Secret money

24 06 2021

A recent story in Thai PBS reveals the secret funds used mainly by the military. Of course, the existence of secret funds has been known and controversial for many years, but this report seeks to remind us of the corruption of parliamentary and budgetary processes by the power of the military.

Vaji's bahtBudget papers are voluminous and the budget vetting committee has limited time to scrutinize it. Even so, the opposition reckons it has found secret budgets worth more than Bt1 billion in the 2022 budget. These are funds allocated to state offices with no stated use. That is, their use is secret.

The budget vetting committee can cut some budget items but cabinet can reinstate them, and the committee can agree or not, but the budget still goes back to parliament. One way the committee can get some action is by drawing attention to some items members consider problematic. That seems to be what’s happening here.

In this case, it is reported that the budget bill “was criticized by both opposition and some government MPs for allocating large unexplained funds for national security and military purchases at a time when COVID-19 is crippling the economy.”

Puea Thai Party deputy leader Yuttapong Charasathien “cited the lack of details available for the budget allocated to several state agencies.” Mostly he refers to the military. The report states:

The Thai Army set Bt290 million for its secret operations, with Bt62 million going to the Navy, Bt30 million to the Air Force, Bt32 million to the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence, and Bt55million to the Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, said Yuttapong who is also a member of the budget vetting committee.

Military money

Add in the 20 million baht allocated to the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, and the security operations account for a secret 427 million baht.

But that’s not all: “Also unexplained is the Bt558 million of spending for the Prime Minister’s Office, which supervises the National Intelligence Agency and National Security Council, who are set to receive cloaked budgets worth Bt232 and Bt50 million respectively.”

That’s at least 750 million baht for secret operations.

Yuttapong asked: “What is the purpose of the secret spending? Is it for information operations [IO] and to monitor opposition activities?” We take that as a rhetorical question.

Other unexplained secret funds go to the Foreign Ministry and Labour Ministry. No one seems to know why these ministries need secret funds.

Yuttapong states: “If agencies cannot explain their need for such funding, it should be cut…”.

Overall, the “national security budget worth Bt387.9 billion, or 12.5 percent of the total budget.” Meanwhile, spending for public health is 306.7 billion baht.





Army impunity

24 01 2021

The impunity enjoyed by officials has a long history in Thailand but it is undeniable that it has expanded and deepened since the the 2006 military coup. Under the current regime there is essentially zero accountability for officials. Sure, there are occasional “crackdowns” and the odd prosecution, but the rule that officials can get away with stuff – even murder – holds.

In a Bangkok Post editorial, questions are raised about the Royal Thai Army, which celebrated “its strength and solidarity” on Armed Forces Day.

The editorial asks the public to “keep in mind that military officials still owe a few explanations on its pledge to reform, following several cases, including the Korat mass shooting last year that left a huge stain on its image.”

Clipped from Khaosod

It points out that on 8-9 February 2020, a disgruntled soldier “shot and killed 29 innocent people and wounded 57 others in Nakhon Ratchasima…”. The killer’s problem was “a property dispute” with “the soldier’s senior officer and his mother-in-law…”. In other words, “the army’s side dealings [were]… the root cause.” It adds that “analysts” say that “some army officers enter into private business dealings — and it’s an open secret.”

A few days later, “then army chief Apirat Kongsompong promised to investigate the problem…”. In fact, he did nothing to change the underlying situation. Indeed, this corruption continues. The Post mentions an alleged “illegal allocation of over 70,000 rai of forest land in Nakhon Ratchasima for a real estate project involving senior army officers.”

Yes, the very same province as the mass shooting. The Post adds that there “have been no reports of an investigation, let alone progress and punishment of culprits.”

The Post then recalls the unexplained death of a military conscript – there’s been more than one case – and asks: “How can the RTA restore public trust when it is entrenched in scandals? Why should the public trust a force of armed men who can barely be transparent in their affairs?”

How many times have we heard such pleading. In fact, it is as many times as reform has been rejected by the military as the Army maintains it impunity and its control.

