Further updated: Virus chaos in the regime?

14 03 2020

The Thoracic Society of Thailand has called on “the government to prepare for Covid-19 to become a ‘Stage 3’, full-blown epidemic in Thailand while slamming the authorities’ slow response to the spread of the disease.”

The Society claimed “it has been trying to alert agencies involved of the need for preparations” but that the response has been insufficient.

In a completely different arena, the doctors seem to be supported by (soon to be former) Thai Airways president Sumeth Damrongchaitham. He only took on the job in September 2018. He’s resigned because, as he put it:

We were here on a mission. When those in power said that you’re finished, so we had to go. And we already know what’s going on….

Sumeth and Wg Cdr Suthirawat Suwanawat, general manager of Suvarnabhumi airport, both “quit amid speculation that their decisions were linked to the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Another report states that “Sumeth quit after his proposals to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak were not supported by the ministry.”

Adding to confusion about the regime’s attention to the virus issue, it is learned that:

The opposition Pheu Thai Party has slammed the government’s decision to remove illegal Thai migrant workers who returned from South Korea from the national facility in Chon Buri’s Sattahip district and send them home for self-isolation.

Remarkably and apparently drawing conclusions that several other governments haven’t,

The government on Wednesday decided to send 240 Thai workers who returned to Thailand this week after working illegally in South Korea to their home provinces for self-quarantine, following advice that keeping many people quarantined in one place may lead to widespread infection.

Thailand is is deep trouble under this regime. Not least because the regime has a health minister who seems uniformed about health. In his most recent outburst, Minister Anutin Charnvirakul claimed “dirty” Western tourists were “more likely to spread coronavirus than Asians.” This seemed based on his view that Westerners “never shower” and “not a single farang has one [a mask].” None of this is based on good health advice.

If Anutin is determined that wearing a mask is necessary, maybe he can get some masks for tourists from fellow minister Thammanat Prompao. Certainly, masks are not readily available. As one report explains:

Thailand’s health authorities are encouraging people to make cloth face masks at home to guard against the spread of COVID-19 amid a shortage of surgical masks.

Despite Thammanat’s buffalo manure claims dropping from the headlines, some are still reminding people that the shortage is due to hoarding and profiteering.

Meanwhile, the regime fumbles about and blames others.

The regime’s response includes threats:

In the face of harsh criticism of the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday that people had the right to ask questions and demand action but they should not cross the limit.

He seemed peeved, saying “it is not fair to accuse the government of being incompetent” and he argued that Thailand had a Thai-style virus:

Be it Covid-19, poverty or other challenges, the prime minister said, each country has different factors that can restrict efforts to address these problems.

No wonder people are open to scams, rumors and fruit loops.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

We really did wonder about the royalism and nationalism on display in a recent set of photos and reports. Why all the flags, 9s and yellow shirts in these nonsense “sanitizations”?

Clipped from Khaosod

Maybe royalists feel the need for extra protection?

Update 1: Despite all DIT’s ass-covering, the Bangkok Post refers to a “dire shortage of face masks.” It asks: “Where have all the masks gone?” It was only in late January that “Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said Thailand has some 200 million masks in stock, which is enough for four to five months.” So where are they? Of course, there’s “speculation that a large number of them are being hoarded by some traders for export at high prices. Worse still, it is believed this hoarding involves close aides of some cabinet members.”

That’s the detestable Thammanat.

DIT reckons that 1.7 million masks are being produced each day. It says that these masks are being hoarded by regular people, but that does not explain why hospitals can’t get masks.

Dr Suphat Hasuwannakit, director of Songkhla’s Chana Hospital declares: “The government has completely failed in managing the crisis…”. He admitted that “he doesn’t understand … how online orders can be fulfilled so quickly…”. He added that “there’s always an ‘unlimited number’ of masks in online shops to be sold at inflated prices…”.

The regime is bungling and is struggling to deal with the crisis.

Update 2: The Nation reports that Genl Prayuth “has transferred the director-general of the Department of Internal Trade (DIT), Wichai Pochanakit, to the Office of Prime Minister…”. The general-PM stated that the transfer “was to re-establish people’s confidence in the government and investigate rumours of the hoarding face masks to sell in international markets.”

We think he’d have established confidence if he’d sacked Thammanat.

Newly circulated documents show the DIT “allowed exports of one million pieces of face marks to Chicago in the United States dated March 11.”

Full of lies and ass-covering, things go from bad to worse for the regime.

