$40K royal outhouse unnecessary

23 02 2016

Guess what? According to the The Cambodia Daily, Princess Sirindhorn did not require a royal toilet seat. $40,000 down the toilet, as it were.

According to the report, “Sirin­dhorn flew [by helicopter] from Phnom Penh to Ratanakkiri province and back again on Monday, alighting for a lakeside lunch and the open­ing of a health center on the first day of her three-day visit to the country.”money_down_toilet 2

The report states that at “Yeak Lom Lake in Ban­lung City, where a luxurious outhouse had been constructed at her request” was inspected but went unused.

Deputy provincial governor Nhem Sam Oeun stated: “She did not use the toilet … but she went to see the bathroom…. When she went back to Phnom Penh, they re­moved the modern toilet.”

We had thought that this was only “necessary” if the vast expanse of royal butt was seated on the “throne.” Apparently not.

Built by the Siam Cement Group, firmly lodged in the Crown Property Bureau, the unused toilet remains as an empty building.

Absent its “throne,” the 8-square-meter building might be used for something else. Or it might not.

What did the toilet shy princess do in Ratanakkiri? Reportedly, she “presided over a ribbon-cutting cer­emony for a public health cen­ter in O’Chum district that had been donated by the Thai roy­al fam­ily…”. The “investment” in the toilet and building was 15% of the health center.

Read these

22 02 2016

If you have time, these stories from the past few days, are worth a look:

Thomas Fuller, New York Times correspondent, has been posted back to the United States. He has an excellent final story, trying to sum up some tumultuous years. It has the disgusting quote from the horrid Abhisit Vejjajiva: “Unfortunately, some people died…”. There’s a lot in the story and we will miss his excellent reporting on Thailand and his efforts to explain the monarchy, its wealth and politics to American audiences.

The Guardian on Princess Sirindhorn’s magnificent Cambodian potty room constructed by Siam Cement Group using its shareholder funds, meaning there’s a magic circle – princess-SCG-CPB-princess. Incidently, if you read the story, you will see that PPT was right to suppose that the royal bum exudes some magical quality to the toilet, meaning no mere mortal can use it after her.

Speaking of money down the toilet, Prachatai has a translation of Nidhi Eowsriwong’s article where he asks: What’s the point of having a military? A very good question! When it was originally published at Matichon Online on 13 January 2016 it created quite a stir, with even The Dictator having a hissy fit that anyone should question why Thailand needs a bunch of money-grubbing murderous, thieving and lying thugs operating with state sanction.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s Monk Trouble on the politics of the monkhood under the junta and in the red-yellow splits. PPT can’t follow this stuff too closely so we were pleased that someone tried to explain things.

A $40,000 a day derriere

20 02 2016

The Cambodia Daily reports that when the portly Thai Princess Sirindhorn arrives in Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri province for a three-day visit to Cambodia on Monday,” she will enjoy the comfort and privacy of a luxurious freestanding bathroom built for her on the shore of a popular lake at a cost of more than $40,000, officials said…”. Sirindhorn and golden mikes

The “8-square-meter outhouse overlooking Yeak Lom Lake on the outskirts of Banlung City was carried out by the Siam Cement Group (SCG) at the request of the princess and took 19 days” to complete.

For the couple of people who do not know, the Crown Property Bureau is the largest shareholder of SCG and runs the group. International shareholders might question this “donation” that really does polish the royal posterior.

Sirindhorn is nearly always acclaimed at the most “down to earth” of the royals, but clearly her nether regions need special and expensive care.

“This toilet was constructed for the Thai princess’ use. When the princess has finished with it, they will take the toilet equipment back to Thailand, but the princess will leave the building for our community to use…”. Well, SCG will leave it.

We wonder why Cambodians don’t deserve “toilet equipment”? Perhaps the royal butt has special features and leaves something behind that might be exploited. We recall that Kukrit Pramoj once smashed a toilet after the king had seated himself on it for his ablutions.

A Thai involved in the outhouse construction noted that SCG had used “materials are of the very highest quality,” and required the work of one Thai supervisor and “10 Thai laborers who built the structure using only materials imported from Thailand.”

Presumably, for Thai elites, Cambodians are untrustworthy or worse when it comes to royals. Cambodian workers banged up some other, “more modest” bogs for the royal’s usually extensive entourage when they need to empty the pipes.