We should note that the Post editorial mistakenly states that the Korat shooting “is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the kingdom’s history.” This mistake reflects some big omissions.

The biggest is the murder of almost a hundred red shirts and bystanders in April and May 2010. Who has been held accountable? No one from the Army.

Who killed protesters in 1992? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters on 14 October 1973? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered people at Kru Se in 2004 and Tak Bai the same year? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

What about the enforced disappearances of activists and unexplained murder of civilians like Chaiyapoom Pasae? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

The list could go on and on and on.





Cops, virus and corruption

2 01 2021

In the first round of virus infection, much of it had to do with a super-spreader boxing match sponsored by the Army. As is normal for the military, no one senior was ever held responsible.

During this second round of locally-transmitted virus, it is again corrupt officials who have arranged super-spreading.

Just over a week ago, the Bangkok Post reported:

Rotten to the core

Authorities are closing in on local state officials implicated in the smuggling of illegal migrant workers into Thailand.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Thursday police were verifying the identities of several officials accused of being involved in the smuggling of migrants. The information has been supplied in tip-offs to the government by netizens.

We’ve heard nothing since then.

The recent news has been about casinos. Sadly, Khaosod reported that “the first death associated with the coronavirus since the new wave of outbreak struck a little over a week ago … was a 45-year-old employee of an illegal gambling den in Rayong province…”. Illegal casinos operate because police allow them to operate and profit from the operations, with corrupt funds flowing all the way up the police hierarchy.

Of course, the cops in Rayong “investigated”:

“We inspected this venue following rumors on social media and found no gambling activities,” Rayong City police chief Phatsarut Watcharathonyothin said Sunday. “We believe it is only a warehouse. Rayong City police have always been strict on gambling.”

And it is not just Rayong. It is reported that Chanthaburi’s virus outbreak has links to another illegal casinos. “Investigations” are again underway.

Corruption is not just about the virus. In rolling back the political clock, the regime has rolled back administration, putting officials in positions where they can gobble up corruption money with few impediments. This occurs because of the shift of power from the people to the officials.





No corruption in Fantasy Land

30 09 2020

As mentioned in a Bangkok Post editorial, the junta’s National Anti-Corruption Commission has released another “ranking” of government agencies, state enterprises and “independent” bodies for “Integrity and Transparency.”

The NACC lives in a junta bubble and last year’s ranking was a farce. This year, Fantasy Land’s National (Anti-)Corruption (Whitewashing) Commission provided an “A” ranking to “all branches of the military and the three courts, namely the Administrative Court, Court of Justice and the Constitutional Court…”.

If this wasn’t so corrupt, we’d be rolling on the floor in hysterical laughter. It gets worse/funnier.

“Independent” bodies – no such thing exists – that also got “A” grades were the junta’s hopeless Election Commission and, of course, the National (Anti-)Corruption (Whitewashing) Commission itself.

Even the Post is staggered that the EC could be finagled into this bizarre category and also notes that the NACC is a joke (our word): “As it is closely linked to the powers-that-be, the agency has found it difficult to shake off concerns about its credibility.”

Credibility is in short supply in the junt/post-junta’s Fantasy Land.





Corrupt army thugs II

7 06 2020

Just a few days ago, we posted on the fate of military whistle blower Sgt Narongchai Intharakawi, an ordnance corps clerk, who spoke out about corruption in the Army.

He had been threatened and the Army went after him, declaring him a “deserter.”

Khaosod reports that an Army investigation of Sgt Narongchai’s complaint of fraud in the Army “had some truths.” The Army was sending “the case” to the “National Anti-Corruption Commission for further inquiry.”

Headed up by reliable junta appointees, with police and Army generals among the commissioners and a poor track record when investigating those in power, there is probably not much hope that anything much can come from the NACC.

Meanwhile, Sgt Narongchai is still facing Army “disciplinary action and a trial in the military court for allegedly deserting his post…”. The report states that “Sgt. Narongchai faces up to seven years in prison and a dishonorable discharge for being absent from his duties for more than 15 days.”

