Update: Overcoming PR failures

25 07 2021

In many countries, the vaccine rollout has been mired in secret or opaque contracts and quite a few governments have been providing only sparse details about strategies, contracts, and plans. In Thailand, this has been made even more opaque because the AstraZeneca vaccine is produced by the king’s Siam Bioscience, which means that almost no information has been produced and critics repressed.

It has only been in the past week or so that AstraZeneca has released some information, although this also remains vague on details, with the most recent reported in the Bangkok Post.

Vaccine

In essence, the company appears to confirm production problems at Siam Bioscience. It does this when it states that the  company “is ‘scouring’ its global supply chain to try and boost Covid-19 vaccine supplies to Thailand and Southeast Asia…”. It adds: “We are hopeful of importing additional doses in the months ahead…”.

Siam Bioscience, “a first-time vaccine maker,” is said to have “not commented on reports of production shortfalls or delivery timelines.”

So if the monarchy/regime bet that the production of the vaccine would boost the monarch hasn’t worked, and the king and his family have been pretty much invisible for much of the current virus trouble. But, his birthday is upon him and he has to be seen to be doing something.

Out of the blue and from an unlikely source, with the so-called Chulabhorn Royal Academy using Facebook to “announce” a huge royal “donation.”

Of course, the “Academy” also came out of the blue to order a replacement Chinese vaccine to make up for the AZ shortfall. It on-sold the vaccine, but as Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Twitter has shown, the Academy’ has been demanding displays of royal loyalty from those being vaccinated.

But this is small chips compared with its most recent “announcement.”

The Bangkok Post reported that the “Academy” posted that the king had “donated more than 2.8 billion baht for procurement of medical supplies and equipment to support efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A couple of things come to mind. First, usually the Royal Household Bureau makes such announcements or through a Royal Gazette proclamation, so this one strikes us as being unorthodox. Second, the amount is large., but, if our shaky math is right, this “donation” would be about $85 million, amounting to only about 0.12% of his vast fortune (on our figures) or about double that if the usual figure for the king’s wealth is used – $30-35 billion.

On Facebook, the “Academy” claimed that “the the monarch donated the money to hospitals and medical facilities so they can buy medical equipment to deal with the pandemic…”.

If this report is in any way accurate – and often taxpayer funds are claimed as royal funds – then it seems  making up for the PR failures of the recent past is rather expensive.

Knowing the truth, though, is pretty much impossible.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has had a couple of very useful posts on virus politics at Secret Siam. In particular, related to our post, he points to a Prachatai post in Thai on the king’s “donations.” That article points out that the original “Academy” post was soon removed. It also points out that the figure is not very different from the previous report on royal donations.





A deluge of 112 charges

23 07 2021

People might be dying in the streets but the regime has its eye on what it thinks is most important: more and more lese majeste and other charges. It is desperate, not to stem the virus, but to stem any notion that the neo-feudals should be reformed.

Thai PBS reports that 13 protesters were formally indicted by public prosecutors on Thursday for lese majeste and sedition. The charges stem from the march and rally at the German Embassy on 26 October 2020. It states:

Mind

Among the accused named by the public prosecutors are Passaravalee “Mind” Thanakitvibulphol, Korakot Saengyenphan, Chanin “Ball” Wongsri, Benja Apan, Watcharakorn Chaikaew, Nawat “Am” Liangwattana, Atthapol “Khru Yai” Buapat, Akkarapon Teeptaisong, Suthinee Jangpipatnawakit, Ravisara Eksgool, and Cholathit Chote-sawat.

12 protesters reported to prosecutors at the Bangkok South Criminal Litigation Office at about 9.30am to acknowledge the charges brought against them by Thung Mahamek police. The other was due to report … [today]. They were escorted by police to the Bangkok South Criminal Court for arraignment and have been granted bail.

