Updated: Open-mouthed disbelief I

11 07 2019

Several stories caught PPT’s collective eye over the past couple of days.

The first is about Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman,” who has been clearing his office at the Ministry of Defence to make way for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.  But little else seems to have changed for for Gen Prawit.

A story at Khaosod of another bit of “casual corruption” associated would be funny if it wasn’t so reflective of a regime that has descended into old ways of military-bosses-cum-politicians.

Serial complainer Srisuwan Janya, who operates off social media posts in making his hundreds of petitions, has “filed a complaint to probe the police’s purchase of a 1.14 billion baht jet for ferrying deputy junta chairman [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwan and his entourage…”.

Srisuwan’s complaint plagiarizes social media “outrage at photos of the junta’s second-in-command exiting a private [police] jet with a flight attendant in tow…”.

The little bit of tycoon lifestyle for Gen. Prawit tripping about in a Dassault Falcon 2000S is said to have been purchased “by the police … [for] about 350 million baht more than the global market price.”

The price for a new one is about $30 million. That is a lot of taxpayer loot for a force that usually buys vehicles like the Toyota Camry and, for its pampered bosses, a BMW 5 or a Mercedes 600. Its aviation division has a Fokker 50 turboprop airliner in addition to the Falcon and more than 70 helicopters.

Srisuwan asks – we presume rhetorically – “Why does Thailand like to buy things at a higher price than other people? Or was there some special [deal] that they haven’t revealed to the people?”

Clipped from Khaosod

The jet is said to have cost 1.14 billion baht, which seems about 159 million baht over the list price. Expect the police to say that the extra cash went to fit-out, training and/or spare parts rather than into any boss’s pocket.

So far, the efforts of the police spokesman are laughable, claiming the “plane was a sound investment,” and saying it carried not just Gen Prawit and “the police commissioner and other high-ranking officials.” What a life! They don’t have to deal with the hoi polloi in regular planes or put up with noisy turboprops. The spokesman adds that the new plane can fly when helicopters can’t (but so can the Fokker).

Not only that, but the Falcon can be used for other “important assignments … like government inspections, drug raids, and to follow up crucial investigations.” A $30 million business jet for “investigations”? Right, but probably not investigations of police corruption.

While on the police, we notice that they have, as claimed several times, been hard at work on the cases involving the assault of political activists. Indeed, they have brought charges! Khaosod reports that police have

arrested … eight Facebookers accused of spreading [allegedly] false reports on social media that the police were behind the attack on June 28 that left pro-democracy campaigner Sirawith [Seritiwat] in critical condition. All of the suspects were charged with cybercrimes….

The report adds that police claim that the eight “confessed to claiming on Facebook that deputy police commissioner Chaiwat Ketworachai sent four men under his command to attack Sirawith.”

No one expects the police to arrest the thugs responsible for the cowardly attacks but the Facebookers, slapped with computer crimes charges that can mean up to seven years in prison.

As PPT predicted, “investigations” into the attack on Sirawith is being “hampered” because “some cameras were out of service and failed to capture the assailants’ flight from the scene…”. That’s the usual excuse when a cover-up is underway.

A third story that causes open-mouthed disbelief is also at Khaosod. Just confirmed as Deputy Minister for Agriculture is “dark influence” Thammanat Prompao, a member of the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party.

Deputy Prime Minister under the junta and now under the “new” junta-engineered government, Wissanu Krea-Ngam has said that Thammanat’s “eligibility for a seat in the cabinet is not in question because he is not being prosecuted by the Thai judiciary.” The story continues, with Wissanu claiming:

In the past, there was an MP who had been prosecuted in Hong Kong for drug trafficking, but his status was not affected in Thailand…. Although his reputation among many things might have been impacted, his deeds and ethical standards have to be considered separately.

On Thammanat, it is known that he’s allegedly been involved in all kinds of activities that many consider “shady.” As the report states:

Thammanat was once stripped of his military rank for alleged involvement in a murder case in 1998, but was reinstated after the court acquitted him.

The latest allegations against Thammanat came after an opposition politician claimed he was previously convicted of a crime in a foreign country. No public records of such conviction could be found as of publication time.

Now that a government has been formed – it still has to present its policy to parliament – look to all kinds of internal jostling for a place at the trough.