Updated: Masking

12 03 2020

We haven’t posted much about the virus. We did say something about the regime’s policy flip-flopping a week or so ago and, of course, we mention the convicted heroin smuggler and mask hoarding for profit.

On the latter, it was reliably reported that deputy minister Thammanat Prompao was linked to discussions of mask trading. Like his actual and real heroin trafficking conviction, the minister claimed this was all a fiction.

The number of masks involved was about 200 million. That’s a lot. The US national stockpile of such procedure masks was said to be 30 million a few days ago. Before the virus, Thailand’s domestic demand for face masks was about 30 million units per month.

More significantly, as Thailand faced terrible air quality for several months before the coronavirus scare, masks were in demand and in very short supply.

But now we learn that in the midst of shortages, in January and February the “Department of Internal Trade (DIT) authorised the export of 330 tonnes of face masks … declared controlled products…”.

It turns out that only “[m]asks for use in the domestic market cannot be legally exported.” Who would have guessed?

So now Thailand’s spectacularly hopeless regime, via Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanavisit, is calling “on China to help with the supply of surgical masks, raw materials required for production of the masks, and other products needed to control the spread of Covid-19.”

Jurin mistakes a mask for a chest expander (clipped from The Nation)

The Department of Internal Trade is a part of Jurin’s Ministry of Commerce. It was back in early February that Jurin was speaking about possible increased demand and the need for controls.

Smuggling, hoarding, shortages and incompetence.

Update: When challenged, sue or threaten to sue. Thammanat has taught us that. So when the Department of Internal Trade got pissed about the 330 tons mentioned above, it “filed a complaint with the Technology Crime Suppression Division against Customs Department spokesman Chaiyut Khamkhun for defamation…”. Customs had issued a “clarification” that the “330 tonnes of exports were not exclusively face masks.” And it acknowledged that the ban was not in place until early February. Now the claim is that 12 million masks were given clearance to be exported, apparently because they weren’t good enough. Yes, DIT says it allowed the export of low quality masks. Hmmm. Barely believable.

Meanwhile, “state-run hospitals, which have been hit by a severe shortage of face masks, received 1.4 million masks from the Commerce Ministry between March 6-11.” This despite the claim by government that 1.2-1.4 million masks are being produced each day. Hmmm. Is anything this regime does and says believable?

The Bangkok Post has an editorial questioning the regime’s preparedness.

Amnesty (again)

25 01 2013

A short report in The Nation states that the “National Rule of Law Commission (NRLC) has called on MPs and Senators to table a bill in Parliament that pardons those involved in political rallies between September 19, 2006 to May 10, 2011.”

Its chairman Ukrit Mongkolnavin “issued a statement saying that the six-Article bill aims to bring peace and unity back to the deeply divided Thai society.” This somewhat narrow bill – covering just some actions during political rallying – has been opposed by the Democrat Party. Its whip Jurin Laksanavisit predictably states: “I believe the country will be in a turmoil when this bill is passed into law…”.

Monarchism or ultra-royalism for Puea Thai?

25 01 2012

At The Nation Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra again made her lese majeste position clear: “We are not doing this now. We should focus on solving economic problems.” At the Bangkok Post it is stated that this statement amounted to “[t]aking a clear stance on the issue for the first time…”.

Perhaps the Post listens too closely to its allies in the Democrat Party for this has been her position and that of Puea Thai for a long time.

Likewise, when the prime minister went further was in making a classic royalist call to “protect the institution.” She is quoted: “We must not bring the monarchy into our business. As Thais, we have to protect the institution, not exploit it…”. In the Post, the quote is more damaging. She is reported to have said that “the government is more concerned about protecting the institution than changing Article 112 of the Criminal Code to protect freedom of speech.”

While she at least acknowledges that protecting the monarchy is negative for freedom of speech, the statement is a travesty in terms of human rights.

Schoolbook monarchism or ultra-royalism?

Interestingly, Yingluck appears caught between the schoolbook monarchism that she was brought up on – as all Thais are – and simplistic ultra-royalism.

Many ultra-royalists see Article 112 and the monarchy as inseparable, a bit like the Siamese twins of old. Of course, this is errant nonsense and we are yet to see it from Yingluck. If readers think we are missing something, let us know.

Yingluck is reported in both papers as saying that:

she had asked government figures to avoid certain sensitive issues and to focus instead on rehabilitation work aimed at restoring confidence in Thailand after the recent severe floods.