Fellow activist Arnon Nampa and others showed up to provide support, while “[t]hree “Move Forward” MPs, namely Rangsiman Rome, Thongdaeng Benjapak of Samut Sakhon, Suttawan Suban Na Ayuthaya of Nakhon Pathom, were present at the court to offer their parliamentary status to secure bail for the protesters.” In addition”six lecturers also volunteered to offer their academic status to support bail for the protesters.”

The Bangkok Post reports that “[t]hree officials from the German embassy were also present as observers.”





Updated: Failing virus fight

17 07 2021

Sadly, it seems reasonably certain that Thailand’s authorities are losing the fight against the virus. It should not be forgotten that for over a year, the country did well, after several errors, gaffes and arrogant missteps, with the regime largely staying out of the way. Since early in 2021, this changed, with more errors and a botched vaccine procurement and rollout.

The big bet the regime made on vaccines was to lay out for the king’s Siam Bioscience, aiming to provide the palace with bucketloads of propaganda. But, the company was inexperienced, small, and lacking personnel and equipment. For the background on the king’s company, see this recent report.

Finally, AstraZeneca, which has been opaque everywhere, has admitted that it is unable to produce the contracted doses. The company has said it “currently has local capacity to produce only 15-16 million doses per month, 5-6 million of which are reserved for Thailand…”. The target most often cited was 10 million doses a month.

This has led AstraZeneca to ask the “Public Health Ministry to extend the timeline for delivery of 61 million doses to Thailand from the end of this year to May 2022.”

It is unclear if Siam Bioscience is producing 15-16 million doses. If it is, it must be sending them to other countries, but we have seen no evidence of that, but maybe we missed it.

Thai PBS reports that “the government will still negotiate for as much monthly supply as possible.” There was also discussion of imposing “limits on exports of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine because the country doesn’t have enough for its own needs.” That statement seems more like a shot in the dark than a shot in the arm.

Meanwhile, Thai Enquirer asks questions about unanswered questions. Following from others, it asks “why Buriram is getting more Covid vaccines than many other provinces that should have gotten it first.”

The report states that “according to the government’s allocation plan in May, Buriram is one of the top ten provinces to receive the locally made AstraZeneca vaccines, ranking at number nine and above Pathum Thani which is the site of several outbreaks.” Pathum Thani has had 10 times as may cases as Buriram.

Thai Enquirer summarizes: “In short, Buriram is getting more vaccines per capita than many of the hardest hit provinces.” And it observes: “everyone in the country knows that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, is largely dependent on the godfather of Buriram and the real leader of Bhumjaithai Party, Newin Chidchob.”

And, of course, the rich and the well-connected are jumping vaccine and hospital lines all over the country.

Update: It goes from bad to worse for the military-backed regime. Leaked letters between AstraZeneca in the UK and the government reveal that the “Ministry of Public Health only requested 3 million doses per month in an agreement with the vaccine manufacturer last September.” In that letter, “AstraZeneca … also urged the Thai government to join the COVAX program to get more vaccines to its citizens, something that the government has not done.”

The letter also reveals that the “letter of intent” was signed with the MOPH, the king’s Siam Bioscience and SCG – Siam Cement Group, where the king is also in control.

While the letter states that one-third of local production will go to Thailand, the letter appears to state that no vaccine had yet been exported from Siam Bioscience (although the letter is somewhat vague), saying the other governments have shown “great patience” in waiting for vaccine.





Updated: Virus cock-ups

6 07 2021

As the complaints about the regime’s cocked-up vaccine rollout mount, we can only say that regular readers will probably have noted these failures months ago. The criticisms go back to last year when questions were raised as to why the regime “decided” to back the king’s inexperienced and relatively tiny company Siam Bioscience as a manufacturing hub for AstraZeneca in the region.

Many felt this was yet another deal for the monarchy, to make it look good, and now it has backfired. Siam Bioscience and the monarchy have not gained the propaganda value expected, and the regime is looking cracked, hopeless, and arrogant.

