Taxpayer funding for the monarchy II

24 09 2022

The enveloping mourning and funeral of the dead British queen was unable to completely obliterate anti-monarchism. Opponents of monarchy were able to be heard, even if the mainstream media became absurdly royalist for a couple of weeks.

Interestingly, questions have been raised regarding the cost of the monarchy in Britain. As we noted yesterday, analysis of the Thai monarchy’s cost to the taxpayer has (re)emerged. There was very limited discussion of the taxpayer contribution to the rich royals under the dead king.

Shutting down discussion of the monarchy’s cost was one of Bhumibol and his coterie’s remarkable political achievements, built on military dictatorship, repression, and the deaths of many opponents of the military-monarchy regime. Recently, thanks to a few dedicated researchers and youthful protesters, such questioning is at least politically possible, even if the royalists push back and the regime still arrests, charges, and arrests activists.

Taxpayer funding for the monarchy I

23 09 2022

For the fourth year, Prachatai has sifted through the documentation released by the Budget Bureau to find how much the taxpayer is squeezed for funding, “protecting,” and promoting the monarchy.

Their calculation is of funds self-identified as targeted to or provided to the monarchy.

In terms of actual spending, this 34.752 billion baht is probably an under-estimate. This mammoth figure is, in fact, a slight reduction over the previous year, but almost 17% higher than in 2020.

Taxpayer funds handed over for the direct funding of the “Royal Offices” has also reduced a small proportion, but is planned to rise further in coming budget years. The proposed allocation from taxpayers in 2026 is almost 59% higher than it was in 2018.These huge extractions from the taxpayer suggest a regime and palace that cares little for the economic travails of the population.

It is important to add that this king is one of the world’s richest royals.

Silk and shaky royal power I

29 05 2022

Readers may have noticed a recent article in the Bangkok Post regarding the regime “promoting Thai silk as part of its efforts to make Thailand’s soft power conquer the world…”. That’s according to the execrable Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam who for some unexplained reason is “chair of the committee organising the 11th Celebration of Silk, Thai Silk Road to the World…”, which seems to plagiarize Chinese jargon.

Interestingly, the effort is a state-royalist effort, with a “Thai silk fair” held at the Royal Thai Navy Convention Hall in Bangkok, and meant to “honour … Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother for her dedication to the development of Thai silk and the promotion of silk products at an international level.”

Part of the “fair” is a “Big Silk Designer Contest” which “showcases Thai culture and heritage attached to Thai silk” and is meant to “attract … young Thais interested in traditional fabrics and encourages them to incorporate Thai silk into modern fashion design.” Culture Minister Itthiphol Kunplome described this as “a new area of Thailand soft power…”.

From Wikipedia

So important is this state-royalist effort that “the permanent secretaries of all 10 ministries displayed on the catwalk Thai silk collections designed and produced in recent months.” Presumably permanent secretaries don’t allocate time from presumably busy schedules unless there is some kind of incentive or directive. In this case, we presume it is the royal dimension.

In reading this “report,” we were reminded of a recent post at Fulcrum by Alexandra Dalferro: “Princess Sirivannavari’s Textile Initiative and Royal Power: Will Thai People Take the Hook?” (we suggest ignoring the sub-heading which does not appear to reflect the article). This article explains yet another state-royalist effort to promote the princess (previously promoted as a talented scholar, talented national badminton player, talented equestrian, talented entrepreneur, talented, designer, etc.). It also recounts the opposition to the “use of taxpayer money (to the tune of 13 million baht) to market her brand abroad.”

As it was under the Sirikit “brand,” the Sirivannavari “brand” is not so much about Thai “soft power,” but royal “soft power,” using buckets of taxpayer funds to promote the monarchy. For Sirivannavari, it is also an effort to make the often ridiculed princess appear more “likeable” and more popular.

The article at Fulcrum concludes:

Many producers relate that they are willing to make the pattern to earn money, but they are unwilling to wear it, explaining that it has no source. To them, the pattern has not been shared across generations and is not related to locally meaningful motifs; it exists only for civil servants to wear to fulfil their mandates. ‘They are forced to wear it because they have no freedom,’ one weaver from Northeast Thailand emphasised in a recent conversation with the author. Many Thai people are refusing the lure of the S hook by keeping it away from their bodies, a decision that is also a challenge to entrenched but now shaky royal power.