The report says that the “facilities will almost certainly come in handy” because “Pierre-Yves Clais, the owner of the Terres Rouges Lodge in Banlung City, said his staff had been tasked with organizing a lakeside banquet for Princess Sirindhorn featuring fish amok, fish in butter sauce, foie gras and ‘pancakes done the French way’.”

The report cites Andrew MacGregor Marshall, the author of “A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century,” who described the construction as “an insult to the Cambodian people.” He’s right.

“Reforming” Thailand is killing it

15 12 2015

Deutsche Welle has a depressingly reasonable article about Thailand’s current descent into military-driven disaster. It begins:

Since it seized power last year, the Thai military has been ruling the country without success. While Thailand finds itself increasingly isolated internationally, criticism of any sort is punished with harsh sentences.

The article initially concentrates on the attacks on US ambassador to Thailand, Glyn T. Davies, and “the growing chasm between the two sides [Thailand and the US]…” before moving on to the rash of horrendous and harsh lese majeste charges brought against Thais.

On the investigations of Davies, an “analyst” is cited as saying: “Even Thai diplomats and foreign ministry officials are shocked…”.

Somehow we doubt this. The junta has been promoting attacks on the US, viewing it as somehow conspiring with Thaksin Shinawatra to bring down the monarchy. As bizarre as this sounds, this discourse has been strong among royalist groups on social media.

We do agree that a “probe against the US ambassador would have been unthinkable two or three years ago. And the current police investigation against the US diplomat would be unimaginable without backing from the highest levels of the military leadership…”.

It is true that the junta has a “strong penchant for deepening ties with China.” The explanation is that “[t]here is a faction within the military that benefits hugely from the relationship with Beijing, and it is apparently seeking to sabotage a rapprochement with the US…”. The Dictator is mentioned as promoting ties with Beijing.

Domestically, the pressure on the military is growing. The report points to Corruption Park. It is observed that the “case is particularly sensitive, the expert says, because it strikes at the heart of the military’s legitimacy to rule the country.” This is because the military has identified the corrupt as elected politicians. Now the military “is also mired in graft scandals.”

The report observes that the “military government’s performance since it seized power 19 months ago has been grim.” The “economy is in tatters” and political “polarization in the society hasn’t ebbed…”.

A journalist says “Thailand is frozen in time…”. It is actually worse than this. Thailand is going backwards at a very rapid pace.

According to the report, part of the reason for “standing still” has to do with succession. DW observes that the king and “the royal household remain politically influential, even though the country is officially a constitutional monarchy.” It says that:

The royals exercise their clout, on the one hand, through the Privy Council, the king’s personal advisory board which is composed of former military leaders as well as influential politicians, among others.

On the other hand, there is the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the real estate properties and investments of the Thai monarchy running into billions of dollars.

Another analyst says all of these failures and repression mean that there is “growing discontent among Thais…”. Increased repression may reflect this: “The military is attempting to strengthen its hold on power by spreading fear…”. The DW report suggests that “a return to political normality, and to democracy, is postponed indefinitely.”

The military junta’s “reforms” are leading to repression, royalism and the submerging and squashing of ordinary Thais and their aspirations. The country is a failed state and the only way out is the ousting of this ridiculous and failed regime.

Prem and corruption in high places

12 12 2015

The Bangkok Post has a quite interesting op-ed by Nopporn Wong-Anan, who is deputy editor of the Post.

The op-ed is ostensibly about Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and his campaign against corruption.

It begins in a laudatory manner, observing that the grand old man (meddler) is “physically and mentally healthy for a 95-year-old…” and says that “the older he grows, the more active the nonagenarian is in campaigning against corruption.”

When we read the next paragraph, we were taken aback:

Seen as clean, honest and royalist, the former army chief and former prime minister — as well as the cabinets he led during 1980-1988 — barely faced any allegations of corruption.

Hold on, we thought. And then Nopporn gets it right:

Though his political opponents attempted to launch a censure motion against him and his administration on charges of graft, they were foiled by men in uniform.

Prem never faced any parliamentary scrutiny when he was premier, being protected by monarchy and military. When corruption claims were made or ministers were criticized, including against then minister Chirayu Isarangkun, who is now head of the Crown Property Bureau, they were always seen off with little debate and lots of covering up.

Prem was the butt of considerable criticism before being parachuted into the Privy Council when some critics threatened to reveal his “private life” and other matters associated with his government.