The Army treats the public with disdain, coming up with outlandish “explanations” for its actions. It is reported that “Army spokesman Col Winthai Suvaree has denied reports that a sergeant is facing punishment for exposing alleged graft in an army unit.” He claims that Sgt Narongchai “faces disciplinary and criminal action for dereliction of duty in violation of the Military Disciplinary Act…”.

That Narongchai has claimed and there’s video evidence of him being intimidated and threatened “for exposing graft at the centre involving military allowances” seems to count for nothing. Indeed, the military had already moved against Narongchai, having “accused [him] of disrespecting a superior,” with an Army disciplinary panel sentencing him to “detention for seven days on March 18-24 this year…”.

Everyone knows that Narongchai is being punished for breaking the Army’s “rule” that no one may upset the gravy train that benefits senior officers.





Corrupt army thugs I

7 06 2020

There are a couple of stories about the military that deserve critical attention.

The first relates to Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s boxing stadium that created Thailand’s largest virus cluster. Back in March, a Bangkok Post editorial stated that the Army  “arrogantly chose to ignore a prime ministerial order dated March 3 that asked all parties to avoid organising sporting events as they could exacerbate the spread of Covid-19.”

At about the same time, columnist Veera Prateepchaikul at the Bangkok Post was pointed in his comments:

Clipped from Khaosod

Many people, myself included, doubt the probe will lead to any decisive punitive action against the “big fish”. There will, however, likely be some “small fry” who end up as scapegoats.

In his capacity as chairman of the boxing stadium, I wonder whether the probe team, headed by director of the Army Personnel Department, will dare to probe the army chief himself. Worse, we are yet to hear any public apology from him.

On cue, a Khaosod report provides an initial “answer.” It includes this:

Lumpinee Boxing Stadium is owned and operated by the Royal Thai Army as one of its commercial ventures. It is chaired entirely by army officers, including the army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong who sat as the “honorary chairman” of the stadium.

What has the Army committee decided? It has decided that it is the management of the stadium that is held responsible. Not the “big fish.” With the Army investigating itself, its came up with a verdict that everyone already knew. The:

inquiry committee found the officials in charge of the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium to have neglected disease control measures and allowed a match to go ahead on March 6 despite a closure order.

The management has been removed. Thai PBS reports:

Army Commander-in-Chief General Apirat Kongsompong ordered the removal of the entire board, including the stadium’s manager, Maj-Gen Rachit Arunrangsi, the chief of the Army Welfare Department…

Yes, it is the Army Welfare Department that was also implicated in February’s Korat massacre by a disgruntled soldier.

But the stadium’s president, Maj. Gen. Rachit “was not removed [from the Army], but transferred to an inactive post…”. It seems he will be allowed to retire this September, on schedule and with all his benefits.

Gen Apirat also “sacked” the stadium committee but all of them have been “transferred to other posts as punishment.” Is that punishment? Perhaps they can’t make as much loot in the “other posts.” Perhaps they might have to do some Army work in the “other posts.” But all Gen Apirat has done is transfer his underlings.

A Bangkok Post editorial observes:

There is no indication whether Maj Gen Rachit and the others involved will also face disciplinary action as the army has been tight-lipped on the matter.

One can only hope they will face action because simply relieving them of their duties is too light a penalty, given the damage it has caused the country.

It goes on to observe:

Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong has never offered any apologies to the public over this sorry affair. How can he distance himself from the controversy and take no responsibility?

This is not acceptable, since it was his subordinates who placed the whole country at risk from the pandemic, and were responsible for remedial costs.

Add in the Korat massacre and the message is of impunity and military privilege. Gen Apirat continues to condone and abet military corruption.





It’s still a military regime IV

3 06 2020

Just a couple of recent examples of the way the junta still operates in the post-junta regime.

First, it continues to work with its friends among other authoritarian states. Thai Enquirer reports that an application to Thai police for a small gathering outside the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok was rejected. The application was “for ten people to hold a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the [Tiananmen massacre] crackdown on June 4…”. The application “was rejected by the police who said that there were concerns about the possible spread of coronavirus.”

That sounds remarkably like Hong Kong and it is not the first time the police have used the virus for political repression.

Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, one of the event organizers, was bemused: “The police also told me that they had previous discussions with the Chinese embassy about holding the protest and decided to reject my application…”.

Do the Thai police now come under the authority of the Chinese? Probably not. It is more likely that the junta/post-junta military bosses have told the police how to behave.

Second, we note the fate of a military whistle blower. Sgt. Narongchai Intharakawi, an ordnance corps clerk, who spoke out about corruption in the army has been threatened but vowed to continue speaking. The Army claims he has fled his position., declaring him a “deserter.” Sgt Narongchai said he was prepared “to face any legal repercussions for his actions.”

The Army has gone after him. It has “accused [him] of deserting his post … after he left his unit to lodge a complaint against an alleged fraud in the allowance money. The army soon launched an investigation whether Sgt. Narongchai broke any regulations…”.

This came just days after the above video went viral, showing Maj. Gen. Apichart Artsantia “reprimanding a soldier [Narongchai] who spoke out about alleged corruption in the ranks.”

Maj. Gen. Apichart harangues Sgt. Narongchai Intharakawi, telling him “to stop drawing public attention to the scandal and urged him to respect the unity within the armed forces.” He threatens:

You may be able to get away this time, but there’s no next time for you…. Don’t think like a civilian. Reporting this and that will only get you in trouble. If you want to succeed in your career, then adapt to it. I have given you one last chance. I’m disappointed because you destroyed the reputation of our unit.

Despite the fact that an “army-led inquiry committee has found substantial evidence to support Narongchai’s accusations,” the bosses are set to damage Sgt Narongchai.

Recall that it was only in February, following the Korat massacre, that Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong promised to clean up corruption in his forces. Nothing has changed.





It’s still a military regime III

29 05 2020

Without a hint of shame, the regime continues to display it military-ness.

The Bangkok Post reports on the “kickback scandal involving state quarantine contracts” which it says the Defense Ministry states is “being investigated by police…”. Great, you might think, the longstanding kickback system is getting some attention. But is it? And how is it being done?

Defense spokesman Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich explains that it is his ministry that conducted the “preliminary probe [and] had found evidence the accused had demanded ‘commission fees’ from hotel operators in the eastern region so their facilities could be chosen as state quarantine centres.” He added that a person with the initial “Phor” is one of those revealed by the Ministry of Defense’s “probe.”

This is all very smelly and very fishy. Why is the Defense Ministry the first line of investigation? Is the Ministry responsible for the quarantine centers? Well, no, it is the joint responsibility of that ministry and Public Health. Has Public Health been investigating? And why the buffalo manure about initials?

While Lt Gen Kongcheep said his “ministry had submitted evidence to police for further investigation…”, PPT reckons this could well be about pre-emptive posterior protection. One suggestion of that is when the Lt Gen declares that “the accused individuals acted on their own and their alleged misconduct had nothing to do with the organisations with which they are affiliated.” That screams cover-up.

Then there’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who has pretty much been sidelined in the virus response after his initial loudmouthed failures, and who has “denied public health officials were involved in the kickback scandal but said the ministry was ready to investigate any tips.” This also screams cover-up.

And, then, there’s the whole issue of the Ministry of Defense leading such matters. That screams military regime.

As if to prove that Thailand remains under the regime’s thumb, and using the virus as an excuse, Prachatai reports that police in “Songkhla Province have turned down a request to hold an anti-seawall public gathering at Muang Ngam beach, claiming it would violate the Emergency Decree on Covid-19 control. Many people still went to express their objections on the beach where the construction is taking place, while police took video recordings and photos.”

Prachatai also reports that on the “6th anniversary of the 22 May 2014 military coup, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) launched a new report on Thailand’s human rights situation As if the NCPO Never Left: Six Years after the Coup and the Persistence of Human Rights Violations, highlighting ongoing violations of freedom of expression and freedom of association which have persisted since the end of the NCPO regime.” Abuses are rampant.

Thailand remains a country under the military jackboot.





