Corruption, nepotism and impunity

4 02 2017

In an op-ed at the Bangkok Post, Thitinan Pongsudhirak says this of corruption:

The reason corruption is not forcefully addressed in Thailand is because we don’t know where to start with the powerful few involved. Those at the top who are supposed to eliminate corruption must be clean and willing to confront and prosecute culprits in a networked society where the degrees of social separation are very small. Going after corruption means going after crooks you and your friends and family may know.

We could read this as suggesting there’s a cultural element to corruption, but we’d prefer to think of it as suggestive of nepotism.

PPT is sure that nepotism plays a role. Indeed, the royalist elite and Sino-Thai tycoons are a relatively small ruling class and there are plenty of kinship links. The military and royalist state has also spent a considerable time seeking to make and reinforce such links.

Tucked away in an academic book (Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, eds, Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power, Singapore: NUS Press, 2016) is a chapter by Nualnoi Treerat and Parkpume Vanichaka on elite networking through “special executive courses.” As one reviewer explains:

The interviews with course attendees are of great value for understanding how it is that specific policies benefiting the oligarchy come to fruition. The inclusion of members of “billion families” into the courses brings to light some of the behind-the-scene mechanics of how an oligarch can connect with those in the parliament, military, bureaucracy, university sector, or the media.

Public-sector courses have been offered by the National Security Academy for Government and Private Sector (Po Ro Or), the Office of the Judiciary, the King Prajadhipok Institute, and the Election Commission. Two private-sector courses include the Capital Market Academy by the Stock Exchange of Thailand one by the Chamber of Commerce….

Throw in marriage, sucking up to the monarchy, elite schooling and all of the other things covered by Thailand Tatler and a coherent and connected ruling class is constructed and maintained.

All this lubricates and normalizes elite corruption as part of the process of entitlement. These people believe that they are Thailand.

At the same time, there’s a lot more than nepotism and entitlement at work. At least two other elements of corruption deserve attention. They are impunity and the nature of the “corruption system.”

Ruling class corruption and “unusual wealth” – in some cases, stupendous wealth – these people are also immensely powerful. This means they can literally get away with murder (the “connections” that display power are visible). The ruling class share impunity among themselves and their flunkies.

That’s why no one investigates the “unusual wealth” of those associated with the military junta. That’s why “both the chief of Bangkok police and the nation’s largest beverage company failed to respond to a state watchdog’s demand they clarify their financial relationship.” This refers to Police Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn and ThaiBev controlled by the Sirivadhanabhakdi family and the “adviser’s” allowance paid by the company to the cop.

(By the way, we think Khaosod is misreading the documents it links to on the General’s monthly salary; we think his annual salary is 1,425,600 baht, not his monthly salary.)

In addition to nepotism, entitlement and impunity, the mainstay of corruption is that it is a system. Business people, politicians, military and police and bureaucrats know what the system is, and they all benefit from it. The system channels corrupt funds from every level of the organizational hierarchies to the top.

That’s why, for example, cops and military brass are willing to literally pay for positions that see the greatest flows of funds. Think here of being permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport and chairman of the State Railways of Thailand or police chief in Pattaya; the money flows like a giant river. Of course, shares taken at lower levels are the cement that holds the corruption system.





Keeping royals rich

27 01 2017

Khaosod reports that The Dictator’s wife made a mistake.*

Somehow or other The Dic’s junta managed to pass an Inheritance Tax Act and someone forgot to exempt the royals.

Heads could have been on the block!

But it has all been sorted out. A new regulation has been published in the Royal Gazette that “exempts top members of the royal family from paying inheritance tax.”

For good measure, its been made retrospective so the fabulously wealthy royals won’t have to pay a 5 percent tax.

Phew! Lucky they worked that out, especially as the old king died in late 2016. What a cock-up that would have been!

Sure, the junta did say that it brought in the “inheritance tax … as a means of reducing economic inequality in the country,” but they didn’t really mean it to apply to the exalted ones.

They are great and they are good, so they deserve all the money they can lay their hands on.

We assume that the Dictator has sorted out his wife’s mistake.*

*We allude to an episode of Fawlty Towers, The Wedding Party:

basil





“Uneducate” them

19 12 2016

We at PPT are not education specialists. However, we did see something in a story on Thailand’s poor PISA results.

The story explains how Thailand languishes in the bottom quarter of the 70 countries that have their students tested every three years on science, math and reading. It then asks why Singapore and Vietnam have been successful.

uneducate

Royalists show the poor what they think

Finally, the story gets to Thailand: what’s wrong? An academic from Chulalongkorn University’s Education Faculty observes that “the PISA results reflect serious disparities between students in well-known schools and students in rural areas.” In other words, a lack of equity.

New Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin “admitted he was also disappointed with the performance of Thai students.” He agreed that the results “reflected a huge gap in ability between students in elite schools and those in underprivileged schools.”

Teerakiat only just got his position. Until a couple of days ago, the Ministry was headed by a general with Teerakiat and another general as deputy ministers. Today, there’s one general as a deputy minister.

Inequality in schools and generals go together.