She has said this before and it amounts to a kind of “ignore the law and it will go away” head in the sand approach.

Yingluck is quoted further on this:

people need to turn to one another and cooperate instead of focussing on amending the lese majeste law. “Right now, many people are still in trouble and need help so they can lead a normal life after the floods,” Ms Yingluck said. “The economy dropped in the fourth quarter of last year. We need to hurry up and restore confidence. I would like to ask everyone to concentrate and help out on this matter instead.”

When asked about “a growing number of insulting websites,” Yingluck apparently responded that “she would rather focus on campaigning for better understanding. She asked that all agencies support such a campaign.”

If Yingluck is sounding just monarchist, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung is reasserting his ultra-royalism as he attacks Nitirat:

The party will definitely not amend this article. I will oppose whoever proposes its amendment…. This is Thailand and we are happy because of the royal kindness. Don’t you have anything else to do?

At the Bangkok Post, Chalerm is cited further:

Some people seem to overreach their bounds and express their wishes to amend Section 112…. What right do they have to change it? What power? They can only talk…. The [Pheu Thai] party will never change this law. I will also oppose anyone who proposes that it is changed.

We think Chalerm all bluster on this for he knows that Nitirat, like all citizens, under the constitution have the power to bring an amendment petition to parliament. While the law may never be changed under Puea Thai, Nitirat have the power of the constitution and of the people supporting them.

And then there is aging political animal Sanan Kachorn-prasart, an inveterate party-jumper currently listed as chief adviser to the coalition Chart Thai Pattana Party. He has also jumped on Nitirat but is staggeringly stupid:

Sanan said the political situation appeared to be worsening, with the Nitirat campaign likely to lead to renewed conflict. He said the group’s members, consisting of academics in their 30s and 40s, should study Thai history to understand that the monarchy contributed to society and the country’s survival.

This is an inane statement, reflecting the usual nonsense of cultural constraints on juniors and acceptance of royalist narratives. PPT reckons that it is Sanan who should get beyond comic book royalist histories and read some real history.

Not to be outdone, the Democrat Party’s Jurin Laksanavisit continued the Party’s unbridled plagiarism of yellow shirts in claiming it

appeared that Nitirat and Pheu Thai shared the goal of whitewashing wrongdoings for a particular person. He said the opposition was against amending Article 112 as it would be tantamount to reducing the status of the monarchy. He also voiced opposition to the proposal for a new head of state to take part in a swearing-in ceremony. “The requirement that kings have to be sworn in before assuming post is not compatible with the national tradition. It is more like a presidential system…”.

Exactly the same tale was told by Komsan Phokong, a law lecturer and supporter of the Sayam Prachapiwat group. If “plagiarism” seems like a harsh accusation readers might consider how often the Democrat Party does this. Indeed, the Democrat Party and the yellow shirts seem comfortable together, again back in the same political bed.

Royal project fails

4 08 2009

There is almost never any criticism published of royal projects. Traditionally, newspapers, magazines and television only ever show syrupy glosses of project successes. This is to stay in line with the propaganda that royal projects – apparently thousands of them – are the significant link between the monarchy and the people, most especially those in the rural areas.

Is this changing a little? The Bangkok Post (4 August 2009: “Satellite learning gets major revamp”) reports that the School Distance Learning via Satellite Project is in serious trouble.

This project currently “uses Klai Kangwon School in Hua Hin district in Prachuap Khiri Khan as a base to broadcast lessons via satellite to schools across the country. It was established 13 years ago and supervised by Khwankeo Vajarodaya, grand chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau.”

The project is being revamped with the Education Ministry deciding that it must “play a bigger role in its operation to make sure it reaches students in schools struggling to find enough teachers.” The ministry considered that “the project was not being run efficiently and the problem needed to be addressed quickly.”

Education Minister Jurin Laksanavisit said that his ministry “decided to step in because we have found accumulated problems with the project over the past 13 years. More than 20,000 satellite dishes have been bought with a budget of billions of baht, but the schools rarely make use of them…”. The minister described the dishes as being “another school antique.”

In addition, it was found that there was poor targeting and inadequate training. Indeed, “some schools equipped with the satellite dishes were found to have adequate teaching staff and therefore did not need the long-distance learning service…”, and there was a “lack of preparation of teachers and staff to be able to maximise the use of the satellite dishes…” in their teaching.