Begging for vaccines to replace the undelivered Siam Bioscience lots and rushing via the tycoons to Sinovac is also looking like a poor bet now that questions are everywhere about Sinovac’s efficacy. It is obvious that public confidence in regime and its once quite good handling of the virus are plummeting.

Clipped from The Rand Blog

In recent days, the big issue has not just been the 5,000-6,500 infections per day, but as The Nation reports, “[s]ome senior doctors are worried that the arrival of the mRNA Pfizer vaccine will make recipients of the Sinovac vaccine believe they have been given an inferior product…”.

The views were included in leaked “minutes of a meeting about Pfizer vaccines that will be donated to Thailand by the US…”. One comment was: “If we give Pfizer vaccines to medics, it will imply that the quality of the Sinovac vaccine given to them earlier is low, and it will be difficult for us to find a reasonable excuse.”

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul confirmed that the minutes of a 30 June were real but claimed the comments were “only an opinion and that no final decision has been made about the use of Pfizer vaccines.”

Thai Enquirer also discusses the leaked document. It considers the “leaked document … revealed that government officials and academics wanted to downplay the ineffectiveness of the Sinovac vaccine…”. It was an admission that “Sinovac was not effective.”

The government has reportedly fully vaccinated “679,276 medical workers, around 95 per cent of the country’s medical workers, have received both shots of mostly Sinovac vaccine.”

Thai Enquirer wonders why the “government still insists on ordering more Sinovac doses, with millions on order for 2022.”

It seems to us that the regime’s vaccine royalist cock-up is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Update: A reader points out that we missed a rather major cock-up. That’s the reporting of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha going to Phuket and now having to self-isolate. It will be recalled that The Dictator showed the country that he can arrogantly ignore expectations regarding being virus-safe when he was in Phuket. Remember that Anutin defended his boss’s behavior. Now, however, Gen Prayuth “will self-isolate at home for a week after he came into close contact with a person who later tested positive for Covid-19 during an event held to mark the Phuket Sandbox scheme to bring in vaccinated foreign tourists.” It was Veerasak Pisanuwong, the chairman of Surin Chamber of Commerce, who was later confirmed as positive for the virus.

We are also reminded that The Dictator is at “home” in his Army-supplied and paid home on an Army base, which we continue to think is a violation of the constitution. That he was in Phuket to promote virus-free travel and one of his companions is virus positive can only count as a major cock-up.





Opposing an absolutist monarch

3 07 2021

Security forces fired gunshots and tear gas to disperse pro-democracy demonstrations that saw people burning tires and barricading streets. The demonstrations were against a repressive government with loud calls for reform. They accused the king of feasting on public coffers to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Not Thailand and King Vajiralongkorn, but Eswatini (previously Swaziland) and its absolutist King Mswati III. King Mswati is said to be Africa’s last absolute monarch.

PPT thought this uprising says something about absolute monarchies, monarchs who prefer absolutism, and their opposition to political reform. Their responses to calls for real democracy tend t be met with violence. In Eswatini, according to reports, authorities have “imposed a strict curfew to contain the unrest…”.

Mswati has ruled for more than three decades, and “[a]nger against … King Mswati III has been building for years in the country. However, protests against him are rare.” They are rare because of his regime’s political repression and an ideology that protects the monarchy.

Another despot

Clipped from the Mail & Guardian

Like Thailand, the monarch’s Prime Minister said the “government has been following these protests” and had “heard their demands.”

But “Eswatini’s Youth has had enough of its king…”. One focus of their anger is the king’s “lavish lifestyle enjoyed by himself and his 15 wives…” who “occupy several state-funded palaces.”

Protesters are calling for change: “People want a democratic government where they can elect their own leaders, in particular, they want a republic so that the country can be led by a president…”.

They are also “demanding that all businesses owned by the royal family be seized or destroyed.”

The response from the king has been violent repression, calling out the military, and with the toll of deaths and injuries rising. One of the king’s daughters is rallying royalists, and saying that the protesters are inspired and infiltrated by foreigners.