Nopporn then makes another point that few have ever taken up. Prem has occupied “Baan Si Sao Thewes — the official residence of the army commander-in-chief that he has occupied for over 30 years…”.

As far as we know, he pays no rent or tax on this publicly-funded perquisite. Nor does he pay for other houses the military has built for him in the provinces.

Nopporn also observes the somewhat curious relationship Prem has with the military and other hangers-on:

Invited to the receptions [at his home] are the “children” and “grandchildren” of Pa Prem, an affectionate term he uses for his subordinates, who take advantage of the occasion to show the soft-spoken, kind and fatherly man respect and gratitude for his blessings and support.

On corruption, Prem has “called on society to eliminate the ‘disgusting creatures’ who perpetuate corruption.” He says they are “bad guys” who are “robbing the country every day.” Nopporn observes that “Prem also criticised Thailand’s centuries-old, deep-rooted patronage system.” Yet his “critics see him as a patron for many young, newly-commissioned officers in the armed forces.” Some position him at the center of the patronage system.King-Queen-Prem

Nopporn lists Prem’s mantra on corruption and then observes:

Gen Prem’s remarks hit the nail on the head, but is it easier said than done in the current political context? Has the government been transparent in the way it has handled the Rajabhakti Park scandal?

Are the ruling generals abandoning subordinates who were allegedly involved in the suspected corruption? How many alleged corrupt officers are on the run? Will they ever be brought to justice?

Is this military-run government taking swift and drastic action against colonels and generals accused of robbing the country?

What mechanisms does Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha have in place to check on cabinet ministers’ honesty? If he or she is accused of taking a bribe, will the junta chief fire him or her on the spot rather than transfer the person to an “inactive post”?

Even in the circles of civil servants and military personnel, one doubts if the selection is based on meritocracy. Is the patronage network the deciding factor?

Exactly the questions that need to be asked and positioned with Nopporn’s last and telling observation:

Gen Prayut, as one of Pa Prem’s outstanding children and the country’s most powerful man for now, should act and prove that I am totally wrong.

What Nopporn forgets, is that there is “good” corruption carried out by “good people.” This means the powerful and royal connected, and obviously includes the exceptionally wealthy top brass in the military. Bad corruption seems limited to elected politicians and their associated civil servants, who are not morally well-located in royalist circles.

Updated: The monarchy’s money

3 12 2015

Tom Felix Joehnk is a Bangkok-based journalist.His op-ed for the New York Times is likely to cause some waves. Among other things he says, in the article titled “The Thai Monarchy and Its Money,” says: “the Crown Property Bureau is an antiquated institution of entrenched privilege that operates largely in secret beyond the purview of the government.”

Other snips from the article, which will produce a denunciation and usual “explanation” that the CPB is not personal wealth and that it works for the people and nation, are:CrownProperty

The Crown Property Bureau, which manages the Thai royal family’s properties and investments, controls assets that may amount to as much as 1.9 trillion baht, about $53 billion. It is the biggest corporate group in the country and one of the biggest landholders in the capital. It is also one of the more mysterious arms of the Thai government.

Little is known about how it spends its money. It does not make its financial statements public. Six of its seven managers are appointed by the king. Although the finance minister chairs its board, the government exercises no oversight over its operations.

The Crown Property Bureau’s annual returns today probably near $840 million…. It holds more than 21 percent in Siam Commercial Bank, Thailand’s oldest and most influential bank, and 30 percent in Siam Cement Group, the country’s biggest industrial conglomerate. Its equity wing has a controlling stake in the luxury hotel group Kempinski and minority stakes in the Thailand-based subsidiaries of Honda and other Japanese manufacturers, as well as in domestic firms that run shopping malls, hotels, insurance businesses and fast-food chains.

By law, the Crown Property Bureau’s annual income may be disposed of “at the king’s pleasure.” Its returns are tax-exempt.

The article calls for reform:

The agency must be reformed, for the sake of both the country and the monarchy itself. With Thailand increasingly paralyzed by a political struggle between liberal and reactionary camps, modernizing the Crown Property Bureau would distinguish the palace as an agent for progress.

…the Crown Property Bureau should publish annual reports detailing its investments, land holdings and other assets, as well as its earnings from these assets, the use to which it puts those earnings and its operational costs. The agency should be placed under the control of officials appointed by an elected government.

The entire Thai state needs this latter reform.