According to the Basic Education Commission, “3,964 satellite dishes and learning equipment for the project have been left unused.” Jurin said the “ministry would examine the unused sets to see whether they are still functional. If they are in good condition, they can be distributed to schools that have a teacher shortage.”

After spending all of this money, how much is it going to cost to fix the problems? It is reported that the “ministry will spend 3.9 billion baht from its budget to upgrade the project from this year to 2011.”

Is there a whiff of corruption? It is reported that the ministry will relocate the unused satellite dishes and related equipment and will also buy more sets. Significantly, though, “the process for obtaining the new equipment will be changed.” Presently, the Basic Education Commission “allocates funds to the Distance Learning Foundation of Klai Kangwon School for the purchase of satellite dishes. The foundation then buys the satellite dishes and equipment for the schools…”. From now on, “Targeted schools will be given the authority to buy the equipment so they can decide how much they need.”

In addition to state funds, like so many other royal projects, this one receives considerable amounts in private donations (see an example here). These funds are not known to be handled transparently and it is not known if they are subject to any scrutiny.

The Post story says that Grand Chamberlain Khwankeo “could not be reached for comment,” but staff at the foundation blamed others, saying the satellite dishes were not used “because of a lack of incentive for teachers to make use of the equipment. Using the equipment was not part of the assessment criteria for promotion…”.

The same official “insisted the foundation had spent its budget effectively. It spends 200 million baht a year on the salaries of 130 staff members that produce educational TV programmes to feed 15 satellite channels around the clock.” He also said that the “project has been recognised by the United Nations and copied by the Philippines and other countries.”

At present the channels used by the project are from TrueVisions. They are listed as 81-95, DLTV 1-15 (Distance Learning Television), being free-to-air and broadcast from “Wang Klai kang won School Hua-Hin (Klai kang won palace School)” and “Operated by Distance Learning Foundation (DLF) under Royal Pratonage.”

Not that long ago, it seems that the Education Ministry agreed to further funding for this project under its : “Expanding Use of Educational Technologies” as part of a “Focus on Quality Improvements in Education in 2009” (see here). There it stated: “The Thai Ministry of Education and Klai Kang Won School in Hua Hin are exploring ways to expand opportunities for learning and teaching via satellite from the school with a focus on more intensive and interactive learning between learners and instructors. In addition, a 6.3 billion baht budget has also been allocated to a 3 year Non Formal Education Department (NFED) project (2010-2012) to set up a, free e-TV station, separate from the existing cable channel. The NFED is in process of adjusting curriculum to better meet student needs. A course for tourist guides will be included.”

The revelations about the project appear to come from a survey Minister Jurin initiated in May: “Jurin has also instructed the basic education commission survey how many small schools already have satellite dishes, for later consideration on whether the ministry should extend the project (The Nation, 21 May 2009: “Push to boost learning via satellite”).

The funds – some Bt30 million budget from fiscal year 2009 – were to be clawed back from an e-learning project begun by Somchai Wongsawat under in the People’s Power Party government that was to be scrapped.

Jurin then said there were “about 10,000 schools are equipped with satellite dishes for the project,” meaning that almost 40% are now not in use.

For the syrupy treatment of this project, try this royal site and this IT World article (15 July 2008: “Distance learning brings education to rural Thailand“). The latter begins:

“It is not often that one gets to make the acquaintance of a true ‘Renaissance Man.’ Well-schooled and able to converse about multiple subjects in many languages, a Renaissance Man is master of many skills, is widely recognized for his amazing accomplishments, is comfortable around kings and presidents, and always makes his guests feel comfortable as well regardless of their station. Khun Khwankeo Vajarodaya is such a person.

I had the honor of making Khun Khwankeo’s acquaintance in Bangkok, where we discussed the philosophy and technology behind Thailand’s highly successful Distance Learning Foundation. Khwankeo is the chairman of the Distance Learning Foundation, chairman of the Rajaprajanugroh Foundation, and Grand Chamberlain of the Royal Household. We talked for most of the morning, took a look at the satellite broadcast of live classrooms being beamed out to remote schools all around the country, and discussed everything from satellite technology to fine wines.”

Finally, to illustrate that the Bangkok Post story is unusual, check out The Nation’s version (4 August 2009: “Unused devices to be taken back”) where there is no mention of the royal connection, the royal school or the Grand Chamberlain.

What is clear is that there are billions of baht sloshing around in a project that has seldom been subject to scrutiny. How many other royal projects are gobbling up state budgets with little return?

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