Working for the man?

9 03 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surayud copping plenty of criticism

16 01 2010

Interestingly, former unelected prime minister, army boss and now Privy Council No. 2 General Surayud Chulanont is getting plenty of negative attention in the media, and not just from red shirts. His refusal to give up the land that cost him 50,000 baht to the state until the Royal Forestry Department has finished its investigation is widely seen as inappropriate and damaging to him and the palace.

In the Bangkok Post (15 January 2010), in an article entitled “Surayud is damaging his own reputation,” the privy councilor was said to be “facing a leadership crisis over his occupation of forest reserve land at Khao Yai Thiang…”. Surayud is said to be under pressure and his “refusal places his image and role as a privy councillor in jeopardy.”

Author Anucha Charoenpo says that Surayud should not stubbornly think the red shirts politicization of the issue is “an excuse not to return the land to the state.” Anucha adds: “It is time he showed courage and told the public he would no longer occupy the land. This would go a long way to restoring faith in his leadership.” Too late perhaps.

The privy councilor’s refusal also puts pressure on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who tells all who will listen that his government is one that supports the rule of law and, rejecting accusations of double standards, says he works for all, equally. Surayud’s case is a beacon on the government’s double standards, and Abhisit is seeking a resolution within a week.

Abhisit’s meeting on Wednesday with Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda must have considered this festering sore.

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