Absolutist monarchs have much in common.





Updated: Arrogance rewarded

2 07 2021

Anyone following social media will have noticed the flood of complaints and invective associated with the photo below, clipped from The Nation. It shows Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and “his entourage dining at a beachside restaurant in Phuket on Thursday.”

Corrupt and arrogant

While the regime brings charges against protesters, almost all masked up, for flouting the emergency decree that is lodged in virus control, he and his “entourage” can flout the decree with impunity.

The photo shows these arrogant men “eating and sitting close together, while some members of the party are without a mask.”

Meanwhile, today authorities reported 61 virus-induced deaths – a record – and 6,087 new infections – the second highest recorded for the country.

Of course, Phuket is not currently a red zone, but these are people who are meant to set an example. In any case, many are from Bangkok, which is a red zone.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stumbled along, defending the miscreants boss, blabbering about “everybody in the photo was actually sitting a fair distance from one another and that they have all been vaccinated against Covid-19.” So we guess that the message is that anyone who is vaccinated can skip off to Phuket, avoid quarantine, and do as they wish.

The general/prime minister is arrogant. He obviously knows he is untouchable. After all, the Constitutional Court has again let Gen Prayuth off a case on a technicality. The Constitutional Court seems to belong to Prayuth. His control of parliament and “independent” institutions fertilizes his arrogance.

Update: For the seriousness of the situation in Bangkok, see a couple of stories in the Bangkok Post. One begins:

While the government is upbeat about its Phuket reopening scheme, health personnel in Greater Bangkok are struggling to deal with a surge of new Covid-19 infections and deaths.

Another story slams the regime and Siam Bioscience:

The Rural Doctors Society yesterday called on the government to enforce the law to require Siam Bioscience, a local authorised pharmaceutical manufacturer, to deliver vaccine supplies as planned.

On its Facebook page, the network claimed Siam Bioscience was likely to deliver only 4 million doses of vaccine this month, instead of 10 million doses as planned by the government.

That’s the king’s company, and we guess the situation is dire if normally royalist doctors make such calls. Just in passing, we note that the monarch is scarcely seen.

That rises to 10 million doses per month from July until November, with the last 5 million jabs arriving in December.

The society said “the government was deemed reluctant to negotiate with the company or enforce any legal tools to secure the delivery of 10 million doses per month.”

That’s because it is the king’s company.

So, in the end, we have a failed vaccination strategy, a king’s company seemingly unable to communicate or deliver, a regime unable to pressure it, and a prime minister off with the fairies in Phuket.





Updated: More vaccine contortion

21 06 2021

The vaccine “rollout” is more like a cart with square wheels “rolling.” It is off-again/on-again, rescheduled, and still the availability of vaccine is limited, delayed, and unsure.

Clipped from The Rand Blog

So unsure is the Siam Bioscience delivery of AstraZeneca, the Japanese are donating 1 million doses to Thailand. And still the regime stays mum on the situation of Siam Bioscience. No transparency where the king’s money is concerned. A new spokesman has been appointed, but he ain’t saying anything. In any case, his appointment is meant to make the regime’s obfuscations seem more realistic.

The there was the special allocation of vaccine to the stupendously rich.

The Bangkok Post reports that “Chatchai Promlert, permanent secretary for the Interior Ministry, is insisting that his approval to provide free Covid-19 vaccine doses to over 70,000 Thai Beverage Public Company Limited (ThaiBev) employees and their families is lawful.”

ThaiBev is mostly owned by Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi and his family, who always rank near the top of Thailand’s billionaires. Last time we looked, his fortune was over $10 billion.

As far as we know, most private companies are seeking jabs from private suppliers, but not ThaiBev. The company “requested assistance for the vaccination of 43,201 employees and 28,244 families in Bangkok and 76 provinces.” And this is from the state’s free vaccines.

Permanent-secretary Chatchai “was asked whether such approval was considered appropriate because many people across the country have yet to receive their jabs…. Chatchai, who is also responsible for dealing with emergency situations and coordinating with provincial governors…”, defended the decision as “lawful.”

