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.





Say no more

22 05 2020

The Bangkok Post reports:

The navy will sign a contract next month with BBS Joint Venture to build the 290-billion-baht Eastern Airport City Project at U-tapao airport which is one of five megaprojects under the government’s infrastructure development in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC)….

The BBS consortium, which comprises Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction, Bangkok Airways and BTS Group Holdings, offered the best return to the state at 305 billion baht under a 50-year contract.

It never ceases to amaze us at PPT that the military can engage in such business deals with barely a critical word from the media. But, hey, this is royalist Thailand under military domination.

And then there’s Sino-Thai Engineering, which has the following at its corporate website:

Wikipedia has a profile of Minister Anutin, leader of the Bhum Jai Thai Party, a key partner in the ruling coalition. Bhum Jai Thai is a party formed by Anutin’s family in alliance with Buriram’s “influential” Chidchob family. The Ministry of Transport is headed by Saksayam Chidchob, Secretary-General of Bhum Jai Thai.

Monty Python gets it right:





Updated: Newin-ram in lockdown

17 03 2020

Buriram, the neo-feudal estate and grazing fields for the Chidchob gang, now led by Newin, is reported to be in coronavirus lockdown.

Buriram had no cases of virus when the announcement was made, but the provincial governor Thatchakorn Hatthathayakul seemed to be taking the safer route. He did this under “under health regulations since Covid-19 was  declared a dangerous communicable disease last month.”

All people entering the province – both foreigners and local residents – will be required to undergo strict screening and then self isolation for 14 days. Authorities and volunteers will check up on them. Those with fevers will be sent to hospitals.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be safe, but there had not been any central government order for this lockdown.

What interested us was the statement that:

The province is the new home of Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is a deputy prime minister and the Bhumjaithai Party leader. He has moved his address from Bangkok to Buri Ram to stay close to his right-hand man, Newin Chidchob, considered one of the most influential figures in the party.

Anutin unmasked. Clipped from Der Farang.

Newin also posted a message on his Facebook account, giving his support for the lockdown of his home town. He said Buri Ram must be kept safe.

One has to ask if this was a Newin decision rather than the governor’s? Is the Health Minister hiding out in Buriram or planning to do so? Isn’t this the time when he should be showing leadership and fortitude. Yes, we know, he’s not known for either quality.

Update: Khaosod reports that Buriram has “46 people … suspected of having the virus. Although none tested positive so far, Tatchakorn called these preemptive measures a necessary ‘strong dose of medicine’.”





Duty free awarded as it was always going to be awarded

1 06 2019

It was some time ago that there were mutterings that football oligarchs at King Power might lose their lucrative monopoly on duty free. Other retailers complained and mumbled about competing with King Power for the monopoly post-2020, when King Power’s contract ended. Others claimed that money owing to the state was going missing but the courts disagreed.

The junta even went back and forth a bit on the new concession and there were stories about auctions and big foreign bidders.

Now we haven’t followed this story particularly closely, but we did notice the story that Airports of Thailand Plc that the “King Power Group has won the bid to operate duty-free shops at Suvarnabhumi airport for another 10 years and six months and another to run commercial space at the airport…”. That seems to us like no change at all, despite the grinding of teeth that seems to have gone on.

AoT executive vice-president Wichai Bunyu said there were just three contenders, and that King Power blitzed the others “in terms of financial returns.” He said” “The promised return is higher than what we’ve received and exceeds our expectations…”.

The other contenders were a group led by Bangkok Airways and the Royal Orchid Hotel (Thailand) company.

Having held the monopoly at Suvarnabhumi since the airport opened in 2006, it will be 2031 when this concession finishes. Not bad when it is considered that tourist numbers have ballooned from 11.5 million in 2006 and are forecast to reach almost 80 million by 2030.

The very same day this concession was awarded, “King Power Suvarnabhumi Co, another subsidiary of the group, won the bid to develop and operate commercial areas at the international gateway, also for 10 years and six months” over Central Pattana Plc. AoT’s Wichai gave exactly the same reasons for this concession being awarded to King Power. He added that the “overall commercial space covered 22,000 sq m…”.

Other concessions are coming up for duty-free outlets at Phuket, Hat Yai and Chiang Mai airports, and King Power wants those too.

King Power’s Srivaddhanaprabha has grown hugely wealthy on duty free. It has also been able to back some political wheelers and dealers, most notably Newin Chidchob of the Bhum Jai Thai Party and has been skilled at making royal contacts. That all helps the group and family get wealthier.





Vichai’s political location

30 10 2018

The Nation was quickly off the blocks with a eulogy for Vichai Raksriaksorn-cum-Srivaddhanaprabha. It lauds him as a “master of the big deal.” What, exactly, does this mean?

The articles observes that Vichai was “the key figure behind the huge success of King Power International, Thailand’s duty-free shopping giant,” adding that he “bagged many big deals … including their latest acquisition – the MahaNakorn development project, Thailand’s tallest mixed-use tower – at Bt14 billion.”