The government, in conjunction with the palace, would decide the level of that financial support. It should also decide how to spend the Crown Property Bureau’s dividends.

The agency’s earnings should be partly reinvested and partly handed over to the Thai treasury. None should remain directly at the disposal of the royal family. Consistent with the law that applies to firms in Thailand, these earnings should be subject to tax.

The Crown Property Bureau’s ostensible goal today is to make investments that support Thailand’s development. This, too, must be abandoned; it is an objective best left to the government.

Lifting the secrecy that shrouds the operations of the Crown Property Bureau and placing it back under the control of the government would signal that the Thai monarchy is serious about transparency. Such a reform would send an important message of accountability to the military, politicians and businesspeople, and pave the way for an open economic system, the only kind that is truly compatible with democracy.

We look forward to the response from the military dictatorship and various royalists, both “liberal” and the madder of the monarchists.

Update: According to Khaosod, the New York Times edition printed in Thailand has again been censored. This time for the above story.

The New York Times complained of the “regrettable” lack of press freedom in Thailand today after the Bangkok publisher of its international version refused to run an article deemed too sensitive for the second time this week.

Two days after the International New York Times was published with an empty space on the front page instead of an article on the kingdom’s present economic and social malaise by longtime correspondent Thomas Fuller, today’s opinion page in Thailand was missing a critical op-ed on the role and recommended reforms of the Crown Property Bureau.

“We’ve been notified by our printer in Thailand that they will be blocking another article, an Op-Ed, in today’s International New York Times,” newspaper spokeswoman Eileen Murphy wrote in a statement to Khaosod English. “This second incident in a week clearly demonstrates the regrettable lack of press freedom in the country. Readers in Thailand do not have full and open access to journalism, a fundamental right that should be afforded to all citizens.”

Open letter to US ambassador from Chatwadee Rose Amornpat

2 12 2015

RoseAmornpat has written the following open letter to the US Ambassador Glyn Davies. PPT reproduces it with a few edits by us to fix a few typos in our original post:

November 30, 2015
Honorable Ambassador Glyn T. Davies
The United States EmbassyRose
120-22 Wireless Road
Bangkok 10330, Thailand

Dear Ambassador Davies:

We wish to dispute Thai junta’s controlled media apparatus as well as its leaders, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha and Gen. Pravit Wongsuwan for declaring that the U.S. government was meddling in its political affairs and that “Thai people have been hurt” by remarks concerning their barbaric lese majeste law or Article 112 of their Criminal Code.

Right-wing royalists have employed the same old line in justifying their illegal actions such as the frequent coup d’ etat, imposition of martial law or the current Article 44 which gives unlimited power to the junta chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha.

We are pleased to note that U.S. groups and government are taking seriously various violations of codes by the military junta.

Thai elites have been very ungrateful to your government for a long time for the billion dollars worth of aid the U.S. has given Thailand over a long period of time. As a slap in the face, Thai junta embraces China in their current foreign policy.

We also wish to suggest that the United States should impose more severe economic sanctions against Thailand and travel restrictions on junta leaders to the U.S. and allies’ countries. If possible, please remove Thailand from the list of “Most Favored Nations” in terms of importation of Thai goods, unless Article 44 abrogated and political prisoners released.

We also wish to inform you a very important issue which is one of the major root causes of all of Thailand’s problems and their very slow democratic process is their despicable Article 112 of their Criminal Code. This is also called the lese majeste law which prohibits people from making any comments or constructive criticism of the Thai king, even if such comments are based on the truth.

This unjust lese majeste law has effectively silenced Thai people from speaking their mind. Once convicted, it also breaks up families and loved ones for years and years. Ninety-nine percent of the accused will be convicted by the Thai military court. This is so barbaric now, because ordinary Thai people are forced to appear in a military court! The trial is often a closed court session with no media allowed. Alleged prisoners of Article 112 will be sent to Thai jail from 3 to 15 years for each offense.

Hundreds are now in jails throughout Thailand. Some are now serving 10 or 20 years sentence. This is a travesty of justice. They are not criminals but brave individuals who dare to speak against this barbaric and unjust law and those who benefit by it!

For example, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul was sentenced to 18 years in jail on lese majeste charges on 28 August 2009. That trial, conducted in secret in a closed court, saw her receive 6 years for each of three comments she made speaking to a political rally. The case made a mockery of Thailand’s judicial processes. She’s been in Thai prison since 22 July 2008 and is in poor health.