He argued that he “approved the allocation of free Covid-19 vaccine doses to ThaiBev under the guidelines of the National Communicable Diseases Committee.”

But, then, Chatchai somersaulted. He issued a new order, replacing the previous “lawful” one, rescinding the latter. According to The Nation,

The new order … told the provincial governors to ignore the previous order and adhere to the guidelines provided by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration in procuring and allotting vaccine to the public in each province with focus on comprehensiveness and no discrimination.

The new order also urged the governors to establish awareness and understanding with the private sector and the public regarding the province’s plans to prevent new Covid-19 cluster cases in each area.

It is clear that the regime and its hand-picked bureaucratic bosses are seeking to do favors for good friends (who also have lots of money).

The shemozzle seems to be getting worse.

Update: Was there any “shenanigans” in vaccine allocations? Of course not. So says the regime and Ministry of Interior. They are lying. As is usual in such cases, their denials are so silly that it is obvious that there were shenanigans. Indeed, in a country of double standards, this is exactly what would be expected. It is normal.





AstraZeneca and the king

19 06 2021

The Financial Times has a story on its problems with Siam Bioscience. We don’t include it all, but all of the bits that focus on that relationship.

AstraZeneca’s Thai deal brings new controversy
Drugmaker has found good intentions only intensify public scrutiny

AstraZeneca’s foray into vaccines is becoming a cautionary tale for companies that proclaim the intention to do the right thing. It … has been dogged by controversy, over side-effects and EU supply delays. Now it is embroiled in another: over its contract in Thailand with a company owned by the Thai king, and production problems that have delayed the vaccine roll-out there and across south-east Asia….

As well as its no-profit pledge, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker … conclud[ed] agreements with manufacturers around the globe, including in emerging markets, to boost supplies.

Its contract for Thailand’s Siam Bioscience to produce up to 200m vaccine doses a year as its south-east Asian production hub was one of two dozen worldwide….

… [T]he Thai deal has raised questions over AstraZeneca’s management and communications. It has not fully explained how it partnered with Siam Bioscience, which had never manufactured jabs before and was not on a Thai government list early last year of companies with the right knowhow.

Thai critics say the Anglo-Swedish company should have been alive to the reputational risks of associating with a business ultimately owned by the billionaire head of state, after pro-democracy protests last year featured rare criticisms of the monarch’s power and personal fortune. An opposition figure, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who voiced doubts about the choice of Siam Bioscience was charged by police in January with “computer crime” and under the lèse majesté law that criminalises statements that may be seen as an insult to the royal family, and which carries a maximum 15-year sentence.

AstraZeneca says its Thai deal took into account global supplier capabilities, and its focus on “local manufacturing where possible”; Siam Bioscience “emerged as the best option” due in part to its modern facilities and technical expertise. But the drugmaker has given little details of its production deal, or the cause of supply hold-ups….

The case highlights the care global pharma companies need to take in finding local partners, both in terms of reputation and the speed of getting jabs into arms….

AstraZeneca has discovered that lofty intentions can only intensify the scrutiny, and the criticism when things go awry. In a global health emergency, consumers will forgive some missteps. But when they happen, companies need to be open over exactly why.





20 lese majeste cases

18 06 2021

At one time it was Thaksin Shinawatra who was the military and royalists considered the devil and faced the most lese majeste charges. We think that he faced somewhere between four and six charges and several more accusations and investigations.

The record for lese majeste charges is, as Prachatai reports, now held by Parit Chiwarak or Penguin. He is “now facing 20 counts under the lèse majesté law, after complaints were filed against him for Facebook posts he made about King Vajiralongkorn’s divorce from his ex-wife Sujarinee Vivacharawongse [Yuvadhida Suratsawadee], and the use of Sanam Luang for funerals.”

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) are the source for information on the new charges. They report that “Parit went to the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) on Tuesday (15 June) to hear the charges…”.