Don’t trust them

26 02 2020

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed on military “reform” that warns:

Reforming the Thai army is much easier said than done. After all, the current army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong himself called the Royal Thai Army a “sacred” organization, setting the tone of whatever debate the society may have.

Gen. Apirat. Clipped from Khaosod

When someone wants an organization to be treated as sacred, it’s often because they want it to be above criticism, accepting neither scrutiny nor accountability….

Most significant in discussions of “reform” is that current “investigations” are internal to the Army. There’s no question that, following the Korat massacre, there will be any kind of independent scrutiny of the Army. In normal countries, there is usually some serious parliamentary oversight of the military. Not in Thailand.

Then there’s the sense of entitlement and real impunity that protects the perquisites, corruption and crimes of senior officers. This “culture” means that “reform” is all but impossible. The flow of funds to the top are unlikely to stop. As Pravit points out, “the sense of military entitlement is indeed so deep-rooted that it bypasses political divisions.”

Chaiyaphoom

Since the 2006 coup and especially since the 2014 coup, these attitudes have been further embedded. Think of the way that the military gets away with murder, literally. The case of Chaiyapoom Pasae where the military has withheld evidence, lied and more.

More recently, as outlined in The Thaiger, anti-military/pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat was attacked several times, once beaten senseless with baseball bats, in broad daylight. Police were assigned to “investigate.” Result? Nothing.

As the report observes, “Bangkok police have abruptly suspended their investigation into the brutal attack on a political activist and pro-democracy leader in June of last year.”

Sirawith posted on Facebook that police wrote to him, stating:

Sirawith. Clipped from VOA News

The investigation into the case has already been completed and the probe report was forwarded to public prosecutors, who recommended that “the investigation should be halted” on the grounds that evidence gathered could not identify who was involved.

In our view, it is unlikely that the police will uncover evidence against the attackers, most likely because the attackers are associated with the military, regime and/or police. The attackers were warning Sirawith, silencing him. It’s an old tactic. Sirawith “wondered police might be involved.”

If a “sacred” institution can run coups, murder, and engage in multiple other crimes and massive corruption, internal investigations are going nowhere.





Military business

18 02 2020

There’s quite a lot of useful discussion of military business following the Korat shootings.

The Bangkok Post has a story on the remarkably – almost unbelievably – quick transfer of a range of land and business holdings to the Treasury:

The army has struck a deal with the Finance Ministry’s Treasury Department on the management of its commercial welfare projects and its commercial use of state land to ensure transparency and regulation compliance.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed on Monday will pave the way for the transfer of state land and commercial businesses to the Finance Ministry and allow most of their revenue to go into state coffers.

Among the assets under the MoU were more than 100 petrol stations, retail shops, flea markets, boxing stadiums, golf courses, horse racing tracks and hotels — located on army land leased to it by the Treasury Department.

The Treasury Department is also expected to step in to tackle problems of encroachment on 700,000 rai of army land by the public. The illegal occupants will be allowed to continue to use the property but be required to pay rent under a three-year contract.

This is all a bit too startling to believe, not least because all other reports have been that money would continue to flow to the Army. And the, in the same report, we read:

army chief-of-staff Gen Teerawat Boonyawat said the MoU paves the way for the discussions about how these commercial entities will be managed going forward.

We hope some investigative journalists are watching and tallying this exercise.

Meanwhile, Prachatai has two excellent reports on the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project. As one of the two headlines has it, “No coup, no project.”

While there’s a lot that’s wrong with the EEC, one element of it has been the land grabbing by the military and the conversion of military facilities into commercial ventures.

Much more needs to be known about the role of the military in the EEC.

And then there’s the Bangkok Post comment about Deputy Dictator PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan:

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, … has turned a gigantic army welfare housing into the Office of the Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation under his long-standing chairmanship. The 75-year-old deputy prime minister defiantly disputed claims that he resides there, saying he is only using it as the foundation’s office. Is this correct? Or is Gen Prawit enjoying undeserved privileges? The army has to clarify this, too.

The military only seems to be revealing what it feels it needs to in a PR exercise. There needs to be independent oversight of exactly what’s going on.








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