Darunee is now suffering from an acute gum infection and yet the prison warden refused her proper medical treatments! This is a way to further torture her for criticizing the so-called “Father of the Nation.” It is believed that by maltreating her on purpose that she would finally confess one day and seek pardon from the Thai king. So far, Darunee refuses to admit that she did anything wrong.

Another 112 prisoner worth mentioning here is the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a former editor of a pro-democracy magazine who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for publishing an article deemed lese majeste. He, too, refuses to admit that he did anything wrong and is now in his 5th year in prison.

For a list of  112 prisoners, click here.

Article 112 or lese majeste prisoners are badly treated by fellow prisoners as well. On any royal holidays, all prisoners are routinely given a reduction of prison time except 112 prisoners who have to serve full terms. On the upcoming King’s Birthday on December 5th, all criminal prisoners and their family are looking forward to the release or reduction of jail time. Sadly, lese majeste violators will likely not be granted any leniency. In fact, they should not have been in jail in the first place, because they all expressed their comments about the royals in a peaceful manner.

Anyone can file the lese majeste charge against anyone and the police are required to investigate and often complete the process all the way to the court. Failure to do so will have serious repercussion to the investigating officers.

Even though the king said in his speech in 2005 that he disagrees with this law, but he has not done a thing to abolish it either. He has all the power within him to do so. But nothing was done so far.

This very uncivilized and unjust law gives the Thai monarchy unlimited power to do anything for their own interest and prosperity! The king’s investment arm of Crown Property Bureau (CPB) is the largest owner of all the prime property in Bangkok and the major shareholder of the Stock Exchange of Thailand! The king himself is the richest monarch in the world ranked by Forbes magazine 7 years in a row. At the same time, Thai children are still begging or selling garlands in the streets of Bangkok in order to help their family. These children should be in school, not selling garlands or flowers in the streets!

Poor families are forced to sell their daughters for prostitution. Slave wages are the norm in most factories. Intelligent Thai men and women have to flee the country, because they commented on or revealed too much about the secrets of the monarchy.

No one can question how CPB became so rich and powerful. No one can question its books and whether or not CPB pays any taxes. This is off the public record.

The royals claim the wealth and its assets belong to the people. But we have not seen any substantial monetary contributions to help the poor coming from CPB during the past 60 years! Even the royal projects are paid for by taxpayers.

Because of this law, Thailand has, so far, 19 coup d’ etat’s including the recent one in May 22, 2014! Thai king endorses and approves the coups and then pardons the coup makers!

Even all the past prime ministers of Thailand did not dare to question the suitability and viability of this law! Most politicians, academics, critics and foreign journalists all ignore this subject for fear of going to jail, because of the evil nature of Article 112! Any suggestion or slight hint of revising the law would certainly be subject to lese majeste charge!

Thai people are held hostages by this evil law!

United States must lead in calling for the abolition of this very unjust law or Thailand will continue to face economic sanctions. The great countries of the EU, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and all the Southeast Asian nations must be united and impose sanctions until Thailand and Thai monarchy abolish such a barbaric law!

This law is not an internal affair of Thailand. It is the affair of the world and every peace-loving and democratic citizen of the world is obligated to tell Thai king, enough is enough!

Thai royalists including royalist mass media often tell the world that Thai king is so well-loved by the people. This is a untrue! Please demand they abolish the lese majeste law and see if this claim is still true or not.

Last but not least, the Cold War was over a long time ago. There is no threat of Communism any more. We understand the U.S. government during the Vietnam War created the power of the King in order to serve as a beachhead against Communist China. But now, China is acting more like a big Capitalist and the U.S. or any democratic countries do not need Thai monarchy anymore. Thai people are craving a true democracy, not a warped democracy like Thailand with the so-called “with king as head of state” who is in fact a very bad dictator in disguise.

The Thai people do not need the monarchy which taxpayers have to support them at the sum of $500 million dollars a year, even though Thai monarch is the richest in the world.

Thai monarchy is now very unpopular and hated by most Thai people. Only a handful from the rich elite  still love the monarchy, because they share their mutual business interests.

We, the voiceless Thai people, in and outside Thailand, wish to express our deepest gratitude for your comments at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on November 25, 2015.

Thank you.

Chatwadee Rose Amornpat