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?

 

 





Further updated: Thanathorn and lese majeste

21 01 2021

When a security guard at the luxury IconSiam shopping mall – partly royal owned – slapped a university student who was holding a lone protest in front of the center, it seemed kind of “normal” for royalist Thailand. What the student was protesting was anything but normal.

A member of the activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, the student was holding a sign inscribed “Vaccine Monopoly is PR for the Royals.”

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak highlighted the message saying: “This person came out to campaign on behalf of the interest of the people…”. As has been known for some time, the Crown Property Bureau will make the “vast majority of vaccines to be used in the [virus] inoculation campaign…”. The CPB’s wholly-owned firm, Siam Bioscience, has been handed the contract.

Now, after comments about Siambioscience, the regime has gone royalist  bonkers spilled their lese majeste marbles:

The Digital Economy and Society Ministry (DES) will file a criminal complaint of defaming the monarchy against … Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the ministry said on Wednesday.

The complaint against Mr Thanathorn under Article 112 of the criminal code will be filed on Wednesday afternoon, according to an official ministry memo sent to reporters.

Then, Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit “slammed the government for its tardiness in providing Covid-19 vaccines and pointed out that the company tasked with manufacturing the vaccine locally is owned by the King.”

Thanathorn

Thanathorn concluded that “the government has been careless in negotiations for the vaccine…”. He pointed out that Siambioscience “is tasked with producing 200 million doses per year. Of this, 176 million will be sold to other countries in the region, while the remainder will be sold locally.” He added that the regime “has announced it will give Siam Bioscience Bt1.44 billion for the project.”

He claimed Siambioscience was only “established in 2009 with an authorised capital of Bt48 billion, but over the past 11 years, the corporation has made losses worth Bt581 billion…”.

And, he “pointed out that Siam Bioscience was only added to the plan in the second quarter of 2020 – when anti-establishment protesters began holding their rallies.” This, he said, may make the “AstraZeneca-Siam Bioscience deal is politically motivated.”

This led the Public Health Ministry to “clarify.” Permanent secretary for Public Health Kiattiphum Wongrajit defended the deal with Siambioscience and rejected “accusations that the government had delayed the procurement of Covid-19 vaccine, as it was expensive, and had failed to cover the public.”

One official explained:

Our deal with AstraZeneca company isn’t just a regular vaccine deal, but also involves technology transfer during the crisis period. The company that receives knowledge of the technology needs to be qualified and ready for it. Only Siam Bioscience is capable of receiving the tech from Oxford University. Even Thai Pharmaceutical Organization does not have  enough potential because of the  use of modern technology….

He added that:

Anutin unmasked. Clipped from Der Farang.

the Public Health Ministry, the NVI and SCG, as well as the government had  collaborated in the negotiations and showed the potential of Siam Bioscience, which originally produced only biological material or drugs to increase blood cells in patients with renal failure. The vaccine production plant will get Bt500-million support from the government and Bt100 million from SCG to buy the required equipment.

In other words, Siambioscience wasn’t ready to receive the technology. A deal was done. He confirmed this saying: “This success is built on a potential base.”

Then it went royalist propaganda and decidedly weird:

There is a misunderstanding about our support. I insist that it is our work in accordance with the philosophy of King Rama IX, under which Thailand has laid the health foundation and built medical expertise over 10 years.

An initial reaction from the regime came from the erratic Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul who criticized Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn, “accusing him of not being grateful to the ‘Mother Land’ for his alleged attempt to politicize the government’s procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Anutin went full royalist, suggesting that Thanathorn was onto something:

Anutin … said that Thanathorn appears to know everything, but doesn’t know how to be grateful to the late King Bhumibol, who set the foundation for medical and health development in Thailand for the betterment of his subjects.

He suggested that royal PR and royal business were inseparable, damning Thanathorn, asking/accusing:

… whether he knows that the 20 mobile laboratory units, being deployed across the country to carry out pro-active COVID-19 screening, were sent by the Bureau of the Royal Household.

He further said that the PPE being used by medical personnel also came from the Palace, adding that funding, amounting to several billion baht, was donated by the late King for the development of hospitals and medical services in the countryside for the benefit of rural people…. He also said that, this afternoon, he will take delivery of 770,000 PPE suits, donated by the Palace for use by medical personnel.

