Watching and repressing for profit

30 07 2017

The National Human Rights Commission is not known for protecting human rights. For the past few years, despite the efforts of a couple of commissioners who tried to do their job, the NHRC has been a sinecure for junta buddies and has ignored the military dictatorship’s abuses.

That’s why it is surprising to see a newspaper report where the NHRC actually seems interested in human rights abuses.

The report states that the NHRC has warned local opponents of a “new potash mine in Sakon Nakhon’s Wanon Niwat District” that they are “being monitored by the police and military…”.

We guess that the locals already know this, but the fact that the NHRC confirms it is worthy of note for this moribund clique.

The NHRC notes that state officials and business people are teaming up against locals “throughout the region, and urged the government to change their stance on local activism and assure public participation for the sustainable development of the region.”

There’s little chance of that under the junta but it is worth saying it out loud.

The “NHRC and Amnesty International Thailand on Wednesday led a media tour of the potash exploration site in Wanon Niwat District, as they said it was a vivid example of the freedom of expression and communal rights violations in North Eastern Region.” Just in this one district, according to “Sakkaphon Chaisaengrat, a lawyer for local people,… 120,000 rai of land … is currently granted to China Ming Ta Potash Corporation to survey for the possibility of opening a new potash mine in the area.” Locals know almost nothing of the firms operations.

It turns out that this is an official Chinese enterprise: “We are the representative of China’s Mineral Resources Department, so the people can trust our mining standards,” said a company representative. Mining is polluting and dangerous in China and has a poor reputation in dealing with locals, but is expert in teaming up with local officials to get its way.

The report continues:

He said that activism during the administration of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was not easy, as the people in the North Eastern Region were usually seen by authorities as the main supporters of the former government Pheu Thai Party. Activism in the region is often treated by officers with great concern.

He said local authorities are friends of the investors, so they usually protect the interest of the company rather than the people’s rights, which has caused many lawsuits against local activists.

There are at least two defamation and Computer Crime Act violation cases against local people and another case of violation of the Public Assembly Act. Local resident Satanont Chuenta said that the company has already violated people’s rights by intruding into the private land to make a potash survey without the landowner’s consent and protesters were also terrified by the military personnel.

Both officials and the company threaten anyone they think may be activists or threats to their “work.” The lawyer stated: “The military officers often visit our communities and their presence makes the people feel insecure and makes them distrust the authorities.”

NHRC commissioner Angkana Neelapaijit, one of the few serious commissioners, “said that the agency has received many complaints on the issues and the NHRC has already made recommendations to authorities to improve the situation.” No one is interested it seems. She makes the mistake of thinking that it “is the government’s duty to protect the people’s rights and ensure that they can participate in managing local resources.” The military dictatorship has no such role. It sees its job as making loot for its tycoons and allowing its minions to get on the gravy train.

Angkana said that NHRC “statistics showed complaints about rights violations in the justice system were highest in the North Eastern Region, as 26 per cent of all complaints in this region were about unfair treatment by officers, planting false allegations, or injustice in the justice system.”

The military junta is defined by such acts.





Military traffic

23 07 2017

There are several stories going around that congratulate the military regime for finally managing to get some of the bigger human traffickers into court and having them convicted with long sentences.

The regime has attempted to get its “ranking” up in the annual U.S. report on human trafficking.

The Asia Times has some of the detail on the case that finally saw some of the bigger fish in what it calls a “brutal trade” brought to court. In all, of the 103 people charged, 62 people were convicted of human trafficking and other crimes.

The details of this gang of traffickers, led by officials, are grim. Correctly, the report notes that the “[c]amps set up by traffickers in the jungle on the Thai-Malaysian border to hold Rohingya and other ‘boat people’ existed for many years prior to government crackdown in mid-2015 that curtailed the brutal trade…”.

One estimate is “that more than 500 people died in the camps where the people in this particular trafficking chain were held, and that the camps were probably there for at least five years or more.”