Updated: Mutual back-scratching

12 12 2016

It is not a secret that companies that do well in Thailand have tended to be big “donors.” Most conspicuously, they fork out millions each year to various royal things, including charities, projects and just handing over bags of money for unspecified royal use. In the giving season, there is an endless parade of donors handing over the loot. Most recently, it has been Princess Sirindhorn doing the receiving on behalf of the world’s richest monarchy. A red royal garuda outside the company head office is one marker of these Sino-Thai tycoons having gained royal approval and acknowledgement.

These companies give less conspicuously to state events and projects. Least conspicuous of all is the myriad of payments that are made to military officers, police top brass and senior bureaucrats. This can involve positions on boards. Think of General Prem Tinsulanonda’s long chairmanship of the Bangkok Bank and all that carried with it for the company and its owners. the marvelous and still unexplained wealth of former police chief Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang, who now heads the casino known as the Thailand Football Association.

Another strategy is the creation of advisory positions, paying nice monthly stipends but where little advising is required unless their is some trouble that needs to be ironed out. And then there are the payments to those officials who are required to do favors, bend rules, overlook things and so on.

This is oiling the wheels of their commerce and trade through a hierarchy of corruption. Yet a blind eye is turned because this is the great and the good scratching each others’ broad backs.

Sometimes, though, through arrogance, forgetting that this is shady dealing and knowing that everyone does it, a revelation is made. The mutual back-scratching is visible and confirmed as in a recent report at the Bangkok Post.

Perhaps believing that revealing unexplained wealth and extra income is okay because so many others have done it with impunity, city police chief Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn declared that the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc pays him 600,000 baht a year as an “adviser.” ThaiBev is a company controlled by one of Thailand’s richest, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, worth almost $14 billion (naturally, he’s also close to the palace.) The Post story continues:

The payment is shown in Pol Lt Gen Sanit’s list of assets and liabilities that he recently declared to the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) as a member of the National legislative Assembly (NLA). The record shows he began receiving the monthly stipend last year.

The news from the NACC was released in the middle of a long holiday weekend, when it is guaranteed to attract the least possible notice.

It seems the senior policeman thinks receiving loot from the country’s wealthiest – meaning they must be great and good – is normal despite the fact that one aspect of his job is to implement a range of laws that govern the operations of the beer kings, who also have huge land and property investments in Bangkok (and beyond). This senior cop can’t see any conflict of interest, but can see his bank balance doing very nicely. This senior policeman probably also thinks that 600,000 is something of a pittance when compared with all the other illicit funds that funnel up to him. This strategy of corruption in the police is well-documented, and that’s why senior police are so wealthy. When the NLA was put in place by the junta, the top cops averaged a whopping 258 million baht in assets. And, moonlighting by doing favors for the rich and powerful is widely believed to be “legal.”

The criticism has been muted. After all, this corrupt cop has just been appointed by the junta to the NLA, so criticis have to be careful or they could end up in jail, harassed or worse. Somchai Armin, the chairman of something called the Lawyers Association for Rights and Environment Protection, has demanded Sanit give up his job as adviser to ThaiBev. That’s it? Even the Post wonders: “Somchai provided no reason for failing to call for Pol Lt Gen Sanit to resign from the police.”

Of course, Sanit is laying low: he “was not available for comment as of the press time Sunday and it is not clear what advice he has offered to the firm.”

Update: Serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, has filed a petition on this case with the Office of the Ombudsman.  Srisuwan argues that the Police Lt General “might have violated the Royal Thai Police code of conduct and ethics of 2008, the Prime Minister’s Office regulation of 2008 regarding ethics of political office holders, and the National Anti-Corruption Act of 1989.” The Office of the Ombudsman now has to decide if it will do anything. The military junta has apparently done nothing.

The rich get a bit richer still

8 06 2016

Forbes has released its annual rankings of the rich in 2016. There are a number of stories and a listing of the 50 wealthiest in Thailand (sans the royal family and its Crown Property Bureau).

The Forbes list is compiled, they say, “using shareholding and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges and analysts, the Stock Exchange of Thailand and regulatory agencies.” Forbes also states that “[u]nlike our billionaire rankings, this list encompasses family fortunes, including those shared among extended families of multiple generations. Public fortunes were calculated based on stock prices and exchange rates as of May 20. Private companies were valued based on comparisons with similar companies that are publicly traded.”

PPT has put together the list of the top 10 and compared this with the list for 2015:

Wealth 2016If our calculator and fingers have worked well, the richest 10 are worth $72.7 billion ($67.85 billion a year ago) and the wealthiest 50 are collectively worth $106.445 billion.