All of this royalist madness suggests there’s much to hide.

Mad as hell Anutin was followed by his boss, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, who “warned Tuesday that legal action will be taken against people, in mainstream and social media, who distort facts about the deal to procure COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca by the government…”.

The predictable result was an allegation of lese majeste that will inevitably lead to charges:

The complaint accused Thanathorn of making 11 separate counts of critical remarks about the monarchy during his Monday night’s Facebook Live titled “Royal Vaccine: Who Benefits and Who Doesn’t?,” in which he questioned the role of Siam Bioscience, a Thai firm wholly owned by King Vajiralongkorn, in the production of coronavirus vaccines in Thailand.

“His comments can cause misunderstandings in society,” vice minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Thotsaphon Pengsom said. “It can create intolerable damage to the country and the works of the government.”

He added, “Therefore, we must take legal action immediately and we will go after each and everyone who shared it.”

… The vice minister said the complaint filed today also accused Thanathorn of violating the Computer Crime Act for spreading false information, which carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison.

Because Siambioscience is so opaque it is impossible to know if any of the claims made about its capacity or lack of it are true. As far as we can tell, Siambioscience makes two products under license. But, the regime’s hostile reaction suggests that there’s plenty going on in this deal done in secret and announced in sparse press releases, none of which appear at the company’s website. We could not find an announcement of the Siambioscience deal at the AstraZenca global site.

But let’s just add a bit to this mix.

In December 2020, it was announced:

Bangkok-based Siam Bioscience signed a letter of intent with AstraZeneca late last month to make 200 million doses of the British pharmaceutical firm’s COVID-19 vaccine, AZD1222, said Nakorn Premsri, director of Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute.

Thailand’s Public Health Ministry and the local conglomerate SCG [another firm with a major palace shareholding], with its packaging and chemicals divisions, also joined the deal.

Nakorn said most of the doses would head abroad.

Thailand will secure only 26 million doses. We may ask for more, but it will not be a big part, so maybe more than half of that [200 million] can be exported,” he told VOA.

Thailand did order more, but still only sufficient for half the population, and that was only after criticism mounted. The Chinese vaccine is linked to CP, but only a minuscule amount has so far been ordered.

There’s much in this story that needs explanation. The relish with which the regime went after Thanathorn needs no explanation.

Update 1: It is somehow “fitting” that the quisling Suporn Atthawong, now vice minister to the military PM’s Office, was the one filing the lese majeste complaint at the Technology Crime Suppression Division. Who can forget that Suporn’s own lese majeste charge evaporated when he flipped to the dictators.

Update 2: Unbowed, Thanathorn responded: “Prayut has always used the royal institution to hide the inefficiency of his administration, saying that he is loyal to the monarchy and protecting it…. Is this not why many people are raising issues with the monarchy institution?”





Protecting CP

7 01 2021

PPT has posted several times on the relationship between Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime and the biggest, richest Sino-Thai tycoons (here, here, here, here, and here).

Khaosod reports on yet another “bonus” provided to the already hugely rich. It states that Bangkok’s health officials “omitted references to a convenience store chain owned by one of Thailand’s largest corporations when publishing coronavirus patients’ travel history ‘due to legal concerns’.”

In a remarkable turn of events, Siriporn Thongphu, an officer at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s infectious control division, said: “We have representatives from the legal department to review the travel history of patients before announcing them…”.

The result is that the travel history of a virus infected person was wiped of a trip to one of CP’s thousands of 7-Eleven convenience stores.

CP All, the operator of 7-Elevens rehearsed its PR:

The company said there is no report of anyone contracting the virus from its 7-Eleven stores to date. Bangkok has about 4,500 branches of 7-Eleven, according to available information.

“Customers only spent a few minutes in our stores, so there’s very low risk of infection,” the statement said. “However, we have instructed our staff to disinfect all the surfaces every three hours to ensure safety of our customers.”

Khaosod states:

The practice of scrubbing any mention of 7-Eleven stores seems to be exclusively adopted by Bangkok authorities, since travel timelines of coronavirus patients published by provincial agencies outside the capital explicitly mention names of each establishment visited by the individuals, including 7-Eleven.