The most senior official caught in this ring is “Lieutenant General Manas Kongpaen … who was sentenced to 27 years jail…”. As the report notes, it was Manas, then a Colonel, who “was involved in the notorious ‘pushbacks’ affair in December 2008 and January 2009, when vessels carrying hundreds of Rohingya were towed back into the Andaman Sea and set adrift.”

Remarkably, “Manas admitted using funds from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to help pay for the ‘pushbacks’, which sparked a global furore, as hundreds were believed to have died at sea.”

At the time, during the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, the government vehemently denied a push-back policy and ignored the rise of human trafficking gangs. Manas was promoted two ranks after this time. Manas was widely reported and defended his actions. The BBC noted that Manas was “the regional commander of the Internal Security Operations Command.” That report added that he was also “one of three officers blamed by a Thai court for a massacre of Muslims five years ago.”

The IOM is now “investigating whether Lt-Gen Manas … could have diverted any money from IOM humanitarian projects and used it to fund a criminal operation to tow boats out to sea.” It is also possible he used funds from IOM and, more likely, from the state for funding his own camps.

The report also reminds readers that journalists and Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison who documented human trafficking were challenged by the Royal Thai Navy who brought a defamation case against them.

The pressure to cover-up was huge, with one senior policeman decamping to Australia and never returning.

At the time, the Army and The Dictator declared “none of its officers are directly linked to the illegal activities.” The police admitted they were afraid to go after Manas.

As Morison explained, “Everyone knew about it. And few people thought it was wrong. We were shown big houses in Ranong and Kuraburi, where locals claimed they were constructed from the proceeds of trafficking.”

One big shot in jail does not change the system of exploitation and corruption. Recall the Saudi gems heist saw senior police jailed yet the police have remained a corrupt organization.





Military and police corruption

2 07 2017

Think of all those corruption cases that have been processed by the military dictatorship and those that have simply disappeared into silence and nothingness.

On the one hand there are all those cases against members of the former government. On the other there is empty space.

Unusual wealth is simply not an issue. Rajabhakti Park? Nothing there. General Preecha Chan-ocha’s nepotism? Gone. Rolls Royce and other related corruption cases? Silence. Money for nothing at the NLA? That’s fixed. Weapons trafficking? Empty space. Being paid by tycoons for favors? That’s normal. The use of recruits as slaves? Normal and expected. No bid contracts? They seem the norm. That’s just over the past few months.

We could go on and on. And we haven’t gone beyond the corruption that is money-making. What about Jumpol Manmai? After his conviction, is he being held in an essentially private jail on a piece of the king’s property? What has happened in the investigation of the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae? What happened to the investigation of the death in custody of Private Yuthinan [Yutthakinant] Boonniam? Why aren’t officers being held responsible? Silence.

The whistleblower anti-democrats clearly weren’t interested in corruption when they brought the military to the gate and opened it.

Two recent reports point to the scale of corruption and how the junta assists it and even promotes it.

The Nation has an all-too-brief report on police corruption. It seems the “national police chief has ordered police nationwide not to take bribes from illegal workers and their employers or risk stiff penalties.” This is a biased report, but not against the police. Most migrant workers know that police will have their collective hand in the migrants’ pocket whenever they like.

The story of how the junta changed the law on migrants and is now critical of it and The Dictator is thinking of using Article 44 to postpone the law because of the chaos created by it is weird. Yet think of the money-making opportunities it creates! Everyone associated with migrants can be squeezed by the police, again and again, simply because of the legal chaos the junta has created. Police are as happy as pigs in mud.

Then there’s the story of the Army colonel and all the trucks, buses and cars. Foolishly portrayed as a kind of isolated case, and referred to as “Mr” not “Colonel,” Phopkrit Phanyos, a deputy director of the Army Transport Department, has illegally registered some 1,136 vehicles. And that’s just based on a few documents. Buses, truck and cars are included.

No one else in the Army Transport Department seemed to notice. Right….

None of these vehicles were said to be Army vehicles. In that case, the Army Transport Department is simply a criminal gang, laundering vehicles for the local market and pocketing loot that gets channeled up the hierarchy to the leaders of the military.

In these cases, the reader is taken back to how it is that all those military and police bosses get so wealthy. It is because their system is a corruption conveyor belt, sending the loot to the bosses from the bottom of the system.

The military and the police are not about defense or law and order. They ignore both.





Taxpayer-funded royalism

30 06 2017

The effort to “regularize” the junta’s irregular approval of to push through that tower mega-project (worth about half of a Chinese submarine, depending on the price quoted by the Treasury Department), have quickly deteriorated to claims about monarchy, as we predicted.

Prachatai reports that the earlier claims about income and tourism have quickly been ditched. The Treasury Department “has clarified that the controversial 4.62 billion baht Bangkok Observation Tower project is a public-private partnership project to honour the late King Bhumibol.”

That should stop all criticism.

Even if Finance Minister Col Apisak Tantivorawong has said that the Treasury Department will only get 70 million baht from a 30-year lease from the Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation, “which is much lower than the market rate for land in the area,” that’s okay, because this project will “honour the late King Bhumibol.”

Even if the minister “clarifies” that there’s no open bidding because “[i]f it was open for bidding for private developers, no one might be interested because the value of the project is quite high. Also [we] don’t know whether it will be worth the investment,” that’s okay because “[t]he top [of the tower] is for an exhibition about the scientific work of the [late] King.”

(We will leave aside the claims of “science” associated with the dead king.)

Even if the Treasury Department “clarifies” that “the project is social not commercial,” that’s okay because the “land for a project to honour the late King Bhumibol.”

Then there’s the “Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation” which is now said to comprise 50 private companies and financial institutions who share a similar vision on how the land should be developed…”. No mention now of Charoen Pokphand or the royal-linked and owned Siam Piwat or of the royal-linked Magnolia Quality Development Corporation

But, as we know, they head the “Foundation.” They also develop the neighboring “Icon Siam, a mega-riverside shopping complex…”. An observation tower will obviously “enhance” traffic through their new mall.

Profits will roll in and part of them will be due to the taxpayer’s investment in a the “social project.” And the profits can be huge.

Military-dominated governments have long supported, with public funds, royal “projects” that are money-making. Think of the whole area around Princess Sirindhorn’s palace, the multiple malls there, with hotels and offices. It makes billions of baht a year. Icon Siam and its associated, taxpayer-funded tower will potentially make even more.

The taxpayer’s return on the tower will be about 2.3 million baht a year. What a deal! No wonder the military junta needs to protect this project.





The junta and that tower

29 06 2017

When we posted on the junta’s proposed erection of a giant tower on prime real estate, we could smell rotting fish. No bidding, no transparency, claims of “public good,” and then the declaration that it all had something to do with the deceased king suggested – no, shouted – that there was funny business.

The Nation reports that corruption alarm bells are ringing. And they should be.

Assistant junta spokesman Colonel Atisit Chaiyanuwat was the one who “disclosed that the Cabinet had exempted the project from bidding to speed up the project. ” Recall that yesterday the claim was lack of interest from construction firms.

The this same Atisit said “private investors would fund the tower project.” Really? Atisit also “backtracked from his earlier statement that the 459-metre-high tower would cost Bt7.6 billion, bringing that figure down to Bt4.6 billion.” Wow, a discount because no one wants to build it – they aren’t interested…. In other words, this is a mixture of buffalo manure and rotting fish.

Not deterred by contradiction and spin, Atisit also “said the project only needed Cabinet approval because it would be developed on a plot of land belonging to the Finance Ministry’s Treasury Department.” The idea being that the Treasury Department can do what it likes? And the poor taxpayer just gets stiffed again?

Located in Bangkok’s Klong San district, the plot is located on the Chao Phraya River, and is one of the most expensive parts of the city. Prices for land are well into the millions of baht per square meter.  The public purse, though, will reap a glorious 198 million baht in rent, over 30 years. That’s 6.6 million baht a year. Wow, what a deal! We wonder if the taxpayer is going to also get a few glass beads and other trinkets.

The Bangkok Post adds some important information about the deal that reveals quite a lot more.

For a start, it says income over 30 years for the Treasury will be only 70 million baht. And that’s from the director-general Patchara Anuntasilpa of the department.

Then there’s this tidbit:

Registered in 2014, the Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation was originally chaired by Visit Malaisirirat, CEO of Magnolia Quality Development Corporation Co, the property development arm of Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group. The position was later taken over by former Finance Minister Panas Simasathien.

The foundation’s directors include representatives from Siam Piwat Co, the operator of Siam Center and Siam Discovery.

Meanwhile, Magnolia, Siam Piwat and CP group are the joint developer of Iconsiam, a mixed-use project by the Chao Phraya River scheduled to launch by the end of this year. The project is next to the planned tower. In the promotional material of Iconsiam released in April, it wrote, “prepare for the 7th Wonder of ICONSIAM. An Iconic Landmark that will be a symbol of national pride,” without elaboration.

We all know who CP is. They are on top of Thailand’s non-royal rich list year after year, this year worth more than $21 billion. But what of Siam Piwat? For the answer, we will send readers to a 2013 post on royal wealth. Bingo!

Yes, it is yet another royal money maker. One source calculates that Princess Sirindhorn earns more than $50 million a year from Siam Piwat and the land in the area around her palace.

We guess that the next junta task will be to ban comment on its erection because that would be lese majeste and sedition, preventing slippery deals that make the royals wealthier still. And we still reckon that there must be some generals lurking behind the scenes gathering up the change that falls from the royal pockets.





“Everyone [except the junta] must adhere to the law”

28 06 2017

We apologize to readers for continuing with this theme, but the military dictatorship is continuing to make decisions that are extra-legal while demanding that “others” abide by the law.

“Others” seems to mean all those the junta deems not on their side. If you are with the junta, it seems you are able to do all manner if lawless things. If you are the junta, there is no law that can hold you to account.

If you are with them, you can murder kids and get away with it. These men are simply contemptible.

The latest example of saying one thing and doing something quite different is the junta’s decision to approve a plan – that’s a euphemism – “to build a 4.6-billion-baht observation tower in Bangkok without a call for bids.”

No bids. No transparency. The Treasury Department can “bypass bidding for the project due to concern about a possible delay and lack of interest from construction firms.”

Other reports put the cost as high as 7 billion baht for a 459-metre-high tower for a government plot on the Chao Phraya River in Soi Charoen Nakhon 7 in Khlong San district. That’s an exceptionally valuable piece of land that is being used to gain a stake in a project that no one else seems interested in.

As the report states, any “project more than 1 billion baht with the use of state land plots normally has to be carried out as a public-private partnership with calls for bids to ensure transparency.”

Not when a military dictatorship is at work.

The junta will allow for the selection of a company without any consideration of capacity and experience.

But hold on, it is all okay for the corrupt men of the junta. Because the junta says that the tower will be a “showcase [of] royal projects of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej among others to be on display.”

Phew! If it is about the dead king, no questions can be raised. That solves all issues as complaints could be considered lese majeste. Lock up critics.

Something called the Bangkok Observation Tower Foundation, “a private-sector organisation,” is going to run the show. It has a “a seed fund of 500,000 baht.” Yep, half a million. It will “borrow 2.5 billion baht for the project and donations are projected at 2.1 billion baht.” Get the dead king’s name on it and expect “donations.”

Who is the foundation? No one knows, but we reckon there will be a few generals.

The junta seems very focused on locking in its funds for the future – we mean their funds, in their bank accounts.





Updated: Trains, land and all that money

18 06 2017

PPT likes trains. We like public transport generally. We acknowledge that Thailand’s public infrastructure has been neglected and that many of the public transport developments that have taken place have been for the middle class in Bangkok. When it comes to rail other than the subway and skytrain, the infrastructure is a crumbling mess.

In short, rail links to the region and across Thailand can have considerable benefits. That was illustrated, in part, by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime wanted a rail link to China. It is why the Yingluck Shinawatra government established a high-powered team investigating and seeking to move the project forward.

So what is the military dictatorship up to?

As we know, after years of failing negotiations with the Chinese, The Dictator has used Article 44 “to expedite the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway line between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima and enable work to begin this year.”

Only between Bangkok and Korat and high-speed. That means, so far, no links regionally and suggests a passenger service. It also doesn’t say what “high speed” means. But because the military junta is doing it, precious few details are available.

The junta’s decree “aims to clear technical and legal problems for the delayed 252-kilometre railway.”

It is a remarkable decree in that it “instructs the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to hire a Chinese state enterprise to supervise the construction of the Thai-Chinese railway.”

That Chinese company “will oversee the design of the railway infrastructure as well as rail and electrical systems. It will serve as an adviser for the project’s construction and provide training in system-related knowledge for the project staff.”

In other words, the junta is establishing a kind of Chinese monopoly for Thailand on this huge project. It is not just rail because all such projects are also about land. (Yes, we know other contracts for other lines have been considered with the Japanese.)

The contract “must be ready within 120 days,” suggesting that there’s already a preferred contractor. After that, “Thailand and China would then be able to sign an agreement for the design contract…”.

As Khaosod says, using Article 44 will “remove all legal obstacles preventing China from taking charge of every step in the construction of the high-speed railway project.” It says ten “relevant laws and junta orders involving government procurement…”. It also said that “Chinese engineers and architects are also exempted from professional licensing requirements.”

Interestingly, the use of Article 44 “shielded the project from going out to international bidders and exempted it from a mandatory process to estimate costs.” The order states that an “unspecified amount of funds [is] to be approved by the interim cabinet.”

The order would also “allow construction to take place on protected lands…”.

What isn’t stated is that the line will involve the compulsory acquisition of land from landholders and will gobble up land that was previously allocated with limited title, exactly the kind of land the junta has been so agitated about in other areas such as national parks.

That Dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha is “due to visit China to attend the ninth BRICS Summit in September,” might add something to the use of Article 44, recalling that he wasn’t invited to a recent meeting in China, seen as a snub.

Another Bangkok Post report has the World Bank urging “the Thai government to hold an open bidding for the long-delayed Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project linking Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima to ensure transparency.”

Transparency may be important but it won’t happen in this project, just as it hasn’t in all major projects and purchases by the junta. Most infrastructure projects involve 30-40% “commission” payments. Junta-related interests are salivating.

And the land! So much land! It will be appropriated and then rented or sold to the tycoons for all kinds of projects that will further enrich them.

Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey grumbles that the use of Article 44 by a “caretaker” regime is wrong: “In any given scenario the job of the caretaker government is to look at maintaining the status quo and not undertake major policies that involve committing the country’s resources for years if not decades to come…”.

He keeps forgetting that this is a military dictatorship and that it has no intention of fading away.

He asks: “who is going to be responsible for the transparency of the multi-billion-dollar project.” The idea is that wealth generation for the few is built on monopolies and opaque arrangements. That’s Thailand’s history, and not just under juntas.

And Umesh notes that The Dictator’s order also “silences opposition to any project, overriding the system of checks and balances that would make sure Thailand gets the best deal.”

Thailand is a loose concept. We know from wealth data and from details about the unusually rich who gets the best deal. And they define themselves as “Thailand.”

Umesh continues: “People like myself are all for the project but I wonder how clean the process is going to be, especially as rumours swirl of kickbacks to contractors.”

He isn’t wondering, he knows. Then he raises another point:

Then there is the issue of a possible election late next year. As any economist would tell you, the time between green-lighting a project and seeing the money flow in can be anywhere from nine to 12 months — around the time the election is expected.

Is that a coincidence? Certainly, signs of economic growth right before the polls could be an advantage to some.

We remain unconvinced about an “election,” but we see his point. But what of the land? All that land.

Update: Prachatai has two stories on the train line, one that is about middle-class concerns regarding safety where professionals raise this issue. The other is interesting in that in a review of the week, it raises the issue of the use of Article 44 to create “extraterritoriality,” but only in the title. It is an interesting issue and harks back to the decades it took to roll back the extraterritoriality enshrined in the Bowring Treaty.