These charges resulted from complaints by “Nopadol Prompasit, a member of the Thailand Help Center for Cyberbullying Victims, an online royalist group whose members have filed numerous lèse majesté charges against many netizens…”.

Readers will recall that it was only a few days ago that the same group of royalist, right-wing, fascists showed up at the very same TCSD more charges against those they claimed  violated lese majeste and computer crime laws. AT the time, police said Nangnoi Assawakittikorn and her royalist minions were  calling for charges against another 90 individuals. The new report adds that these 90 all made posts that they claim insulted Queen Suthida on her recent birthday.

Prince, Yuvadhida, and kids in earlier times

The complaints against Parit, however, “were filed on 11 January 2021 and are related to two Facebook posts he made in December 2020. The first was on 8 December 2020 about King Vajiralongkorn’s divorce from his ex-wife Sujarinee Vivacharawongse, who now lives in the United States in exile with her four sons.”

He also stands accused of “called for Princess Sirivannavari, the King’s younger daughter, not to use taxpayer’s money to promote her fashion brand…”. She’s not covered by Article 112. However, it is also alleged that Parit “included in the post a link to a voice clip rumoured to be that of the king saying ‘I know I’m bad’.” We guess if he’s convicted on that, then the rumor is proven.

In another post on 31 December 2020 it is alleged he “mentioned how funerals are allowed to be held at Sanam Luang but people are not allowed to sell shrimp, referring to the shrimp sale organized by the volunteer protest guard group We Volunteer on 31 December 2020 which was dispersed by police.”

In addition to the 20 lese majeste charges Parit now faces, he also has outstanding charges under the Computer Crimes Act, sedition, and more.

In these two most recent cases, Parit denied all charges. Startlingly, he reportedly “requested that Sujarinee and her sons be brought in as witnesses and to have them testify on why they had to leave the country, who is involved in their exile, and whether they wish to return to Thailand.” That may result in more charges.





International embarrassment III

15 06 2021

The regime’s vaccine troubles have reached the international audience, causing further embarrassment.

Bloomberg writes:

Thailand’s vaccine rollout is trailing its target as a jab shortage and moves to prioritize workers to shield the economy trigger chaos and mass cancellation of appointments.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and dozens of hospitals across the country have postponed some of the scheduled vaccinations for this week, citing limited vaccine supplies. The delay comes after the nation was able to meet only 56% of its inoculation target in the first week of the nationwide rollout….

Thailand administered nearly 2 million shots during the first week of the mass rollout that began on June 7, well short of its target of 500,000 doses a day.

The report mentions delays from the king’s Siam Bioscience, but treads carefully.

Covid vaccinate

Clipped from The Rand Blog

The New York Times writes of the regime’s promises and its failures:

On Sunday night, nearly a week after the vaccination program was supposed to have kicked into high gear, hospitals in Bangkok announced that previously confirmed appointments had been canceled.

There was no word as to why or when they might be rescheduled.

The knock-on effect of what appears to be a mass shortage of Thai-made vaccines is also radiating to other parts of the region….

It does point at Siam Bioscience:

Last year, Thailand was designated the regional hub for local production of the AstraZeneca shots. A contract was awarded to Siam Bioscience, a pharmaceutical firm with no prior experience in manufacturing vaccines. The company is controlled by the king of Thailand.

And, it notes that the regime has warned against criticizing the company:

Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand has warned that criticism of the company could be considered a criminal offense under the kingdom’s strict royal defamation laws. An opposition politician who questioned how Siam Bioscience got such a contract was charged with lèse-majesté — wronging the monarch — this year.

The NYT story concludes:

On Monday, as factories and prisons in the Bangkok area struggled with mounting outbreaks, officials said that parks and museums would reopen in the capital, loosening a months-long lockdown.

Also open for business again? Tattoo parlors and foot massage salons.

In addition, schools are re-opening and so are beauty clinics and health spas.