Working for the man?

9 03 2019

As we mentioned in a recent post, King Vajiralongkorn is very wealthy. After changes to the Crown Property Bureau Act, his shares in the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) and the Siam Cement Group (SCG) are valued at US$9.23 billion. On those shares alone, the Forbes billionaires list should have him 3rd for Thailand. Of course, his portfolio is far larger than these two companies.

As well as being the major shareholder in both SCB and SCG, the king’s personal assistants hold positions on both boards of directors.

All of that makes a story at The Nation about the SCG very interesting reading. It begins: “There is a growing outcry over the government’s recent decision to allow corporate giant SCG to utilise parts of a forest reserve in Saraburi province, as a special case, till 2036.” SCG quarries the area for limestone, used in cement production.

The junta’s Cabinet on “Tuesday passed a resolution to permit cement manufacturer SCG to use … land in the Tab Kwang and Muak Lek Forest Reserve for its operations.”

According to reports, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Ministry “persuaded the Cabinet to give the green light mainly on grounds that those parts of the forest reserve had once been SCG’s concession area.”

The ministry said “the allotted land plots have enormous potential for mining, and SCG … has always complied with conditions related to permits issued to it.”

SCG’s previous permit to “use the … land plots expired in 2011, but its mining licence remains valid until April 27, 2036.” That permit was issued in 2002.

An official at the Royal Forest Department, reported anonymously, said: “The request to use these old concession areas has won approval from the National Environment Board and all relevant screening committees,” adding that “the authorities also recognised the importance of industrial development.” It was also stated that “the government can put in place efficient control measures to ensure the private miner won’t cause any adverse environmental impacts…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, the SCG “facility is located in the Tab Kwang and Muak Lek Forest Reserve in Saraburi province…. The forest covers 3,223 rai and contains a large protected Watershed Class 1A zone.”

Watershed Class 1A zones are considered “ecologically rich and were given protection under a 2005 cabinet resolution.” However, case-by-case exceptions are permitted.

The grant to SCG has drawn considerable (and surprising) criticism. Mahasarakham University’s Chainarong Setthachua called for an investigation of the concession. He worried that the area is a “top-grade headwater area” and reckoned that the area might be inside “a national park that was established in 2016,” he said.

Other critics included the deeply yellow Veera Somkwamkid and Srisuwan Janya who demanded Cabinet rescind its decision or be faced with court action. Somlak Hutanuwatr, said to be “an independent expert on primary industries and mines.” who claimed the Cabinet’s decision was “illegal,” as did EnLaw Foundation coordinator, Supaporn Malailoy,

Meanwhile, Amnuayporn Choldumrongkul, deputy chief of the Royal Forestry Department, “said the decision to extend the operating permit was made in accordance with the state concession previously awarded to the company, SCG Plc, to mine there.”

Some questions arise. One is what was SCG doing in the area from 2011 to today? If its permit expired in 2011, what did it do for lime in the intervening period? Another is to ask how much the junta’s Cabinet was influenced in its decision making by SCG’s royal connection? Does that connection and ownership provide the king with influence over the junta?

We think this story needs a lot more investigation. Is the media up to it?





Enforcing the law

9 01 2010

The Nation (9 January 2010) has an article which is rather oblique in its language. This usually means that the monarchy is involved. PPT reports the story and will wait to see if it relates to the monarchy. There seems a push to keep monarchy and politics stories out of the press.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has said that “he would take legal action against all wrongdoers equally in accordance with the law.” Of course this relates to red shirts for Suthep went on to say that he had “received evidence of red-shirt leader Arisman Pongruangrong’s speech in Chiang Mai on December 22, and the recording showed clearly that his words might be against the laws [sic.].” Readers are left to guess which law or laws.

Meanwhile, in the same report, there is brief mention of a small red shirt protest at the Election Commission, demanding action on the Democrat Party case alleging the party “hired witnesses to falsify charges” in the dissolution case against the Thai Rak Thai Party.

In the same paper there is another report about the “Office of the Attorney-General yesterday dropped the case against Privy Councillor Surayud Chulanont for alleged illegal encroachment of land on Khao Yai Thiang in Nakhon Ratchasima province.” The reason provided was that “Surayud had not intended to break the law.”

That’s an excuse that should be kept in mind. Of course, it has been used before. PPT recalls something back in 2001 regarding a certain new prime minister. But can any reader imagine using such an excuse if you weren’t a big shot?

Immediately, the Peua Thai Party and supporting red shirts were able to “double standards, pointing out it had taken legal action against ordinary citizens many times in the past for similar incidents in the same area.”

This story is useful for some of the background to this Surayud story. The complaint against Surayud was lodged in October 2007, by Khumphong Phumpukhiew. Khumphong claimed that the then prime minister had encroached on land in “a violation of the National Reserve Forest Act of 1964 and the Forest Act of 1941.”

The land at Khao Yai Thiang was allocated to a local Bao Sinnok. He sold it to “Noppadon Pitakwanit in 1995. The land was later handed to Surarith Chatrapitak, a military officer. Surayud’s wife, Jitrawadi, has occupied it since 2002.” Under the terms of the original allocation, “Surayud and his wife have no right to the land, but since they did not intend to violate the Cabinet resolution, the OAG decided to drop the case…”.

The Bangkok Post (9 January 2010) continues the story, saying the “land was initially two adjacent land plots allocated under the cabinet resolution [of 1975] to villager Bao Sinnok and his son-in-law who sold it to Noppadol Pitakwanit in 1995. Ownership was transferred in 1997 to Maj-Gen Surarit Jantrathip, then a Channel 5 director, who sold the plot to Khunying Chitravadee, Gen Surayud’s wife in 2002. The land’s registered owner has now changed to Chul Chulanont, Gen Surayud’s son.”

It adds that the OAG has said that the “Forestry Department under the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry could face charges of dereliction of duty if it fails to take back the 14-rai plot … from the privy councillor.”

An OAG spokesman said that “neither Gen Surayud nor Mr Bao face punishment for flouting the cabinet resolution.” He added: “There is no punitive measure for those who violate the [cabinet] resolution.”

Responding to red shirts accusations that “the Abhisit government is ignoring alleged infringement on the forest reserve by Gen Surayud and his wife, when many villagers on Khao Yai Thiang have been sued for trespassing in the forests and forced to leave their land…”, the OAG said that those villagers “who were prosecuted had encroached on forest reserve lands which were not covered by the cabinet resolution.”

There is probably more to this story than is currently being reported and it will be interesting to see where it goes. Perhaps Suthep wants to revisit his claim about taking legal action against all wrongdoers equally in accordance with the law.

Update: 2Bangkok.com has this to say about red-shirt leader Arisman’s speech in Chiang Mai: “As far as we can tell the comments are the public threats to firebomb the houses of EC members if they do not dissolve the Democrat Party. There have also been calls to burn down Privy Councilor Prem’s houses in Bangkok, Korat, and Songkhla.”

The author adds: “Arisman is a significant Red Shirt as he is one of the few willing to personally lead protest activity on the ground (as opposed to others who threaten and posture on radio and at rallies). Arisman led the charge into the Asean Summit in Pattaya last April. If Arisman has fled the country as is rumored, this is a boon for the government as it removes a personality who has shown the willingness and ability to lead aggressive protests.”

And this: “There has been a much higher ratio of talk to action in the last two months and the Thai-language press is beginning to question the Red Shirts’s ability to bring numbers together and take real action. Even the rally at the EC on Friday turned out to be a convoy of just 30 taxis.”

Also see this in the Bangkok Post – www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/164710/suthep-orders-action-against-arismant