The Nation says that Vichai was “a son of Wiwat and Prapasorn Raksriaksorn. He graduated high school from Woodlawn High School, US, and did his bachelor’s from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ramkamhaeng University, and got a degree from Northrop University’s Business Administration Faculty in the US.”

There’s a couple of Woodlawn schools in the US. However, Northrop University is known for having been de-registered in early 1992 for an array of corrupt activities, poor administration and low standards.

The report claims “Vichai became a vastly experienced businessman, both from his own and jointly-managed companies,” but the companies pale into minuscule insignificance when compared with King Power, which was founded in 1989. He had some experience with Downtown DFS (Thailand), but King Power eclipsed and pushed aside Downtown/DFS and all other competitors for concessions at the airports.

Vichai’s move into duty free began with “the country’s first downtown duty-free shop as a joint venture with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, before expanding the business to Cambodia, Macau and China, as well as Thailand’s international airports.” The company’s own history is brief but worth a look while wondering how it all happened. It states that it received the airport monopoly concessions in 2006, whereas an AP report states: “The granting of King Power’s monopoly status at Thailand’s airports — set in motion in 2004 by the government of since-ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — caused some controversy.” PPT looked through standard references and at our newspaper clippings, but could not confirm the AP account. (Readers can let us know.)

Exactly how King Power achieved its monopoly remains opaque for us. What we do know is that duty free shopping creates all kinds of advantages, one of which is huge cash flow, which has grown by leaps and bounds as tourism has expanded to enormous growth. The report states that “Vichai controls and chairs $3.3 billion (revenues)” from King Power in a private company with a board studded with children and other relatives.

The report notes Vichai’s close link with Newin Chidchob and also mentions a close connection to the Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. It doesn’t mention his links with Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul.

His “passion for sport, especially polo and football” is also listed.

Exactly how Vichai came to be “ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest person in Thailand in 2018 with US$4.9 billion” remains something of a mystery. His wealth is huge but he also pays 2 billion baht a year for the Suvarnabhumi airport concession.

But then there’s the fact that in 2012 “the family was bestowed the new family surname Srivaddhanaprabha by … the late King Bhumibol – the name means ‘light of progressive glory’.”

Like many Sino-Thai tycoons, Vichai was an extraordinary royalist and supported many royal causes. He has credits for the yellow wristband for the king.

Political backstopping, royalism, and opaque deals and bureaucratic linking seem to be a pattern for fabulous wealth for a well-connected few.





Updated: King Power helicopter down II

28 10 2018

Most international reports are now assuming that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is dead following the crash of his helicopter in the U.K.

What is somewhat odd about these reports is that they are based on little official information and continuing silence on important matters from the football club, Vichai’s family and King Power. Even police are silent as they say they are investigating. There’s no confirmation of who was on the helicopter, whether some were taken to hospital or if bodies were recovered.

Fans of Leicester City appear convinced that Vichai was on the helicopter and that he died in the crash.

In Thailand, it seems that Vichai’s business and political allies know what has happened. The Straits Times reports that the media :

… zeroed in on another football baron, Mr Newin Chidchob, who owns local league champion Buriram United football club and was at Pullman Bangkok King Power hotel next door. The motorcycle enthusiast looked grim as he left the hotel with his entourage of superbikes.

Meanwhile, Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, “who said he had just spoken to Mr Newin” stated: “We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”

Anutin added that Vichai was a “big brother,” stating: “He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly…”. Reflecting the norms of Sino-Thai tycoons, Anutin recalled: “I told him that I loved riding horses and, the next day, a nice horse was sent to me… That’s the way he was.” He does not explain what “self-made” means in the murky world of King Power’s monopoly.

Update: Leicester City has now confirmed Vichai’s death. The club’s statement includes confirmation that “None of the five people on-board survived…”. The report states that “Leicestershire police have named them [the others on the helicopter] as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, two members of Vichai’s staff, and pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.”





King Power helicopter down I

28 10 2018

Most readers will already know that a helicopter that usually transports King Power boss and Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has crashed and burned shortly after take-off from Leicester City’s latest game. As we write this, there is no news of Vichai’s fate or whether he was on the ill-fated flight.

A Sky News report tends to gloss Vichai’s life, so we thought a rundown of the posts we have had on Vichai might be in order. He is a man who became very rich very quickly based on a monopoly for duty free sales in Thailand, has rightists and royal political connections, including being associated with the funding of anti-democrats, and a royally-bestowed family name. PPT’s posts go back to 2009, not long after we began:





Did The Dictator blink?

13 05 2018

After a barrage of criticism about his electoral campaign visit to Buriram and the Newin-Dome, candidate/The Dictator/General/Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has postponed a trip to another potential devil party lair in Sa Kaeo, at least that’s the Bangkok Post’s reporting.

