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:
1. 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.”
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.