The monarch’s wealth

8 10 2021

In a very long post at Secret Siam, Andrew MacGregor Marshall has discussed the monarchy’s wealth and its drain on the taxpayer. He puts together an account that draws on multiple sources to assess both aspects.

It is behind a paywall, but if readers can get to it, it is well worth some time going through it.

Some excerpts:

According to an excellent analysis by Prachatai, at least 35.76 billion baht of taxpayer money — well over a billion US dollars — was allocated to the palace in the 2021/22 fiscal year. This represents 1.15 percent of the entire state budget, an extraordinarily vast sum for a country to spend on a supposedly purely symbolic monarchy in the 21st century.

What makes it even more obscene is that the Thai monarchy is already among the wealthiest royal families on the planet, but continues to guzzle taxpayer funds that are desperately needed by ordinary people struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

The palace has never been honest about the extent of its wealth, and most media have done an extremely poor job of finding out the facts, so most reporting about the size of the Thai royal fortune is inaccurate and incomplete.

Marshall sets the record straight – or as best as it can be with still limited data. He seems to conclude this on wealth:

Kevin Hewison, one of the foremost experts on the political economy of Thailand, estimated royal wealth at a minimum of $70 billion in his article “Crazy Rich Thais” published in the Journal of Contemporary Asia earlier this year:

Between 2006 and 2019, the ten wealthiest families/groups saw their wealth grow by more than seven times. If that figure is applied to Porphant [Ouyyanont]’s 2005 estimate, the CPB’s wealth in 2018 might have been more than $310 billion. However, because of the CPB’s focus on land and its conservative investment strategies, this is likely to be an overestimate. Using Porphant’s calculations of assets and applying a low 3 percent per year increase for land prices the figure for the CPB in 2019 might be more conservatively put at around $70 billion.

By way of conclusion, Marshall states:

There is no prospect that Vajiralongkorn will agree to reform of the monarchy and greater parliamentary oversight of palace finances. He is implacably opposed to making any concessions. He wants to use the royal fortune however he chooses, and nobody in the regime dares to try to stop him.

But with Thailand facing years of economic pain before it recovers from the damage caused by the coronavirus, and most Thais now aware of Vajiralongkorn’s egregious profligacy, the explosive issue of royal wealth has the potential to bring down the monarchy.





Insider deals

26 09 2015

One of the benefits of being the largest business conglomerate in the country is that the special deals can always be done.

The largest conglomerate is the murky Crown Property Bureau. With relatively little information available (the latest effort is again by Porphant Ouyyanont, reviewed here), there are occasional reports that provide small insights into the elite-level machinations around CPB activities.

In recent days, the seemingly confusing reports on the grand failure of Sahaviriya Steel Industries in the U.K. investment taken not that long ago, have included some information about the CPB. SSI’s Board of Directors includes, apart from those of the Viriyaprapaikit family, includes a clutch of old men from state enterprises and some with strong links to the CPB.CrownProperty

SSI’s problems in the U.K. have had repercussions for several Thai banks and investors. A major impact has been for gems of the CPB, the Siam Commercial Bank and the Siam Cement Group.

Reuters reports that the Siam Commercial Bank has been forced to sell its stake in Siam Cement Group to raise “4.46 billion baht ($122.76 million) to help to cover provisions for loans to struggling steel firm.”

SCB is “one of three main creditors that lent SSI money to buy Britain’s second-largest steelmaker in early 2011. But a sharp drop in international steel prices forced SSI to halt production last week at its British plant in Redcar in northeast England.” The other two are Krung Thai Bank and Tisco Bank. The report is that the three banks are “working on restructuring around 50 billion baht ($1.4 billion) of SSI’s debt.”

The SCB has been forced to dispose of “some of its foreign investments to meet a target of raising 7-8 billion baht ($192.78 million-$220.32 million) toward SSI loan provisions of 10-11 billion baht.”

In addition, its Siam Cement sale “is included in the 7-8 billion baht target. The shortfall will come from SCB’s earnings.”