But here’s the rub: CP has made a fortune during the virus crisis, not least because its thousands of convenience stores were permitted to stay open when almost everything else was closed. CP gets special treatment from the junta/post-junta.





Prayuth’s poverty regime

17 11 2020

A story in the Bangkok Post reports that Jinanggoon Rojananan, deputy-secretary general of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), “11.4 million households are at risk of falling into poverty from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, with the unemployment rate rising…”.

Today, there “are 637,000 households dependent on public and private financial assistance” with 467,000 of them reporting lower incomes today. These “households work in sectors that are more prone to job losses such as tourism or self-employment.” Jinanggoon claims that poverty fell between 2018 and 2019.

That poverty is claimed to have decreased between 2018 and 2019 may not be a huge surprise as the junta poured money into “buying” votes through all kinds of programs it once lambasted as “populist” or as “policy corruption.” But Jinanggoon seems to be warning of a dire downturn in 2020.

But the story of the Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha regime over several years needs to be told. Back in March, the World Bank reported:

Between 2015 and 2018, the poverty rate in Thailand increased from 7.2 percent to 9.8 percent, and the absolute number of people living in poverty rose from 4.85 million to more than 6.7 million. The increase in poverty in 2018 was widespread – occurring in all regions and in 61 out of 77 provinces. In the Central and Northeast, the number of poor increased by over half a million in each region during the same period. The conflict-affected South became the region with the highest poverty rate for the first time in 2017.

In suggesting why these increases in poverty have occurred, the World Bank states:

The population at the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution is not sharing as well in prosperity, and in the recent period of 2015-2017, consumption and income growth in this bottom 40 percent were negative. The reversal in trend among this bottom 40 during this period is related to declines in all forms of labor incomes, including a stagnation in wage growth and declines in farm and business incomes.

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF. For an academic discussion of this report and its implications, another PDF is available.

Meanwhile, some of the filthy rich are doing well, with CP having a massive rise in profits.





Media, students and monarchy II

23 08 2020

The Bangkok Post reports on a backlash against the ultra-royalist Nation TV (warning: clicking the link opens rabid rant). Khaosod has a related report.

According to the Post, those rallying against the regime have mounted social media campaigns against the rabid ranting television broadcaster, calling out those businesses that advertise with them. It says the boycott of Nation TV and its advertisers began from deceptive reporting:

In this case, it started with a lapse of professional ethics by a journalist assigned by the pro-establishment TV station to cover the youth-led rally for political change at Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue last Sunday.

When she asked a demonstrator for an interview, the suspicious protester asked: “What news outlet are you from?”

Fearing she would be turned down given the pro-democracy tone of the demonstration, she lied, saying she came from a little-known news outlet.

The interview showed up later that day on the TV station of the well-known media group to the surprise, and then rage, of the interviewee who refused to keep quiet.

Reporting this as a “lapse” seems to downplay the fact that Nation TV regularly “reports” in biased and deceptive ways.

The parent Nation Multimedia Group defended deception by claiming “its reporters have in the past been intimidated, verbally abused and pressured by protesters at several rallies.” It attacked pro-democracy rally goers as “opponents” while fibbing that the station always reported the “facts”and criticizing them for “hate speech,” which is actually Nation TV’s brand.

The campaigners quickly circulated lists advertisers and these were widely shared: the companies and brands included Unilever, Osotspa, the CP Group, Central Group, Muang Thai Life and Foodpanda. Twitter users wanted companies to “acknowledge their Thailand branch is supporting dictatorship…”.

The quick outcome was that the “companies on the list have since issued statements denying involvement with the TV station and insisted they are politically neutral.” In the report it is stated that “only insurer Muang Thai Life said it would stop advertising with the group.”





A winner!!

14 08 2020

Remember when The Dictator-cum-Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was babbling about getting help from Thailand’s richest tycoons? Remember the sclerotic ideas he received from some of the tycoons? Charoen Pokphand’s patriarch was one who proposed ideas that served CP’s interests.

