Populist vs. populists

30 05 2018

In recent days there have been a couple of news accounts of “populism” in Thailand. One is in the Bangkok Post and another was in the South China Morning Post.

The SCMP reckons the military junta is stealing policies from Thaksin Shinawatra – something we at PPT have long pointed to. Indeed, the role of Somkid Jatusripitak cannot be discounted in accounting for policy congruence in areas the media delights in calling “populism.”

Taking quite a different approach to origins, the Bangkok Post believes the military dictatorship’s Thai Niyom Yangyuen (sustainable Thai-ness) campaign draws “inspiration” from “the Chinese Communist Party’s grassroots development campaigns…”. Given Somkid’s ethnicity and personal ties, that could also be true. We doubt many in the military are followers of Chinese Communist Party rural efforts, but they certainly like that regime’s strong authoritarian control, so perhaps its political models they draw on. But as an economist, Somkid also draws inspiration from Japanese models of development and innovation, and he did this successfully under Thaksin.

Puea Thai Party politicians are right, too, to point to “double standards as the government has been quite outspoken in the past in vilifying such attempts at populism.”

The Dictator is likely to get even more jumpy and agitated in his campaigning as the Shinawatra clan is again in the news. It seems Yingluck Shinawatra has been given a 10-year visa by the British government.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha looks silly because he keeps talking about extradition but does precious little. He is probably happier to have her outside the country as he campaigns for his own continued premiership, But he gets grumpy when the Shinawatras get media time.

But back to populism. One of the biggest “subsidies” going into an election some time in the future is that from the State Oil Fund. Gen Prayuth reckons he can maintain fuel prices at the current level until the election.

He insisted that “the State Oil Fund proves a vital tool for stabilising oil prices and limiting the effects on the economy.” It is also a means of preventing voter disenchantment with the junta’s devil parties. He says the Fund currently has “about 31 billion baht in its coffers” but don’t be surprised if that is added to if an election is called. There is also pressure on PTT to support lower prices.

For the junta, it is all hands and lots of cash on deck for an election.

Graft failures continue

28 02 2017

Remember the Rolls Royce graft story? Forgotten it already? The junta’s government seems to hope it goes away. In the best tradition of burying graft allegations, dragging out a case seems to one way of hoping it will go away.

The Bangkok Post reports that the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) “has admitted there has been no progress in its investigation into the Rolls-Royce bribery scandal involving two major state enterprises.”

That’s none. Zilch.

But never mind, a “newly-appointed joint committee on anti-graft” will hold meetings to “consider high-profile corruption cases, including the Rolls-Royce scandal.”

The new committee is “headed by NACC president Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit and comprises the section heads of various agencies such as the Justice Ministry, the Office of the Attorney-General, the Anti-Money Laundering Office, the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission and the Office of the Auditor-General.”

That should work better than the other committees and agencies, right? Probably not. It might be better for a burial of all the charges.

On the Rolls Royce case, NACC secretary-general Sansern Poljeak said “the British Serious Fraud Office (SFO) which is pursuing lawsuits against British manufacturing giant Rolls-Royce over corrupt acts, has not yet handed over documents to the Thai agency.”

We guess blaming the British is useful for the NACC in deflecting criticism of their non-work.

Sansern did say that the “British officials are apparently concerned about the confidentiality of the information they are expected to forward to Thai officials for use in the probe.”

That would seem a reasonable concern, especially when the SFO is dealing with multiple and competing Thai agencies, all of which are incompetent.

The NACC says it “needs hard evidence from the SFO and other official foreign agencies to take legal action against the accused.” Of course they do. They do not want to do any of their own investigations because they are politicized and incompetent.

And guess what? One of the issues of confidentiality is the new committee: “After the panel was formed last week, the SFO sent an email to the NACC expressing concerns about the confidentiality of the information it would hand over to the NACC…”.

Sansern said the new committee would consider the “issue…”.

And, if blaming the Brits is insufficient, also blame the Americans: “the NACC has not yet received documents from the US Department of Justice.”

On another related bribery case, as expected, “PTT Plc president and chief executive Tevin Vongvanich earlier admitted the firm had made no progress in its internal investigation into the Rolls-Royce bribery allegations…”.

PTT had “set up an internal investigative committee consisting of company members who have never been involved in procurement or auction processes in order to ensure transparency.” Nothing. No progress, but “the committee continued to gather evidence and information.”

Another Bangkok Post report is about the new super-committee meeting for the first time. They seemed to rewind to the early days of the RR “investigation,” deciding who the “lead agency” should be. “It has been agreed the Office of the Attorney-General will be responsible for requesting documents and information from the British Serious Fraud Office…”.

The Office of the Attorney-General seems to have rewound the tape of investigation: “Amnat Chotchai, director-general of the International Affairs Department [of AG]… “said the investigation into the Roll-Royce scandal has hit a snag due to a lack of information.”

The death penalty excuse came up again, but has again been dismissed by the Thai “investigators.”

And is the new super-committee sorting things out? No. “Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, chairman of the … NACC … and head of the joint panel, said the prosecution [no idea what this means] has been put in charge of coordinating with the SFO to seek evidence and documents while the NACC will coordinate ‘unofficially’ for information.” So not the AG’s office?

Creating a shemozzle is one of the best ways of not getting things done. And this looks like a classic case of bureaucratic shemozzle that might even be called “corruption” among the anti-corruption agencies.

The NACC boss rambled on: “The matter has been resolved [we are not sure which matter he means]. There will be no more problem when it comes to seeking information…”. Yeah, right…. He is a senior policeman and they are masters of illogic and corruption cover-ups.

He went further! The case is not stalled at all! “Pol Gen Watcharapol said while the NACC has gathered facts involving THAI, the agency still needs to verify some information before it decides to press charges against those allegedly involved in the scandal.”More: “The NACC has information about who were involved in the two first two periods of the bribery but we have to be sure before we go ahead and press charges. We are still gathering information about the third period…”.

Wow. In the space of a day, the stalled investigation is almost finished. Stunning. Amazing. Lies.

We are sure that it is not just us who think this is a hastily cobbled together sham and a sad joke.

“Commissions” II

22 01 2017

A few days ago we posted about the UK details of “commissions” – bribes – paid in deals surrounding Rolls Royce engines and service for Thai Airways.

In that post we reminded readers that “commissions” have long been about an illegally regulated flow of payments to state employees and senior military officers from almost every act of state procurement. We noted that the top officers aren’t usually doing the “deals,” but the “system” works so that funds flow to the top.

We added that this system was so deeply embedded that it is normalized among the heads of the military, police and other big procurement agencies.

And, we pointed to the results: the reporting of wealth by senior civil and military figures as if it is normal that they are unusually wealthy declared by these persons.

In a related action, reported ever so briefly at the Bangkok Post, “a different Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case filed by the US Justice Department” and involves PTT and PTT Exploration and Production dealings with a Rolls Royce energy subsidiary.

The amounts of “commissions” in this case appear to be well in excess of $11 million just for Thailand (the case involves several other countries).

The events covered are from about 2003 to 2013. As the PTT website states, “PTT Public Company Limited or ‘PTT’ was registered on October 1, 2001 under [the] Corporatization Act B.E. 2542 (A.D. 1999).” It is added that “PTT conducts the exploration and production business through our subsidiary-PTT Exploration and Production Company Limited (PTTEP).”

Details of the legal case can be downloaded as a PDF.

It is stated at the Post that “PTT Plc has … begun an investigation into allegations of bribery by Rolls-Royce.” This became known because, as a listed company, PPT had to make a statement to the stock exchange.

A reading of the available annual reports on PTT suggests that being a director of the corporation has been a sinecure for the flunkies of the party or regime in power at the time. It is also clear that whatever party or regime was in power, the rewards flowed to Thailand’s elite. Each board of directors has been made up of not just flunkies of a regime but royalists and senior bureaucrats, many of the latter serving at PTT while holding down a senior position in the civil or military bureaucracy.

Today, the board is made up of military men, loyal royalists and others who have served the military following the 2006 and 2014 coup. In fact, these corporatized state enterprises and the fully state-owned enterprises have been stuffed full of junta brass and supporters.

In our earlier post we noted that there are many such instances of such corrupt payments, and this new revelation is just one of them. As we said, “commissions” are paid on literally everything that is procured.

Lese majeste farce continues

13 06 2015

In an earlier post on Montri Sotangkul‘s fate, caught up in the future monarch’s purge of the royal household staff considered close to former wife Srirasmi, we predicted that, like the other couple of dozen similarly purged, Montri will plead guilty in order to avoid a lengthy trial and will get 4-5 years, reduced by half for the guilty plea.Montri - Copy

By late on 12 June 2015, Montri had moved down this path. At Khaosod it is reported that the “former chamberlain to ex-princess Srirasmi,” confessed that he had “exploited his position as a senior official in the Royal Household Bureau to win seats on the executive boards of several state enterprises, and to secure the rights to buy and sell land in Bangkok.” Montri told reporters: “I have indeed committed the wrongdoing…. I confess to all charges. Now I feel repentant. I regret what I have done.”

Montri, who has no lawyer, will now complete the walk down the now well-worn path to jail time in record time. This process is now a modern ritual of succession. In the Ayudhya period of Thai history, these people would have been executed.

As part of the royal ritual, the compliant police, demonstrating their loyalty to the throne, engaged in a farcical ritual of their own by re-enacting the “crimes.” These police re-enactments are usually peculiar in themselves but this one was even more ridiculous than usual. Astoundingly, Montri was taken to the offices of both PTT, the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Technology and CAT Telecom to point at chairs in meeting rooms. This ridiculousness was apparently meant to be a “crime reenactment.” As Khaosod put it, “[a]t each building Montri pointed to the seats in the meeting rooms where he allegedly pressured officials into appointing him as an executive board member.”

The police sent along their top brass for a photo opportunity.

The police stated that “Montri will be held at an undisclosed location – and not Bangkok Remand Prison – while he awaits trial ‘for the sake of safety of the suspect’.” This is part of the secret deal for the guilty plea and the quick trial that will soon come, as early as next week.

Montri’s assets are likely to be frozen or seized.

Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang “told reporters that former Princess Srirasmi personally appointed Montri to her entourage, and that the Crown Prince was not involved in her decision.” Of course, this must be true in maintaining the palace farce.

More palace cleansing

10 06 2015

The massive effort by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn to “cleanse” his palace of his former wife Srirasmi’s alleged associates and her relatives continues.

Montri Sotangkul, 53, described in a wire report at the Daily Mail as “a senior palace official,” is a member of the Royal Household Bureau. The police have “written to the Royal Household Bureau, telling it to hand Montri over to police custody on Thursday.”

Thailand’s wealthy and corrupt senior police officer, notorious for his capacity for posterior polishing and doing the bidding of palace and military junta, Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang declared: “Montri has claimed that he is close to members of the royal family to make profit for himself [in land and business deals]…”.

Then he adds the almost unbelievable but required: “The former princess recruited him to work for her and he has nothing to do with the Crown Prince…”. He has to say that.

Prachatai reports that the police warrant states that Montri is also accused of offenses under Articles 148, 149, and 157 of the Criminal Code and Article 123 and 123/1 of the 2009 Anti-Corruption Act. Montri is  “accused of accepting bribe in brokering a property deal in the western province of Phetchaburi as well.”

In other words, the vindictiveness is complete.Montri - Copy

The police are reported to have been told:

by the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) that the suspect allegedly cited the monarchy to obtain positions in the executive boards of PTT Public Company Limited, the state owned oil and gas company, and CAT Telecom Public Company Limited, the state-owned company that runs Thailand’s international telecommunications infrastructure.

This reveals two things. First, that the military dictatorship is fully associated with the prince’s palace cleansing, and second, that the claims made are ludicrous. On the latter, positions on boards of even publicly-listed and state-connected companies are perquisites for royal-connected flunkies. A brief look at PTT’s annual reports confirms this.

Montri “resigned” from PTT in December, which can’t be coincidental, for this is when the royal cleansing was at its height. He remains listed at PPT, where he was a director that won an award for “distinctiveness” in 2013 (clicking downloads a PDF).  His connections, or some of them are here.

The dictatorship and Wharton

15 03 2015

Not that long ago, PPT posted about another foray into U.S. academia by royalist interests. That post was about the University of Michigan as royalists forked out loot, with the Crown Property Bureau to promote their interests. There had been a similar doling out of dosh at Harvard (as if it needs it!). Both efforts to curry favor in the U.S. were under the current military dictatorship.

The most recent link to U.S. universities is a “conference” in Bangkok, organized by The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Our attention was drawn to this event by a report that The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, was a keynote speaker at the Wharton Global Forum Bangkok.

The Wharton Dean states that the Wharton Global Forum Bangkok will see “industry and academia will come together to debate ideas and explore new pathways for exploiting the possibilities and mitigating the pitfalls of today’s borderless world, and Asia’s central role in this rapidly changing business environment.”

Shouldn’t we expect him to know that there is no academic freedom in Thailand under the military dictatorship? Shouldn’t he know that some academics have had to escape Thailand while others are prevented from presenting views that are not in line with those of the dictatorship? Surely business schools, which repeatedly talk of good governance and corporate social responsibility, should be ashamed that this meeting is under the auspices of the world’s only military dictatorship, with The Dictator as a keynote speaker.

Shouldn’t Wharton be ashamed that it provided The Dictator with a platform to lie – he claimed his government had never infringed human rights – and to attack the very notion of electoral democracy.

Why would Wharton lend its name to the military dictatorship? One reason is that one of the Chairmen of the event is multiple military junta servant and minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula. He’s been finance minister for both the 2006 and 2014 military junta backed and appointed governments and he’s a Wharton alumnus. That, however, is probably not sufficient to get a big conference for the military dictatorship. That requires money, and Pridiyathorn is not short of a baht. In fact, he is listed as an event sponsor. That requires a payment of $50,000.

The lead sponsors include a bunch of Sino-Thai conglomerates close to the military dictatorship and the monarchy: Double A, Bangkok Bank, CP, Land & Houses, PTT, and the Crown Property Bureau -controlled Siam Cement Group. No doubt most of this lot were happy enough to fork over $100,000 each when Pridiyathorn  and the dictatorship came knocking.

Why we are not surprised III

31 07 2013

It is quite a time since PPT last expressed a lack of surprise in a headline. The last one was, we think, in May 2011. In this post we point to three stories that should not surprise anyone.

The first story refers to the “news” that the Democrat Party will “will vote against two amnesty bills expected to have their first reading in the House on Aug 7…”. That is the least surprising news of the week. As usual, the Democrat Party moaned that it hates the bills because they seek amnesty for “terrorism,” “arson,” “murder” and lese majeste.

The second story, mainly about the navy, says: “The cabinet on Tuesday approved a 16.3 billion baht budget for the armed forces to spend on a variety of projects aimed at enhancing national defence, a cabinet source said on Tuesday.” That’s additional budget. Who can be surprised?

The third story is about PTT. The huge oil spill in the Gulf of Thailand was initially said to be “under control” as it hit the beaches at Koh Samet. But who can be surprised that the giant PTT got into trouble? After all, it had a spill at the Montara field in Australia in 2009 and said it was tiny and under control. Later, the huge leak was investigated and this was the official verdict: “For over 10 weeks from August last year, oil and gas flowed unchecked from the Montara oilfield into the Timor Sea, 250km off the northwest coast of Australia, affecting 90,000sq km.” The inquiry commissioner David Borthwick is reported to have:

reserved his most scathing criticism for the oilfield owner, calling its failure to properly investigate the blowout “irresponsible and inexcusable” and accusing the company of seriously misleading NOPSA [Commonwealth of Australia Statutory Agency regulating health & safety, structural integrity & environmental management of all offshore petroleum facilities] several times over a six-month period.”

Don’t be surprised if they get off light in Thailand. For one thing, PTT is well-connected. It is massive in terms of stock market capitalization.

Royal-invested companies and Burma

15 11 2010

The Bangkok Post has a most useful story on why the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, and especially its royalist-capitalist wing, has so wholeheartedly jumped into bed with the Burmese regime. It says: “Thai heavy industry is likely to shift to industrial estates in Burma’s western coastal city of Dawei instead of setting up facilities in southern Thailand or Map Ta Phut…”. Map Ta Phut has been a problem for them – including several royally-invested firms.

Just who is likely to invest?  The story says: “Companies planning to invest in a Dawei industrial estate include PTT Plc, Siam Cement Group and the upstream complex of a Japanese steel company.” Both groups have had considerable trouble at Map Ta Phut, so what better way to solve a problem of environment and  “civil society” than to go and invest in Burma, where the military can guard them from all business and political threats, or so they think.

According to the NESDB, “It is quite clear, he said, that more heavy industry cannot be located in Map Ta Phut in Rayong, while the agency’s survey showed residents in the South disagreed with the establishment of an oil refinery and petrochemical complex.”

PPT wonders when they will add the gimmicky ideas about how this is sufficiency economy and good for Thailand… even nationalist? Oops, the latter has already begun: “It is predicted Dawei’s wide-ranging infrastructure project will strengthen Thai competitiveness with improved access to raw materials such as natural gas and ore for the steel industry from the Middle East and South Africa.”

And guess which obedient leader has helped out, yet again? “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also sought the support of the Chinese government for the Dawei project on the sidelines of the G20 meetings last Friday, encouraging Chinese companies to set up projects in an industrial estate planned by Thailand’s Amata Corp.”

All so predictable.

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