No prizes for guessing how the CPB has handled this crisis: “The Siam Cement shares were sold to the Crown Property Bureau which is already a major shareholder in Thailand’s biggest cement firm…. The Bureau also owns a 21.3 percent stake in Siam Commercial Bank.”

This set of inside deals is passed off as somehow normal: “We sold all our holding in Siam Cement to the Crown Property Bureau…. The Crown Property Bureau wanted to raise its stakes in Siam Cement. So, the shares changed hands in the same investor group.”

None of us at PPT are investors or economists so we can only wonder about these trades within groups and their lack of transparency. We can guess that the CPB is shaking a bit from the dealing that has been imposed on it.

 





A seminar on the Crown Property Bureau

15 04 2015

PPT understand that material from Asia Sentinel is sometimes blocked in Thailand, especially if it contains royal news. This means that the new article “Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau: Economic Brake?” is blocked.

By an anonymous correspondent, the article reports on a seminar in March at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore [opens a PDF adverting the seminar]. The headline story is that academic Porphant Ouyyanont reckons that Crown Property Bureau “is the elephant in the country’s economic room, controlling a full 15 percent of its economy and, … acting as a significant brake on economic growth.”

Porphant is reported as stating that “… the quality of Thai capitalist firms has remained poor as most economic growth has stemmed from the monopoly of major Thai business firms tied to the CPB…. This has resulted in low-value added economic performance coupled with high barriers to entry for new businesses, thus keeping small businesses stagnant and undeveloped.”

The claim in the article that the Crown Property Bureau is not held by the royal family “and doesn’t belong to the king although it manages the king’s property” is, we think true but also misleading. Legally, this is the position put by defenders of the bloated CPB and the monarchy. Practically, though, with the king appointing six of members of the bureau’s governing board, and the power of the CPB having reverted to the king years ago, the CPB is effectively held by the royal family.

The related claim that the CPB “pays no taxes” is also true but also misleading. Many of the CPB largest stock holdings are in public firms, and as far as PPT is aware, these firms pay taxes. What isn’t taxed are other holdings, including the huge land holdings. Proposals to implement a property tax exclude the CPB and other royal holdings.

The article also states that the “most complete record of the bureau is contained in The King Never Smiles, an authoritative biography of King Bhumibol…”. We think this is also misleading and would direct readers to Porphant’s own 2008 study, but which is behind a paywall. Readers without access might find the  update he did for his bit in the sanitized big book biography [downloads a PDF that is not banned in Thailand] of some use.





Anti-democratic academics and others

26 03 2012

PPT has been reading some of the recent commentary by an apparently reinvigorated bunch of yellow-hued academics and we have found, all too  predictably, that nothing much has changed for those who seem to delight in acting as the anti-democratic mouthpieces of the royalist elite.

A few days ago the aging and often theoretically incomprehensible middle class “radical” Thirayudh Boonmee came out with statements reported at the Bangkok Post that seemed to trouble the military (because he mentioned a coup) and some of Thaksin Shinawatra’s acolytes (because, as ever, the crumpled academic was critical).

Thirayudh

The academic is director of the Sanya Dhammasak Institute for Democracy at Thammasat University. Sanya was a prime minister appointed by the king in October 1973 and never held elected office. PPT notes that this is yet another institute in Thailand commemorating “democracy” as a royalist invention rather than a result of long political struggles.

Thirayudh is reported to believe that “the ongoing political conflict in Thailand derives from the fact that people do not respect the opinions of others who belong to a different political colour.” Well, yes, there is a “lack of respect,” but this tells us nothing about the interests that underlie “different opinions.” It is a fallacious position influenced by postmodernist positions that consider opinions, ideas and ideology the basis of politics. It is as if ideas float in thin air, disconnected from material interests. In other words, such Thirayudh’s observation is useless to any deep understanding of Thailand’s politics.

Thirayudh’s main point, though, is a critique of electoral politics. He says Thailand is “dominated by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, grass roots politics and populist policies.”

He may be partly right to identify Thaksin as “one of the three most influential political figures since 1957.  The other two are former military strongman Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat and Gen Prem Tinsulanonda,” but forgets the king and the palace as a major political actor.