Perhaps to the surprise of many, in the era of virus economic crisis, CP has done very nicely. Khaosod reports that: “Charoen Pokphand Foods PLC (CPF) reported Baht12,139 million in net profits in the first half of 2020, a jump by 45% from the corresponding period a year earlier…”. It reported increased sales, including in Thailand.

Even in a crisis where there are so many who have lost so much, there are winners.





All hail the rich!

5 07 2020

Bloomberg reports that the regime’s “plan to target high-spending foreigners to kick-start its travel sector,” as promoted by the CP tycoon, “has a green light after winning Cabinet approval and additional support from the nation’s aviation regulator.”

Now with an almost total ban on foreign travelers the “Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand added a clause to also allow those who have ‘special arrangements’ with the government.” We thought king and queen and any guest or the Army boss. But, no, this is for the filthy rich of the world.

Chula Sukmanop, director general of the CAAT, “explained”: “Many in the high-spending, high-income groups avoided direct impact from the pandemic, but couldn’t come here because of travel restrictions…”. Trust royalists to take advantage of the class nature of the virus crisis and make it explicit.

Chula added: “I’ve spoken with private aircraft operators who said they have plenty of potential customers looking to charter a plane to here.” And he sounds ecstatic about the prospect of the wealthiest landing in Thailand:

The “special arrangement” group widens the market for “big spenders,” whose applications could be treated on a “fast-track basis that requires case-by-case approval,” Chula said. The biggest proportion of visitors in the initial phase will qualify through one of the travel-bubble agreements Thailand makes with other nations, he said.

Somprawin Manprasert, chief economist at Bank of Ayudhya, observed: “This won’t do much to help the many small hotel operators in the country…”.

Despite Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s lame denials that his regime does favors for his favorite Sino-Thai tycoons, when it comes to the domestic super-rich, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of wealth enhancement projects in the works.

The Nation reports that the “Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry has announced plans to establish 3,000 foreign investment funds to support Thai farmers and deal with food shortages.” That’s shortages outside Thailand.

Deputy Minister Prapat Pothasuthon said his “ministry is in talks with the Capital Trust Group and related private agencies on plans to establish 3,000 foreign funds to enhance agricultural businesses in Thailand and create food sustainability…. This move also aims to boost [Thai] farmers’ liquidity by creating channels that connect them with institutional investors worldwide managing total assets of US$40 trillion…”.

This won’t do much to help many small farmers in the country. Watch the financial whales breach and grasp the profits.

Then there’s the “megaprojects” being developed by the giant bag of loot also known as the Ministry of Transport: “eight motorway-railway projects linking economic zones with Thailand’s border regions…”. Minister Saksayam Chidchob added “double-track rail projects would be constructed to link the economic zones with border checkpoints around the country…”.

Buriram relatives  and party faithful must be rubbing their hands and the super-rich will be the contractors.





The tycoons and the regime

29 06 2020

In what looks like one of its regular paid adverts masquerading as news and called “PR story,” the Bangkok Post has an account of Chia Tai, a CP family company. It “reports” a recent “volunteering activity under its ‘Chia Tai Volunteer Project’ corporate social responsibility initiative whereby its staff join forces to make a difference in the community during the crisis.”

We guess this is yet another PR activity associated with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s call to the country’s billionaires for support in responding to the enormous economic downturn associated with the virus crisis. CP has been doing pretty well during the crisis. So have others in the ranks of the giant conglomerates, so the PR seems like a political strategy.

This CP PR exercise involves the distribution of food boxes in communities surrounding Chia Tai Headquarters on Sukhumvit 60. Interestingly, it is said to be “supported by Phrakhanong District Office and Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC)…”.

As part of the embedding of the military in society, ISOC seems to be everywhere.

We can’t say for sure how far the mutual back-scratching between company, military and regime goes, but CP has done pretty darn well, soaking up state funds and helping itself. And there’s probably much more to come.

For example, the Bangkok Post recently reported that the “Industry Ministry is planning 1.9 billion baht in spending to help farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as part of a 10-billion-baht pandemic relief proposal submitted to the National Economic and Social Development Council.”

Farmers, right? Well, not really. Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said his ministry wants to “develop the whole agricultural industry from upstream to downstream production…”. The biggest beneficiary is likely to be CP’s Chearavanont family, one of the country’s largest landowners and long pushing for a more industrial-style agriculture.