We say this because Thailand’s elite doesn’t really care about education except as a means for imparting propaganda and instilling notions of hierarchy and order.

The rich don’t send their kids to the average school. They go to expensive schools or get into the top-ranked public schools (which are essentially reserved for the elite). The rich, like the military, prefer average schools to beat hierarchy and order into the population. Most important, they expect the lower classes to be trained to respect and honor their “betters.”

PISA results reflect this desire to control Thailand so that the royalist elite can exploit, dominate and luxuriate.





Military, monarchy and the royalist elite’s stash

29 11 2016

At the UK’s Independent:

Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2016 identified Russia as the world’s most unequal country, with a staggering 74.5 per cent of the nation’s wealth controlled by the richest 1 per cent of people.

In India and Thailand, the top 1 per cent own nearly 60 per cent of the wealth….

This is what the elite, by making itself royalist and aligning with the troglodytes in the military, protects.

inequality





An undemocratic and unprincipled court

1 10 2016

Prachatai reports that, a bit like the king, the royal family, dead royals, the military brass and the military junta, a military court may not be (even rather gently) criticized.

A military court has blown a gasket and popped some braid when lese majeste suspect Sirapop or Rung Sila presented a draft closing statement in his “trial,” arguing that “the court should interpret and enforce the law in ways which align with democratic principles and the rule of law.” He argues that courts should have a role in “resisting Thailand’s coup-makers.”

According to Prachatai, his statement was: “If judicial authorities do not serve the principles of the law under a democratic society and the people, but accept the authorities of the coup-makers, who came to power by illegal means, then the judicial system and the rule of law will be destroyed.”

Heaven (and royalists) forbid that any court in Thailand should work with such principles. The whole system of military rule, dictatorship of the minority and massive economic and political inequality might come tumbling down.

The judges of the military court demanded that Rung Sila “amend certain parts of his closing statement” considered to be “disrespecting the court…”. It is considered disrespectful to insist that courts should follow the law.

As well as being indicted for lese majeste, Rung Sila is accused of “violating the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta’s] Order No. 44/2014 and the NCPO’s announcements No. 37/2014 and 41/2014 for not reporting to the military after the 2014 coup d’état.”

He also observed that the junta’s “orders to summon him and others, most of which are political dissidents, are unlawful and that it is coup-makers themselves who should be prosecuted under Article 113 of the Criminal Code. Coups are considered as a crime against the state under this article.” (In addition, running a coup is an unlawful act of rebellion against the constitution and the legal government.)

We do not expect the a military court could understand principles of any kind, being the handmaidens of a murderous organization and of a dictatorial clique.





Still seeking political voice

27 07 2016

Various groups continue to ask/request/demand that the military junta allow/permit/sanction some/any open discussion of the military’s draft charter prior to the referendum. That referendum is only 11 days away….

One of the recent demands has come from the “United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today condemned the alarmingly high number of arrests and charges over public and social media expression brought under military orders and the Constitutional Referendum Act in Thailand.”

He stated:

I am seriously concerned that military orders and the Constitutional Referendum Act restrict expression and access to information about the draft constitution…. The idea of a referendum is to allow for full debate followed by public vote, and particularly where the subject is of extraordinary public interest, a wide range of opinions should be encouraged, freely expressed, and open to rigorous debate.

Kaye is a little confused; the junta’s idea for a referendum is about manufacturing legitimacy, not allowing debate or discussion.

The notion that the “Thai government [he means the junta] should encourage an open environment for public discourse to ensure an informed participation during the constitutional referendum,” is outside the regime’s comprehension. No such idea has ever been countenanced.

Thailand’s inequality extends well beyond the discussion of income and wealth. Political inequality has been re-entrenched under the junta, most notably through the suppression of political voice for those at the bottom of the social hierarchy.





Academics on post-coup Thailand

8 05 2016

PPT has snipped this post from the Journal of Contemporary Asia. We have previously posted on a couple of these articles. Most are behind a paywall, with two articles being free:

RJOC_COVER_46-02.inddIssue 3 of Volume 46 (2016) has gone to print and the issue is available electronically at the publisher’s site (with two articles available for free download). This is a Special Issue titled: Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand’s Authoritarian Turn. The details are:

Introduction: Understanding Thailand’s Politics” by Veerayooth Kanchoochat & Kevin Hewison (free download).

The 2014 Thai Coup and Some Roots of Authoritarianism by Chris Baker.

Inequality, Wealth and Thailand’s Politics by Pasuk Phongpaichit.

The Resilience of Monarchised Military in Thailand by Paul Chambers & Napisa Waitoolkiat.

Thailand’s Deep State, Royal Power and the Constitutional Court (1997–2015) by Eugénie Mérieau (free download)

Thailand’s Failed 2014 Election: The Anti-Election Movement, Violence and Democratic Breakdown by Prajak Kongkirati.

Rural Transformations and Democracy in Northeast Thailand by Somchai Phatharathananunth.

Redefining Democratic Discourse in Thailand’s Civil Society by Thorn Pitidol.

The issue includes five book reviews.