Thirayudh seems disturbed that “political parties under Thaksin consecutively won power,” because he sees Thaksin as having “no true intentions of building democracy for the grass roots.” This is because he think the “grassroots” are a bunch of dullards who are vulnerable to Thaksin as “a marketing leader” rather than “a democracy leader.” They can be mobilized by Thaksin for his purposes. Like many middle class academics, for Thirayud, “Thaksin’s aim is more to make the grass roots his clients than to make them a sustainable foundation of the Thai economy.”

Part of that marketing push involved elections and “populist policies.” For him, “populism” is some kind of political sin as it makes electoral popularity paramount and what Thirayudh sees as necessary is to “uplift Thai society to be democratically strong, with strengthened rights, freedom and responsibility in which the people respect the feelings of others.”

While few would disagree with some of this, the point is that this is a deeply politically conservative position that hankers for some kind of “united” people, free of conflicts. Think here of the king’s repeated calls for unity and order. Essentially the ideas expressed by the king and Thirayudh spring from the same conservatism.

That same conservatism prompts Thirayudh to see the “current conflict in the country derives from Thaksin’s insatiable desire for wealth and power…”. In other words, the “desires” of the people are ignored.

More recently, and more obviously royalist in perspective, are the recent comments by the deep yellow-hued Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn. Chaiyan has long been a People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter and anti-Thaksin activist.

Like his colleagues in PAD, Chaiyan has a warped notion of electoral democracy. At The Nation he adds to the long history of PAD’s and his own anti-democratic cravings. There, Chaiyan makes the extraordinary proposal that any “national referendum on the Constitution should require the backing of two-thirds of voters before the charter can be adopted.”

Chaiyan

For PPT, the idea of a referendum on a constitution is silly and suggestive of exceptionally shallow thinking. Take the 2007 constitution and the military junta’s idea of having a referendum on it. Voters got to cast a vote of Yes or No for the draft constitution. That basic law contained 309 articles. What was a voter who had read the thing to do if he or she strongly objected to one article but kind of liked 308? Vote No? What would the voter who agreed with 155 articles but disagreed with 154 to do? Vote Yes? In any case, the junta’s team made constitutional change a task for parliament.

But politically, Chaiyan is doing something else. He is proposing the two-thirds requirement simply because it “is not easy to achieve.” The proposal he makes is to prevent the current government changing the constitution. He makes this crystal clear:

The Pheu Thai and government coalition did not get that many votes in the 2011 election. They will have to campaign more to get approval for the new charter while the opposition might campaign for people to oppose or abstain.

Chaiyan is anti-democratic to the core. But we guess his anti-Thaksin panelists found such proposals just fine and dandy.

We are not suggesting that all academics are simply the ideologues of the elitist royalist regime. For alternative perspectives, this story at the Bangkok Post is worth reading.

Retired Thammasat University history professor Thanet Aphornsuvan said:

We know that there is social inequity in our country, but what makes the people no longer tolerate this and why are the factors that used to make them accept the situation not being sustained anymore. It’s clear that of late the authority of those in power is being questioned….

PPT doesn’t agree that people “tolerated” inequality previously, but Thanet’s questions are worthy of consideration.

Porphant

At the same event, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University Professor Porphant Ouyyanont noted that mammoth economic structural changes had “created a new political economy in Thailand,” and that, post-1997, “old capitalist groups, such as the banks, seeing their share … [in the economy] reduced while new businesses in telecoms and media have emerged.” He also noted the integration of farmers with markets and a range of new provincial players. He observes that: “New economic players have new political demands.”

But, as Attachak Sattayanurak of Chiang Mai University’s history faculty notes, the current power structure has not been giving way to new demands. Attachak refers to “capitalist groups colluding with the military and aligning their legitimacy with the monarchy…”. He added:

The co-operation between the military and capitalists in controlling the socio-political landscape in the country has clearly been featured with a monarchy-loyalty flavour. The monarchy has been issued a new role of sustaining and legitimising the political entities in the country….

Pruek Taotawil of Ubon Ratchasima University also picked up on new economic groups that “have challenged the traditional conservative power structure…”. He adds that:

The old power groups have created new political discourse that the king is the community leader and anything opposite or against the discourse is not legitimate or accepted. The recent political conflicts are clashes between the networks of old and new powers galvanising grass roots masses as their support….

Pruek warned that the new political players would “not tolerate being only cosmetic accessories to the power structure.”

The future is clear, even if the conservatives – academics, military bosses, politicians and royalists – can’t accept it.





New book on the current reign I

1 12 2011

PPT can’t yet judge it because we haven’t yet seen it, but we will be interested to assess a new book – “King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work” – on the current reign that results from a project overseen by former prime minister and ardent royalist Anand Panyarachun at the head of an editorial advisory board.

It was launched a couple of days ago.

The Nation reports that Anand promises “deep, previously unknown insights into King’s life and the monarchy with ‘no attempts to hide the truth or run away from debates’.” He says it is “not a sugar-coated description of the world’s longest-reigning monarch and the work in English was written by a group of experts with knowledge and long experience in Thailand.”

The experts are said to be Chris Baker, David Streckfuss, Porphant Ouyyanont, Julian Gearing, Paul Wedel, Richard Ehrlich, Robert Horn, Joe Cummings, Robert Woodrow, Nicholas Grossman and Dominic Faulder.

Baker is certainly a respected writer on Thailand but has seldom trespassed in any critical manner on issues related to the monarchy. Streckfuss is the expert on lese majeste and Porphant is the leading expert on the Crown Property Bureau. Respectfully, and wishing to be fair but critical, none of the rest are more than long-term journalists, some of whom haven’t written much for a very long time (e.g. Wedel), others write pretty lightweight journalism (e.g. Cummings) and some are pretty much yellow-shirted monarchists.

The book is meant to “help Thai and foreign readers understand the whole gamut of Thailand’s 750-year-old institution and all related implications, real or imagined, especially those related to HM the King, his role and life-long work.” The idea that this current reign is the inheritor of an eight-century tradition is, in fact, one of the inventions of palace propaganda.

Anand

Anand says the book even features “negative aspects” related to the monarchy; we’ll be interested to know what these aspects are. He refers to “both sides,” and “not hiding the truth,” and adds that “we also do not want to persuade anyone to change their ways of thinking…”. Such language suggests how deeply debates about the monarchy, despite the stifling impact of lese majeste, have gone.

Anand says more on this when he adds: “The Thai monarchy has been subject to heavy criticism in the past few years not based on facts, so I have used my role as an adviser to tell the truth to foreign audiences…. The book features accurate information, which is fair to all sides, and is regarded as a reference for anyone without true knowledge about the monarchy.”

Anand claims that the book is entirely factual: “we did not use details without reference.” He does, however, note that as “the adviser to this publication, [I] did not alter any inputs of information, but [I did] have put in some details as fulfilment, to create greater balance.”

In line with the palace view that the public has recently “misunderstood the monarchy,” he says “I want all Thais to read it, and to know about a lot of things [about the monarchy] not known before to the public…”.

The topics discussed, apart from a piece on the Privy Council and that on the CPB and lese majeste, seem pretty much the regular features of the hagiographical accounts, so it remains to be seen if they introduce anything that is critical on sufficiency economy, royal projects and so on.

The comment that the article on lese majeste concludes that: “Thailand currently has the most severe lese-majeste law seen anywhere in more than a century, comparable only to Japanese wartime legislation,” is suggestive of some criticism of the law, as would be expected of Streckfuss.

The story concludes, unfortunately with an inaccuracy: “In the past, books about the monarchy have been banned in Thailand. Paul Handley’s ‘The King Never Smiles’ was banned…. So was William Stevenson’s book “The Revolutionary King”, written in 1999.” Of course the latter is sold in Bangkok, but not the more thorough and more accurate Handley book.





The monarchy’s wealth (denied, again)

12 09 2011

A letter to the New York Times proves the strength of the royalist desire to “protect” a monarchy. A month after the original article, prompted by the seizure of a Boeing 737 in Munich, Arjaree Sriratanaban, Minister Counselor at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D.C. has responded in a remarkable statement that is obviously disingenuous.