It had already been reported that “veteran politician Sanoh Thienthong, whose stronghold is in the province, had told media he would greet the premier during the visit.” Naturally. And, The Dictator knows the rapacious political chameleon from his time on the border when the Army’s and Sanoh’s business interests coincided.

Some critics slammed the visit because the junta chief is campaigning while all others are banned. Well, sort of, for when The Dictator showed up in Buriram, Newin Chidchob and Anutin Charnvirakul got campaign style coverage for Bhum Jai Thai. But, then, BJT is a pro-military party.

A “government source” says the campaign stop visit is postponed because “Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is not available to attend on the proposed date” for a border shindig.

Did the Boss blink? Did the criticism bite?

Probably not. The Dictator’s skin is as thick as a whale’s and he has “another provincial trip on May 23…” to canvas for votes and political alliances with local mafia capofamiglia and associated thugs.

Staying power for years to come means Gen Prayuth must stay on the campaign trail and hammer together a coalition of minor parties so that he can get the call to be the “outsider” premier.





Campaigning with the devils

10 05 2018

As all media outlets have reported, The Dictator’s “election” campaigning has been expansive and expensive. At the same time, pro-election/anti-junta campaigners are restricted and threatened.

The Bangkok Post reports that the junta’s “massive injection of development funds into the lower Northeast is not a political quid pro quo for the regime to return to power after the next election,” at least according to chief campaigner, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. After a Bhum Jai Thai Party-Newin Chidchob arranged mass rally, he promised 121 projects worth “more than 20 billion baht proposed by the private sector.”

That “private sector” is dominated by Sino-Thai tycoon companies and Newin’s family and allies (rather like the BJT itself). Newin himself had proposed “as much as 10 billion baht…” for his own backyard in Buriram.

It was Newin who “announced before a crowd of about 30,000 people who gathered to welcome the prime minister at his Chang Arena football stadium that at least 10 billion baht would be allocated to Buri Ram after Gen Prayut visited the province.”

That’s a pretty good indication of how government will proceed after the junta decides to hold its “election.” Power brokers – many involved in activities at the fringes of legality – manage small groups of MPs who deliver benefits and loot to the local area, patronage and paternalism are entrenched and enforced, and democratic and participatory politics undermined and made weak (even redundant).





Power and politics

8 05 2018

An AFP report reproduced by The Nation notices:

The sons of a convicted murderer, a rural “don” who has spun a fortune from football and gun-loving provincial bigwigs — as elections near, Thai junta leader [Gen] Prayut[h] Chan-o-cha is cosying up to “influential figures”, a group he vowed to expunge from politics with his coup four years ago.

Throughout his rule Prayut, the gruff ex-general whose army seized power in May 2014, has maintained one key refrain: politicians and their cronies are the cause of the country’s political instability.

Nothing brings generals and dark influences closer than the craving for power and wealth. Like an addiction, these cravings mean that truth is replaced by lies and “principles” plasticize.

Commentator Paul Chambers is cited saying “Prayut has become the ultimate hypocrite…”. After continuous politician-bashing, “now Prayut and the (junta) are using many of these same corrupt politicians to build a political party.”

Gen Prayuth and sundry minions have repeatedly lied that his campaign trip to Buriram was “normal” and “not politicking.” Everyone – and we mean every single person in the country – knows such claims amount to mountains of buffalo manure. Some of them probably realize too that Prayuth and his buddies are treating Thailand’s people and (potential) electors as blind morons, incapable of seeing the obvious.

When they see Gen Prayuth lavishing expensive promises on his hosts from the Bhum Jai Thai Party, everyone knows this is a political and electoral campaign as Prayuth prepares for a rigged “election” where he demands his political supporters get elected and then make him premier.

This is a blatant grab for power as clear as if Prayuth was having a military coup, like the one he had in 2014.

Bhum Jai Thai, led by local dark influence Newin Chidchob and billionaire Anutin Charnvirakul did their bit by delivering more than 30,000 bodies to welcome The Dictator, making him feel like a great man, and indicating that they can deliver votes when they are needed, at least in Buriram and nearby provinces.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Niran Kultanan, a lecturer at Buriram Rajabhat University, stated the obvious:

that the aim of the cabinet trip was to build political alliances to support Gen Prayut, as was the case during previous trips to other regions….

It [the trip] is intended to seek political gains. They know that at least 25 House seats in the lower northeastern provinces, which are the support bases of medium-sized parties, will be crucial in nominating a prime minister. And in this region, Bhumjaithai and Newin Chidchob are key….

Newin was at The Dictator’s side in Buriram. He cheered The Dictator. And why not, he will benefit enormously from The Dictator’s promises to “the people of Buriram.” After all, the promises mostly involve Newin’s projects and businesses.

Mutual back scratching, hypocrisy, lies and money are revealing of a politics that has reverted to the “good old days” of dark influences, political bidding wars, corrupt cabinets, and – Newin’s forte – massive vote buying. All of this for a rigged junta “election.”








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