and for decades past.

Why the sudden worrying about these? The story gives a hint:

The news report [on the fining of a craft brewer] sparked outrage online as many people questioned whether it was time the government recognised the increasing demand from consumers for diverse kinds of beer instead of relying on a few well-established brands.

They also believe that opening up the monopolised beer market will nurture innovation, create equal opportunities for aspiring brewers and foster fairer competition which will benefit consumers in the end.

… One notable question that has come up during the craft beer debacle is whether it is necessary for the government to only give licences to beer producers on an industrial scale.

Under the finance minister’s order in 2000, only two types of licences are available for beer production. The first is for large-scale industries with a capacity of no less than one million litres a year. The second is for brew pubs, which have to produce at least 100,000 litres a year for sale onsite with no bottling.

beersWho is being protected? Of course, its royalists and the astoundingly rich who operated with huge profits. Boonrawd Breweries and ThaiBev.

The former goes back to the period before 1932 and the company and the scions of the Bhirombhakdi family have long supported royalist and, more recently, anti-democrat causes.

The latter has managed to establish one of the largest alcohol and land empires in the country. It, too has allegedly funded anti-democrats and is a big donor to the palace.

It has recently been in the news, getting a contract approved by the junta without competition to run a huge convention facility for another 25 years as nominal rent. And, of course, it’s been in the news over why it pays a top cop as an adviser? Perhaps the answer is in The Dictator’s comments?





Odd views

2 02 2017

A while ago we posted on how palace propaganda was seeking to change some of the old narratives to cope with a new monarch.

That post was about how an old network of tame authors and journalists prepared to continue their work of mythologizing the monarchy was being prodded and paid into action.

Some of it is also called to saccharin-ize a corrupt military regime. After all, the monarchy and military seem in step at present.

Some of it gets bizarre. At something called Global Rick Insights has an article by Laura Southgate who is identified as a Lecturer in International Security at Cranfield University, located at the UK’s Defence Academy. The sub-header in her “report” states: “Former head [sic] of Privy Council Prem Tinsulanonda is returning to political power in Thailand, which bodes well for the country’s political and economic success.”

On the face of it, the article is dated, despite the actual date on it, in thinking Prem is no longer head of the Privy Council. At the same time, arguing that an increasingly frail general “returning to political power” – when did he leave it? – is good for politics and economy seems to be somewhat silly.

The gist of the story, with some dubious data, seems to be that the military dictatorship is following Prem’s 1980s. We have pointed to that in the past, but we don’t see Prem as having much of a political role for much longer. The idea that he is good for the economy is banal:

Moving forward, it is vital that Thailand’s officials instill confidence in those looking to invest in the Thai economy.

Prem Tinsulanonda’s role as a key power broker can help Thailand achieve this goal. With his strong economic background and influence within the military and the monarchy, Prem is regarded as a stabilising force in Thailand’s politics. The continuation of his guiding role will help to reduce investor uncertainty at a time of domestic upheaval. This is good news for investors, and good news for Thailand’s economy.

Under the new king, it seems Prem’s only in his position for the sake of face and fealty. Given recent downturns and poor rankings, it seems canny investors are looking elsewhere.





Still more corruption cases

31 01 2017

After the recent reports – all from foreign jurisdictions – of corruption, it seems someone had the bright idea of searching the websites for more cases of corrupt practices in Thailand. Hey presto! There’s another one.

A report in The Nation refers to the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) declaring that its unusually wealthy cohort of generals, admirals, marshals and junta flunkies “will investigate fresh bribery allegations concerning the CCTV camera installation project at Parliament House over 10 years ago.”

NLA Vice President and junta posterior polisher Surachai Liangboonlertchai states that these “new” allegations “were exposed by the United States Justice Department…”.

Surachai declared that “he had instructed the committee that oversaw the [NLA] compound to ask relevant staff to explain what happened regarding the project…”. Yet another body doing yet another corruption investigation.

Surachai says the investigation is “needed to help ensure accountability and transparency.” We suppose that is a breakthrough, for the NLA hasn’t been accountable or transparent under the junta.

Despite the bribe givers having admited their crime in the USA, the NLA is only going to “look into the expenditures during that period to see if there were any irregularities.” Only if they find irregularities will “an official fact-finding committee … be set up to pursue the case.” Ho hum.

The Nation report does not list the U.S. company involved. In fact, as far as PPT can tell, it is a company named Tyco International Ltd  and the SEC charged it with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on 24 September 2012. Yes, that’s more than four years ago.

Tyco admitted that is agents and affiliates paid bribes in several countries. Of Thailand, the SEC says:

In Thailand, Tyco’s subsidiary had a contract to install a CCTV system in the Thai Parliament House in 2006, and paid more than $50,000 to a Thai entity that acted as a consultant. The invoice for the payment refers to “renovation work,” but Tyco is unable to ascertain what, if any, work was actually done.

Perhaps while there at it, the NLA and any other body wanting to “investigate” corruption could look at the SEC site a bit more. There we learn that on 6 August 2010, the SEC “charged two global tobacco companies with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for paying more than $5 million in bribes to government officials in Thailand and other countries to illicitly obtain tobacco sales contracts.” THe pay-offs in Thailand were to the state’s Thailand Tobacco Monopoly.

Back in early 2011, lawyer David Lyman wrote about corruption in Thailand and listed this as one of the “recent” cases. The list bears repeating (see below) as Lyman refers to “Grand Corruption” as the “massive upfront contributions and kickbacks from suppliers and contractors in state-funded infrastructure and procurement projects, which monies find their way to senior civil and military officials and political figures and their advisors.”

As a good yellow-hued member of the privileged elite, he mentions the alleged corruption at the international airport, which was all put down to Thaksin Shinawatra. He then lists “recent examples” of Grand Corruption:

  1. The hand-held bomb detectors which even the British government said were useless, as did a Thai testing facility, which the Army and Police swore were effective and cost between US$28,000 and US$37,500 each (totaling US$1.5 million) but which proved to be worthless, “less effective than flipping a coin”.
  2. The Army’s new US$9.7 million helium-filled blimp which has not yet met specs—another boondoggle.
  3. The ten-year lease of 4,000 new buses for the city of Bangkok to replace its aging fleet, at a cost of US$2.05 billion (about US$508,000 per bus).
  4. A high-speed rail line from Kunming in southern China through Laos and down the length of Thailand into northern Malaysia. The scheme, priced at US$11 billion and change, is reputed to be the new all-you-can-eat-buffet for the politicos and other influential persons and groups with their wallets out.
  5. In a recent example from August 2010, U.S.-based tobacco sellers paying off officials of the Thai Tobacco Monopoly to the tune of US$1.9 million to buy tobacco from their sources.
  6. The September 2010 revelations that US$1.6 million in disaster relief funds, intended to aid flood victims, have been diverted to officials in many provinces across the country.

As far as we can recall, 1 and 2 have been unmentionable under the junta. Nothing happened. Buses (3) remain a front page issue, with references to corruption. No. 4 has been revived big-time under the junta and the junta is dealing with relief operations in the south (like 6). No. 5 is the case dealt with by the SEC in 2010.

What can we say? It is business as usual.