The original article, by Thomas Fuller, used the seizing of the plane – which the then Abhisit Vejjajiva government claimed “belonged” to Prince Vajiralongkorn, raised questions regarding the remarkably opaque nature of royal finances and financing.

Arjaree claims ” the Thai side considered this impoundment a grave error based upon a misunderstanding that the aircraft is an asset of the Thai government and not privately owned by the crown prince.” In simple terms, the plane is the prince’s personal property. That is somehow transitioned from a state asset to a private asset is not addressed.

The letter then turns to “[t]he notion” that the “king of Thailand is the world’s richest monarch.” It states that this “needs to be reassessed.” Why?

Simply because Forbes magazine’s calculation of the world’s richest royals “included assets belonging to the Crown Property Bureau that are held in trust for the nation and not at the king’s personal disposal.”

The letter claims:

it should also be noted that Thailand’s 1948 Crown Property Bureau Act provides the legal framework for clearly differentiating the Crown Property Bureau’s assets from the personal properties of the reigning monarch. It is the duty of the C.P.B. under this act to administer the assets under its board of directors chaired ex officio by the minister of finance. Most importantly, the C.P.B. has been striving for a balance between the financial and social outcomes of its activities to benefit all of its stakeholders, letting out much of its property with rents below market levels.

This is simply a repetition of palace propaganda. PPT realizes that even having to trot this propaganda out must give the CPB officials heartburn. After all, it is only since the 2006 coup that there has been wider public attention to royal wealth. For another claim that “the king is not rich,” see here.

As we noted in our earlier post:

… the lack of transparency and control of the CPB by the monarch is associated with the current reign. The opaque management and operation of the CPB is becoming a serious issue, and it scares those who manage the CPB so much that they have taken baby steps to trying to appear more transparent. As Fuller says, “Much remains unknown about the bureau’s assets.” In fact, his statement is weak; almost nothing significant is known.

He notes that, in 2008, Forbes magazine “ranked the Thai king as the world’s richest royal, the Thai government strongly protested, saying the magazine had conflated the king’s personal wealth with assets managed by the bureau.” As others have pointed out, this is a nonsensical response. Only the crown controls the CPB and no recent government has ever sought to change this situation.

Fuller adds that income from the CPB “is separate from the approximately $350 million in taxpayer money allocated for the royal household, royal-led development projects and other expenses related to the royal family.

There is sufficient academic and other commentary on the CPB to prove the inaccuracy of the propaganda. In another post, PPT referred to lese majeste defendant Somsak Jeamteerasakul who reacted to the Crown Property Bureau’s first public annual report. The original post was at Prachatai. We said:

This is a long post and worth reading in full. In short, Somsak takes up the CPB’s claim that “Crown property is state property and public property, for which the government through the Minister of Finance as the Chairperson is responsible, and which the CPB takes care of.”

Somsak says this “statement is not true, de jure and de facto.” He later concludes, following a listing of legal interpretations, that “the 2010 CPB Annual Report is an attempt to distort…”, adding: “That crown property and the Crown Property Bureau fall under the exclusive oversight of the King (and are accountable to no one else) is a fact known for a long time in all sectors, business or government, and even in public. It is therefore incredible that the 2010 CPB Annual Report tries to distort the fact by saying that CPB is under the ‘responsibility’ of the government.”

Of course, as Somsak points out, this CPB sleight of hand is to deflect attention away from the vast wealth controlled by the monarch and to obscure the fact that in most modern monarchies, crown property is state property. In Thailand, it is the king’s property. PPT might add that this is a politically-motivated statement, seeking to deflect the criticism that is made of this obscenely rich royal family.

PPT would add that the Arjaree’s comment on what is “Most important…” – its low rents, is right out of the palace’s playbook. The problem is that it doesn’t even match what the CPB itself states in its Annual Report: ”

2) Rent Rationalization – contract renewals for most tenants take place every three years; the CPB takes this opportunity to adjust rents so that they are aligned with others in the same community but always after carefully considering tenants’ capacity to pay.

And here is what academic Porphant Ouyyanont says in his Journal of Contemporary Asia article in 2008:

To manage its landed properties, CPB set up another new entity called CPB Property Company (Wang Sinsup in Thai) in 2000. Again new executives were hired, headed by Yos Euarchukiati, member of a prominent banking and industrial family, and including people with experience in finance and real estate….

The management of the CPB’s property portfolio was also restructured and reorientated to become more commercial and aggressive. The initial aim was simply to increase the cashflow as rapidly as possible. Private tenancies were renegotiated on an individual basis and, shortly after the [1997-98] crisis….

Porphant shows how rents were increased substantially, for almost all kinds of property, following the economic crisis. For a time, income from property was higher than the usual giants of the CPB portfolio, the Siam Cement Group and the Siam Commercial Bank.

Arjaree Sriratanaban has acted several times as MFA mouthpiece. As examples, see the letter to the Bangkok Post in 2010 and a statement in The Nation in 2006. It may seem remarkable that Thai officials are willing to put their names to letters that are obviously full of misleading information and falsehoods, but that seems to be Arjaree’s task.





Updated: Stupid foreigners, the monarchy’s wealth and messed up brains

25 02 2011

A report in the Vancouver Sun which placed Thailand’s king on top of its list of the 10 richest world leaders.

The story states: “Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak resigned power as Egypt’s president today, and leaves with a reported fortune of anywhere between $40-70 billion. Here are some other world leaders who have a healthy nest egg socked away for their retirement.” Here’s the list, with Mubarak’s alleged personal wealth listed:

PAD_King1. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand ($30 billion)

2. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei ($20 billion)

3. Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of UAE ($18 billion)

4. King Abdullah bin Abul Aziz of Saudi Arabia ($21 billion)

5. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai ($12 billion)

6. Hosni Mubarak ($10 billion)

7. Silvio Berlusconi ($9 billion)

8. Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein ($3.5 billion)

9. Emir of Qatar ($2 billion)

10. Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan ($1.9 billion)

Perhaps the newspaper should have made it clear that the wealth of Thailand’s king is not entirely personal and is held for the monarchy. It does state: “The Thai government has disputed his position as the wealthiest head of state, saying that much of this is not part of his personal wealth.”

Sumet

It should also be added that the $30 billion figure only refers to the Crown Property Bureau, and that each member of the royal family is thought to be personally very wealthy as well. Of course, the figure takes no account of the billions handed over to the royals for “charity” or spent on keeping up appearances through large injections of taxpayer funds to the royals.

Long-time royal aide Sumet Tantivejkul, who is secretary-general of the Chaipattana Foundation and has overseen the vast portfolio of royal projects, has commented on this report (also see our 2009 post on Sumet extolling monarchy). His comments are posted at Prachatai. The report says that Sumet questioned the motives of “those who spread the news,” and implied a warning that those spreading stories could be in trouble.

Asked “about the increasingly open talk and criticism of the monarchy at social networking websites, Sumet said, “that lot don’t have identities, do they? They like cursing anybody they choose.  So [they] can say anything in the online world.  If we take them seriously, it messes up our brain.

PPT cites this point first as the Sun story is all over these sites and we liked the idea of messed up brains. Presumably this means that thinking is impaired. We wonder, though, if thinking is impaired by having to dissemble for one’s sponsors and heroes? As an example, see how Sumet describes and explains royal wealth:

What is the Crown Property Bureau?  If you want to know whether HM is really rich or not, you have to look at his private property. That really belongs to him.  […]  But this has all been mixed up,’ he said.

‘Crown property means that it belongs to the state.  But when farangs see the emblem [of the CPB], oh! this must belong to the King.  In fact, the Ministry of Finance is in charge. The chair of the CPB is the Minister of Finance.  It’s not part of HM’s property.  It belongs to the institution.  It has a board,’ he said.

This is messed up thinking. Here’s what the CPB says at its website:

The Crown Property Bureau was established under the Royal Assets Structuring Act of 1936 and became a juristic person in 1948. According to the Act, a Crown Property Board was set up, to be chaired ex officio by the Finance Minister, and served by at least four royally-appointed directors. His Majesty the King would also name one of the board members the director-general of the Crown Property Bureau. The Board of Crown Property is responsible for the overall supervision of the activities of the Crown Property Bureau. Duties and responsibilities of the director-general are prescribed by the Board of Crown Property.

In effect, the king controls the CPB through his appointed board. More from that website:

… On 21 April 1935, the 1934 act to exempt royal assets from taxation took effect. The act categorized the royal assets into two types:

* Assets eligible for tax exemption

* Assets eligible for tax payment

On 19 July 1937, the Royal Assets Structuring Act of 1936 became effective. It separated the royal assets into “His Majesty’s personal assets”, “crown property” and “public property”. “His Majesty’s personal assets” would be managed by the Finance Ministry. The Crown Property Bureau was set up with the status equivalent to a division under the Treasury Department of the Finance Ministry.

We guess that when Sumet talks of “private property” that he means anything outside the above. The above shows control is with the king. Each of those appointed is a royalist, close to the palace (note that a slightly different list appears in the Thai version).

What the above doesn’t tell us is how the assets are used. The CPB has almost no transparency – look at the very limited list of  investments. It is opaque because the CPB is “special.” That list implies that the assets of the crown are not state assets.

That the Finance Minister is chair of the board does not mean that the assets are owned by the state and managed for the state. That position is one that was created under the law set by anti-royalist politicians and the intent of that law has long passed, most especially in deals done with the palace under a 1948 Act and then under General Sarit Thanarat. Of the 1948 Act, Porphant Ouyyanont in”The Crown Property Bureau in Thailand and the Crisis of 1997,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 38,1, 2008, says:

The Crown Property Act of 1948 [not mentioned above] reconstituted the CPB as a juristic person with considerable independence within the overall framework of the government. It also gave control back to the palace.

The minister of finance continued to serve as chairman of the CPB Board, but other board members, including the director, were chosen by the king. The role of the director, who had great independence in managing the CPB’s assets, became of paramount importance. While prior to 1948 there had been frequent changes of management, over the next six decades there were only three directors, giving great continuity. The two distinguishing characteristics of these directors were that they were well educated and palace insiders.

Later the author adds this:

The 1948 Act had some other important characteristics. It specified that the use of the PPB’s resources and income ‘‘depends totally on the royal inclination.’’ It laid down that the CPB’s landed assets could not be seized or transferred. It absolved the CPB from tax on its income (a provision that had been introduced in 1936). It constituted the CPB as an absolutely unique entity which was difficult to define in terms of Thai law. In the course of subsequent legal processes, the Council of State had to give rulings on the nature of the CPB on four occasions. Not one of the rulings was unanimous, and the four rulings conflict. The Council agreed that the CPB was not a private company, government department, or state enterprise, and ultimately in 2001 ruled it was a ‘‘unit of the state,’’ whatever that meant (Somsak, 2006: 67-93).

So when Sumet says: “Don’t think that farangs are always smart.  Many farangs are stupid,” he means in their interpreatation of the king’s/palace’s wealth. Leaving aside the racist slight, which is not uncommon from the amart, it seems that Thais too are perplexed by these “arrangements.” This includes those who have studied the CPB most closely. In fact, they are not stupid, and it is Sumet who is dissembling for political purposes, for Chirayu Isarangkun, the head of the CPB has stated the position clearly, as cited in the above academic article:

The fact that CPB is the investment arm for the monarchy, with a long-term and continuous reputation for reliability, induces Thai and foreign investors to seek joint ventures.

So Sumet can babble on for as long as he wants, claiming the king isn’t wealthy:

‘Is this an exaggeration?  The news spread.  Many people get excited, talking and writing all kinds of stuff….  Go and look at HM’s residence.  Don’t talk about foreign billionaires; even billionaires in Thailand are far richer than him.  So how can they say he is the world’s richest?  Insane,’ he said. ‘Look how he lives.  HM lives in a small palace, and is frugal.  He has been the example of sufficiency,’ he said.

Apart from the fact that the king seems to currently reside in a public hospital, his “small palace,” presumably at Hua Hin is just one of several palaces around the country, many of them barely used. And, the fact remains that the CPB and personal wealth of the monarchy in Thailand is stupendous. And, most of it has been developed during this long reign.








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