Populism banned

16 03 2016

The military dictatorship has been throwing plenty of money about to various constituencies, even bringing back Thaksin Shinawatra-era programs. Not that long ago PPT filched this diagram to show the junta’s populist programs:populist-freebies

Of course, with its usual dry wit – better seen as lies – the junta declared that its repressive populism was nothing at all like the policies it was copying from its political enemies.

In a report in the Bangkok Post it is now revealed that the junta has decided to ban populism whenever there is an elected regime put in place: “The cabinet yesterday approved a draft monetary and fiscal bill which includes controls on spending for populist policies. The move is aimed at preventing future fiscal problems and enhancing transparency in the state fiscal budget.”

In other words, bureaucrats, and probably an appointed senate and the constitutional court, will direct what kind of policies political parties can put to voters.

Apparently, the geniuses in the junta think that this will “close a loophole that allows the government to squander cash in the state coffers on any populist purpose, eventually leading to fiscal problems.” Bureaucrats and unelected nabobs will decide what is populist and what damage such a policy might do. In fact, the bill will simply prevent political parties from being truly independent.

We note that the junta and faceless bureaucrats have an “agreement that off-budget expenses for the government should not exceed 5% of the fiscal budget, while the central budget set aside for emergencies and other necessities should not be above 3-4%. Debt repayment, in turn, should be 3% of the fiscal budget.”

Naturally enough, we are not left wondering why the military’s secret budget is not considered subject to bureaucratic control or why the ever expanding royal budget is not kept under control.

Prince in Munich

28 06 2014

Quite a few readers have asked where the prince is. As many will recall, he left Thailand about a week before the coup, and it is unclear whether he has been back.

This latest news is from the celebrity watchers at Germany’s Bild newspaper. It has the prince in Munich, where he has spent long periods of time in recent years.

PrinceThe report, translated to English says:

They fly in on their own Boeing 737 around the world. For the visit to a garden center in Erding (Bavaria), Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (61) used a Porsche 911 Turbo S from (560 hp, from 197,000 euros).

A BILD reader reporter discovered the Crown Prince with his wife and 20-strong entourage. The luxury car parked the pair in front of the entrance of the center. After 30 minutes they went on their way again.

The BILD reader reporter reported: “There was a bit of a commotion. One of the bodyguards knelt down to open the car door for the princess. Another helped her out when putting on the seatbelt. “

And what did they do at the Center? A spokeswoman: “The couple was interested in plants, aquariums and solar figures. What have just bought it, I do not know. “

As far as we can tell, the woman is not his official wife; readers may correct us.

The report suggests the prince is well settled in Munich.

VIPs and royal charity

9 11 2012

Buddhists are often interested in charity. In Thailand, the very rich have been interested in charity for its ideological and political significance. This has increasingly meant charity directed to royals and their foundations. The lines of Sino-Thai tycoons lining up to throw money at the rich royals in exchange for being seen to be loyal and charitable is standard fare on television and in the newspapers diligently reporting royal affairs.

Such shows of royal merit making and charity have been important in tying the ruling class together through the now huge official royal charities. This was one of the revealing parts of Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. The opportunities for “donating” to things royal have expanded considerably to allow for these mutually beneficial events to show how charitable and good the very rich are.

Collecting the meritorious money has become quite a task, as the ritual of handing it over takes up considerable time, as anyone who still watches the televised royal news knows. So it is that Matichon reports on a rather more efficient congealing of royals, charity and Buddhism. As Christine Gray noted some time ago, “Merit ceremonies are the primary context in which economic power is converted into religious prestige…” and royals and the other rich make much use of this. Joining with royals to make merit is good business and good sense, especially as one may bathe in the reflected glory and just enough of the vaunted barami might rub off.

For a mere 500,000 baht each, 100 of the rich can buy a seat on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Khon Kaen piloted by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. Billed as a chance to make merit at a forest temple in Khon Kaen, while raising money for scholarships. And they get to be seen in the royal news as well.

While 49 seats are reserved for Thai Airways and related VIP guests, the other 100 seats are up for grabs and this seems like an opportunity too good to miss for rich royalists who want an efficient way to demonstrate loyalty, be royally charitable and to be recognized for this.

Monarchies in comparison

27 08 2012

Personal or public?

Readers may recall that back in April this year, PPT posted regarding the scandal facing the Spanish king at that time and some of the historical coincidences that haunted the Spanish and Thai kings. At the Council on Foreign Relations blog, Joshua Kurlantzick has a post with a contemporary comparison.