The latter is being taken up by the regime in yet another virus crisis spend: “projects to cultivate sustainable growth include a 16.05-billion-baht project to develop five million rai covering 5,450 large-scale farms. The aim is to implement more machinery on large-sized farms to increase the value of production by about 11 billion baht a year.” And this is packaged among a bunch of state splurges said to be about promoting the dead king’s trite “New Theory”-cum-sufficiency economy, in the “agriculture sector which will cover a total of 240,000 rai.”

The mantra for sufficiency economy is as meaningless as it has ever been, but it polishes the royal family posterior and allows the regime to trumpet its “loyalty.” The importsant thing seems to be that the tycoons rub the regime’s tummy and the regime scratches the tycoons’ collective back. And, the taxpayer coughs up the loot.





Gorging on state funds

21 06 2020

Reading the media the past couple of days and we feel like the regime, its ministers and its buddies are engaging in gluttony, seemingly gorging on state coffers.

One deal we posted on them recently got more press coverage:

The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office’s Eastern Special Development Zone Policy Committee yesterday signed the [290-billion-baht] deal with winning concessionaire, U-Tapao International Aviation Co, an offshoot of the BBS Joint Venture that won the bid to develop the “aeropolis” in Ban Chang district of Rayong Province….

…[T]he BBS Joint Venture comprises Bangkok Airways, which owns 45% of the shares, BTS Group Holdings which owns 35%, and Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction (STEC) which owns 20%.

So we can identify two conglomerates involving two of the countries wealthiest Sino-Thai tycoons – the Prasarttong-Osoth family at Bangkok Airways and the Kanjanapas clan at BTS. It was Forbes lister Prasert Prasattong-Osoth giving advice to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha recently. It seems advice doesn’t come cheap. Then we have Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction:

Interesting. But what can we expect from people who are used to having with state officials in their pockets.

Then we saw that idea from convicted heroin smuggler and Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao for seizing land  illegally occupied by resorts and hotels, and then renting it back to them. Brilliant! Thammanat is already a baht billionaire and this looks like a surefire way to double money and pay for more of his big brother’s parliamentary seats and maybe even some watches. A Bangkok Post editorial commented that the scheme “is so outrageous that it should be dropped immediately…”.

And what about the news that the “Finance Ministry is ready to consider retail operators’ proposal for tax breaks on shopping to stimulate domestic spending…” with 50,000 baht per shopper! Now, who could that help most? We suggest it would throw shiploads of money into the big retailers, like the Chirathivat and Umpujh clans who are also Forbes listers.

It also potentially helps out the royal family and specifically Princess Sirindhorn, a member of the country’s wealthiest family that already scoops up billions in taxpayer funds. It was Chadatip Chutrakul, chief executive of majority royal-owned Siam Piwat Co, the operator of Siam Paragon, Siam Center and Iconsiam, that “said the government should come up with measures to compel people to leave the house and spend more.”

Happy to grab more loot

An academic once calculated that Princess Sirindhorn’s shareholding in Siam Piwat provided more than US$55 million per year from her property in the Siam-Ratchaprasong alone. She may be a bit short this year, so the state purse becomes a surrogate source of wealth.

Such “private” deals seem to be gathering pace under the virus crisis and rehabilitation plans. Recall how just a few weeks ago, the biggest of the business whales, multi-billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont was urging the regime to turn the country into a ‘safe haven’ for wealthy visitors.” His wish seems to be the regime’s command, with Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn declaring that the “government’s tourism-revival strategy is to target big spenders seeking privacy and social distancing in the Covid-19 era, rather than try to attract a large number of visitors…. He added that the virus “provides an opportunity to reset the sector, which had become reliant on Chinese groups and backpackers…”. With 11 million Chinese tourists in 2019 and a total of almost 40 million, it seems there’s a determination to crush most of the industry and all that flows from it to every other part of the service sector, which before the virus accounted 46% of total employment and 57% of GDP.

And, these “private” deals are being institutionalized, with the regime reviving a Prem Tinsulanonda-era idea, agreeing with the private sector “to revive the Joint Public-Private Consultative Committee (JPPCC) as a core forum for the two to work together on solutions for the country’s social and economic rehabilitation after the pandemic.” That was first suggested a year ago but looks increasingly likely to become a processing terminal for turning state funds into private gains.

Finally, we may have missed the announcements, but it seems that the long-delayed contracts for the Sino-Thai high (probably medium) speed railway are being doled out. If the reporting is right, it suggests smoke-filled rooms and cosy deals. We quote the Bangkok Post:

SRT governor Niruj Maneepun yesterday told the media that Contract 2.3 is worth 50.6 billion baht, which includes funds for the railway system, rolling stocks and staff training….

The signing of the contract will be carried out in October as planned, Mr Niruj said.

Contract 2.3 is one of seven railway contracts worth a total of 179.4 billion baht for the Bangkok-Nong Khai High-Speed Train Project. Contract 2.3 would cover the project’s first phase, which is a 253-kilometre stretch from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima….

The construction for the whole project has been ongoing since 2018 and it is expected to finish in 2023. [In fact, very little construction has occurred, apart from a very short section near Nakhon Ratchasima.]

So far, the SRT has said the project is making progress, noting it is finding contractors to develop all seven phases. It said a few have already agreed and signed some of the contracts.

That doesn’t look like open tendering, not that such systems stand in the way of the transfer of funds to private sector cronies and giant corporations.





(Some) winners and (lots of) losers

8 06 2020

The South China Morning Post reports on what looks like an ever-increasing gap between the filthy rich and the rest. It begins:

On a roadside in a mixed Bangkok neighbourhood stands a shiny metal box – a “Pantry of Sharing” – where the haves in one of the world’s least equal countries can leave food for the have-nots, the ranks of whom are bulging as the coronavirus lays waste to the Thai economy.

Of course, it is the “maids from the grand mansions” who deliver the scraps for the “pantries.”

The report highlights that stark realities of wealth and poverty in Thailand. There’s research on this, showing how well the big families have done in recent years.

Now, already struggling, the virus and the mix of technocratic and authoritarian measures to control it and the population “is pushing Thailand’s poor deeper into penury.” The report notes that “[t]here are millions of newly unemployed…”.

As the report observes, it is “not just the poor who are facing ruin. Middle-class workers are losing their office jobs, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are bleeding cash, with knock-on effects on mortgage, car and school payments.”

Looking at economic data, the report suggests that the economic decline is worse than during the 1997 crisis. It quotes academic Pavida Pananond who says that the hardest hit in the virus crisis “are the low and middle classes…”. She adds: “This crisis will further widen Thailand’s inequality.”

(We wonder if Pavida looked at 1997 data. Back then, the fact is that even the World Bank counted 1 million Thais falling into poverty and the top 20% saw their wealth increase through the crisis, although official Ginis declined, suggesting that the “middle class” suffered.)

The article continues:

Thailand is a country of extremes. Its king is one of the world’s richest monarchs while business monopolies with deep political connections have carved extraordinary wealth for family empires spanning from beer and duty-free to shopping malls.

The country has 57 billionaires, according to the 2020 Hurun Global Rich List, the ninth most in the world with a combined wealth of US$135 billion – more than Singapore, Japan or France.

Only China and India boast more billionaires in Asia, according to the list by the Shanghai-based publishers.

It’s raining money

Commenting on Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “unprecedented plea for the tycoons’ help to float the economy and head off potential discontent…”, Pavida observes the quid pro quo: “Prayuth’s appeal for help “offers these tycoons direct opportunities to do favours for the government…”. She adds: “These tycoons know better than most what political favour can do for their businesses.”

But, as the report notes (as PPT has too), “most  the billionaires have so far offered little…”. Their “advice” has been self-serving and their funds limited and often building their own enterprises.

It goes on to observe that CP’s patriarch Dhanin Chearavanont, ignoring galloping unemployment asked for an open door for “foreign expertise.” He said, “Thailand needs around five million world-class talents to teach and lead Thais…. Give them Thai nationality to incentivise these great brains…”. We assume he means Chinese “talent.”

Forget fake  “Thai-ness” and “contributing to Thai society.” Dhanin wants more for his family and companies. His position is little different from that exhibited by the rest of the filthy rich.