Update: In another report staggering under a mound of buffalo manure, police claim that they have not – yes, they haven’t – demanded an exchange of police protection for Sirawith being politically silent. Not only that, but the police claim they would never, ever, never ask a political activist not to engage in political activity. Well, it wasn’t the police saying it, but Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol. But we guess that the Army speaks for the police these days. But, really, this is just the usual lies from senior figures. This kind of buffalo manure will only cease to flow when such idiocies and the dolts who make such claims are called out, again and again. The truth is out there, but these fools work with manure rather than truth.





Shaky regime IV

25 06 2019

It is possible that the junta and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha are simply not interested in convening a government or cabinet. Or it might be that the regime, despite all of its efforts is simply unable to do either.

At present, three months after the junta’s “election,” Gen Prayuth seems more or less invisible. What’s he doing or – more to the point – what is he not doing?

Around him, political grenades are going off. Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and the anti-democrat Democrat Party are in dispute. And it is a personalized dispute. And other coalition “partners” are grumbling that promises are being broken.

Meanwhile, junta lackey Wissanu Krea-ngam says the process is moving on, with “background checks had begun for those chosen to be cabinet members.” He grumbled that eligibility is being checked “according to the law and general suitability.”

Does that mean no crooks? That hardly seems likely in a huge coalition of crooks and anti-democrats.

Speaking of crooks, is anyone keeping count of the number of huge contracts being heaved out to junta friends in this supposedly interim period.

 





Shaky regime II

19 06 2019

In an earlier post, PPT commented on claims that the junta’s regime is in trouble. There, we discussed how a weakened regime might use the military.

The Dictator has admitted that:

the new cabinet lineup may be less than perfect, as there is little he can do about the proposed candidates who have been criticised for their public image.

“Public image” has to do with the fact that, like governments of the late 20th century, look like a buffet for crooks. One example is the blatant nepotism of Capt Thammanat Prompao, a Palang Pracharat MP for Phayao and chief of its strategic committee in the North. He’s considered a crook controversial figure, so can’t be a minister. His response is “let a family member take a ministerial post.” So slippery, so easy, so corrupt.

The junta, like juntas before it, seize power and then they and their buddies graze on the taxpayer funds and budgets.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, responsible for the “rules” that now envelop him, says of the political allies, crooks, party hacks, friends and relatives who will make cabinet is what he has to deal with: “We cannot reject anyone.” He babbled something about “democracy,” but he’s talking weak coalition government. And that is exactly what he and his junta “designed” in their efforts to defeat “Thaksinism.”

If things go bad, Gen Prayuth says he can reshuffle cabinet, in the manner of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda in the 1980s. Like Prem, he can also hope that he can rely on the military and repression.

And, as an article at Prachatai points out, following suggestions by rabid anti-democrat Paiboon Nititawan, Gen Prayuth’s yet to be convened government could look at using the Senate if it falls into minority status in the lower House.

If we at PPT were prone to gambling, in the short-term, we’d be betting on military-backed repression and pressure on recalcitrant MPs and ministers. If that fails, look for a “self-coup” to return power to a junta.





Junta hard at work

14 06 2019

Still working to get a government together, the junta remains very active. There’s no such thing as a caretaker government when the “new” government to be is also the junta’s.

The Dictator yesterday “exercised the all-powerful Section 44 to bring more than 20,000 illegal hotels and accommodation services nationwide under better state control and boost safety for guests.” That order is said to be “aimed at making accommodation services which have violated laws related to land use, city planning, building control and hotel businesses legal.” At about the same time, a military task force, led by the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4, and supported by police, “raided a cluster of 23 luxury hilltop villas on Koh Samui found to be illegally operating as a high-end hotel.”

Here’s the rub of dictatorship: The Dictator wields dictatorial powers and the military is running raids for which they are unaccountable. That the two acts contract each other is neither here nor there because Gen Prayuth Chan-och can do whatever he wants and it’s “legal.” We can’t help wondering what he will do after he’s got a government in place. We guess he’ll resort to threats and violence.

On the high-end resort, could we guess that this is a kind of mafia action. After all, the place has been high-profile and operating for eight years. Something’s happened to suggest that the usual pay-offs may be being re-routed.

Meanwhile, the same military boss has used Article 44 to “suspend the process of selecting new members of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC)…”.

The order comes as the “three mobile operators — Advanced Info Service, True Move H Universal Communication and Total Access Communication — are due to submit proposals to buy 700MHz spectrum licences, meant for the 5G network, on June 19.”

We are only guessing, but assume that deals have been done, kickbacks arranged, and so there is a need to maintain the existing “partnerships.”





Helping friends and supporters

19 04 2019

The military junta has managed to stare down efforts to investigate its corruption. It has been able to do this by intimidation and because it has made puppets of all the state and “independent” agencies that are meant to investigate corruption. And, of course, the friends, supporters and companies that benefit are happy to pocket the gains.

So it is quite something to see that a private sector peak body has “slammed the government for giving Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) latitude in handling the controversial duty-free shop bidding, demanding accountability for a process that would damage the country.”

For a decade, duty free has been a monopoly, commanded by the King Power group (search out tag for additional posts), massively enriching the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his family and provided additional sustenance for associated political, military and royal “partners.”

This huge value of duty free stores is why there is now great competition to get hands on the goose and its golden eggs. And, it is why there’s some voice being heard about the shenanigans over the bidding (both open and behind closed doors).

It is why Worawoot Ounjai, president of the Thai Retailers Association, has slammed “the latest ruling on the bidding process for the duty-free shop concession [that] will allow the AoT to arrange the bidding by itself.” Worawoot states: “As this [junta’s] administration comes to an end, we’ve witnessed much news about its decisions that benefit several business groups,…”.

He mentions a range of recent junta decisions and wheeling and dealing, “from high-speed trains and telecom to duty-free shop concessions,” and he pointedly says that “Thais have to ask this government if it will be responsible for future actions that bring damage to the country…”.

When business groups start demanding “accuracy and transparency,” you know that shady deals are being done. Worwoot declares:

We’ve seen poor results from this type of bidding before and called on the government for accuracy and transparency. But the answer comes as expected. We have to get over it because this is the state of our country.

If the election tinkering goes as expected and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party control government, bet on this situation worsening.





With 3 updates: Regime fails

5 02 2019

In the last few days there have been several events and announcements that point to failures by the military junta. They are among many regime failures since 2014.

First, the regime has failed on corruption. Of course, it came to power, like several past military regimes, to end corruption. As in the past, as now, this has not meant corruption by the military and regime itself.

Second, now shackling and dressing him in prison garb, the regime has failed to end the detention of Hakeem al-Araibi. A recognized refugee, for still unexplained reasons, Thailand is pandering to the monarchy in Bahrain in dealing with Hakeem. He would be a political prisoner in Bahrain, and that’s why he is a designated refugee. Thailand’s regime has failed to comply with international law. He’s now detailed for another few months in a Thai jail when he should be living freely in Australia.

Third, on political prisoners, activist and lese majeste detainee Jatupat Boonpattararaksa has had two charges of illegal assembly dropped by a military court. Similar charges against six other activists were also dropped. The court had no option as these charges became unenforceable several weeks ago. However, others continue to languish in prison on lese majeste and political assembly charges. The justice system under the junta has failed.

Update 1: The Hakeem al-Araibi case has become so bizarre for the regime that it is coming up with completely ridiculous stories to justify its inability to behave according to international norms and law.

First, there’s Thailand’s head of immigration Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, known by his real nickname, “Big Joke.” He’s dissembled on how Hakeem’s case is different from that of Rahaf Mohamed. It is, but his explanation is ridiculously daft. He says Hakeem’s case is different “because Hakeem had an arrest warrant out for him… [and] Hakeem was the subject of an extradition request…”. Of course, under international law, neither is legitimate. In other words, Thailand’s junta and its officials are acting for Bahrain, but not saying why they are doing this. Our guess is that they cannot say because the explanation leads to the king’s palace.

Second, the “Australian government … urged Thailand to exercise its legal discretion to free a refugee football player who lives and plays in Australia and told a Bangkok court that he refuses to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain.” Ridiculously and breaching international law, Thai foreign minister, Don Pramudwinai, again stated that “Australia and Bahrain should resolve the issue in discussions between themselves…”. Minister Don seems to ignore the fact that it is Thailand that arrested Hakeem and now holds him. It is Thailand’s responsibility to make a correct and legal decision.

Such a ludicrous statement by a minister would be inexplicable for any normal administration. It is unbelievable that the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has to point out that “Thailand’s office of the Attorney-General has publicly confirmed that Thailand’s Extradition Act allows for executive discretion in such cases. This was also confirmed by the prosecutor in the context of yesterday’s hearing…”.

Dressing and shackling Hakeem is a part of the junta’s effort to portray him as a criminal rather than a refugee. How much deeper can this regime dig itself into a royalist quagmire?

Update 2: And it gets worse for the junta. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said “he was ‘disturbed’ to see Araibi with shackles on his feet when he arrived at the Criminal Court on Monday.” Talking on national television, he added: “I thought that was very upsetting and I know it would have upset many Australians, and I respectfully reminded the Thai prime minister that Australians feel very strongly about this…”.

Update 3: A potential football boycott of Thailand has begun:

Football Federation Australia announced Wednesday it had scrapped the game against China, a scheduled warmup ahead of next month’s qualifiers for the Asian under-23 championships.





Ministers in tepid water

14 01 2019

We are slow in posting on this story, partly because there wasn’t much media attention to it.

However, Thai PBS and the Bangkok Post did mention it in a little more detail than other outlets.

It noted that the Election Commission sent cases involving three serving junta cabinet members and a former minister to the Constitutional Court. Going to the Court could mean very little as it is essentially a puppet agency, so that’s why instead of headlining ministers being in hot water, we think it is tepid water.

Following a complaint in February 2018 by Peua Thai Party’s legal advisor Ruangkrai Leekitwattana who petitioned the EC to look into the shareholdings of the four individuals following their assets declarations.

After 11 months, the EC found fault with the four “for holding shares in companies granted business concessions by state agencies in violation of the Constitution.” The four are former Prime Minister’s Office Minister M.L. Panadda Diskul, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee, Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, and Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn.

The Constitutional Court must now decide “whether they should be disqualified for conflict of interest for their share holdings in violation of sections 184 and 186 of the Constitution.”

Ruangkrai’s petition claimed:

… ML Panadda had 6,000 shares of Airports of Thailand Plc, operator of Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and other airports. Although ML Panadda no longer was a minister, a guilty ruling means he will be banned from holding office for two years.

Mr Suvit had 90,000 shares of Global Power Synergy Plc (GPSC), a holding company of power-generation subsidiaries of PTT Plc, who holds state energy concessions.

Mr Pailin, a former CEO of PTT Plc, also had 5,000 shares in energy giant PTT Plc and more in its subsidiaries — GPSC (50,000 shares), IRPC Plc (240,000), PTT Global Chemical Plc (60,000) and Thai Oil (40,000). He also had shares in three other companies — Gulf Energy Development (300,000 shares), Banpu Power (10,000) and Intouch Holding (26,000).

Dr Teerakiat had 5,000 shares of Siam Cement Plc.

The case continues to confirm that cabinet ministers under the military junta consider they have impunity.

When they declared their assets, Panadda was the wealthiest cabinet member, with assets of 1.3 billion baht or almost US$40 million, Suvit had assets conservatively valued at 73.4 million, and Teerakiat has assets of 44 million baht. Pailin’s assets were reported at 179.1 million baht and his shares in the companies listed above are today worth more than 38 million.

Suvit’s case is somewhat more interesting than the others as he is Palang Pracharat’s deputy leader and simultaneously and unethically also a cabinet minister. If he is banned, the party also faces scrutiny. His response to the referral was to say “he was not worried with the Constitutional Court’s proceedings because they would not affect his work in the government or his political work with the Palang Pracharat party.” Such pomposity comes from knowing he is more or less untouchable. He did add that “his work in the Science and Technology Ministry was almost completed and he would quit the cabinet at the right time to spend full time in politics.”

Pailin’s response was a bit more to the point, claiming “that he had already transferred all his shares to a private fund before he assumed cabinet portfolio and that he had nothing to do with the management of the shares.”

We await the Constitutional Court’s timely decision, but will not hold our collective breath.