Referring to a Washington Post article of a few days ago, Kurlantzick writes of how European austerity programs are impacting the monarchies there. Kurlantzick reminds readers of the criticism of the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, for his 19th Century and colonial-like penchant for shooting wild animals in Africa (see PPT’s earlier post). That criticism “led to a major backlash against the monarch.” The blog article states that that event has seen calls for “Juan Carlos to drastically cut his annual spending and to be much more transparent about how he is spending money on royal activities.”

While the well-funded and seemingly well-fueled escapes of the youngest British prince/playboy in Las Vegas may suggest that the austerities are not cutting too deep for some, the calls for greater transparency for the more controversial and big spending and well-connected royals has been growing, while establishment figures and self-serving royalists seek to protect the extravagant royals.

Kurlantzick then turns to Thailand:

Though it may be able to hold off such inquiries for now, via harsh lèse-majesté laws and the genuine reverence the monarchy enjoys, the Thai monarchy could learn some lessons from Juan Carlos. Like the Spanish king, the current Thai king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has truly earned a high degree of respect from many Thais over the course of his lengthy reign. But that respect, and the fact that the king’s reign is strongly supported by a core of arch-royalists in Bangkok, does not mean that questions are not increasingly being raised, in private, about the royal family’s finances.

Kurlantzick’s view of “respect” is couched in terms that don’t obliterate history in the way that several news agencies have long done, and the point he makes about transparency for royal finances is an important one. While he believes that “royals seem to understand this [need] in Thailand,”we are not so sure the royals are in any way keen on opening up about health, wealth or much else.

His evidence for feeling that the Thai royals have been given a message is the “recent, royally-approved biography of the king’s life” that he says “contained significantly more information on the Crown Property Bureau “than any royally-approved book had in the past.” That’s true, but it is a bit of closing the gate after the horse has bolted given the high profile of an academic account (get it here) and the related Forbes story of the CPB. Essentially, the book is a royalist and palace attempt to steer the public account of the monarchy, post-Handley (and his The King Never Smiles).

Kurlantzick believes that as the average Thai knows something about the monarchy’s wealth, that knowledge “only fuels a hunger for more —though Thais will not say so in public. On social media sites, and in private conversations, discussion of the Crown Property Bureau now is far more common than in the past.”

Juan Carlos has apparently “announced he would be taking a pay cut voluntarily, according to the Washington Post story, in tune with the austere times.” Kurlantzick asks if that isn’t a “model for other monarchs?” Probably not, for as the palace and those responsible for the recent biography points out, this king is unlike any other…. and other such concoctions that serve “protect” and conceal.

Much that contributes to the wealth and power of the Thai monarchy remains missing from public view. See sets of PPT posts on this here and here.

As a most basic of examples, it remains unclear – make that opaque – how much taxpayer money goes to support the royal family, its activities, projects and personal spending. Efforts have been made to cull information from Budget Bureau papers, but there is no clarity and a myriad of government agencies pour funds into the support of the royals, with no accounting or public accountability (as one small example, think of royal cars). No minister or politician dares  raise questions about royal funding in parliament, which is meant to be one site of scrutiny over the expenditure of public monies; many of these people assist in what amount to cover ups. Senior bureaucrats regularly come out with dopey letters denying royal wealth.

Transparency remains pretty much off the agenda and accountability is a term that is unlikely to be used in the same breathe as monarchy.

More money for royals

17 07 2012

Already the world’s richest royals and receiving hundreds of millions of baht in taxpayer funds each year, governments continually throw ever more taxpayer money at the royals.

The Bangkok Post reports:

The cabinet on Tuesday approved a fund of 112 million baht from the central fund of the 2012 budget to cover expenses for the celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s 80th birthday on Aug 12….

The extra loot was proposed by the Office of the Prime Minister. It was explained that the additional bags of money were to be used for:

expenses expected to be incurred are for the meetings of the organising committee and other related committees, the public relations, an exhibition in honour of Her Majesty the Queen, a feature film about Her Majesty, and a garden party.

PPT can hardly wait for the “feature film.” We can’t wait for the Democrat Party to claim that the amount is too little and part of a plot to make the monarchy look trivial.

Throwing money at the biggest moneybags in the country seems to be required. The more than US$350 million they already receive just seems somehow inadequate for this royal family. Another $3-4 million for these trifles seems like a drop, but it keep happening. The drops soon become a bucket and then a reservoir. How much does this royal family really cost?

%d bloggers like this: