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.





Taxpayers and feudalism

29 09 2021

For readers who haven’t seen it yet, Prachatai has completed its annual survey of the funds drained from taxpayers into the monarchy. Its last annual report is here, where we referred to the billion dollar monarchy.

This year, the headline number is 35,760 billion baht or about USD1.084 billion.

Prachatai, using the limited reporting from parliament and from the Budget Bureau, indicates that the funds allocated to the monarchy are likely to be more than the more than billion dollars.

Clearly, all of the calls for reform of the monarchy and for transparency have amounted to nothing.

 





Updated: Cashing in on the virus

26 08 2021

With massive unemployment, masked by the fact that migrants have left and many Thais have gone back to the family farm, there are a few who have profited very nicely.

A recent report in the Bangkok Post states that for all of the talk of the virus-induced downturn, on top of the sluggish growth under the junta-cum-military-backed regime, has still seen “listed companies reported a 114% surge in net profits for the first half of the year…”. As the report notes, this partly reflects the “low base in 2020 when the economy was hit by the first lockdown.” Even so, “[c]ore profits also rose 118.6% to 804.95 billion baht while net profits increased 144.2% to 528.34 billion baht, compared to last year’s 216.33 billion baht.”

The report doesn’t explain it, but increased unemployment and increased profits fit together. Companies preserve and increase profits by getting rid of variable costs – labor.

Equally, revealing, a recent Reuters report is of a flood of taxpayer funds for the monarchy. In the current budget bill, the “allocation of 8.76 billion baht ($262 million) for the monarchy in the next fiscal year survived unprecedented calls for cuts by opposition lawmakers during parliamentary proceedings that concluded on Sunday.”

While “government lawmakers in parliament did not comment on opposition lawmakers calls for royal budget cuts,” the “budget for royal agencies for the next fiscal year is for a 2.4% cut compared to the previous year.”

Move Forward Party MPs complained that “the allocated budget lacks clear details and should therefore be subject to cuts ranging from 15% to 40% based on the budgeting of these agencies prior to the merger and because funds maybe needed elsewhere due to the COVID-19 crisis.” Becha Saengchantra, a lawmaker from Move Forward, opined that “royal agencies did not send a representative to explain the budget … there is only a seven-page document that did not explain much…”.

One explanation for the huge allocation to the royals was from the Budget Bureau, which “had earlier explained to parliament’s budget committee that 92% of the allocated budget for the ‘royal agencies’ is for the payroll of its 14,275 staff.”

Who knew that the palace had such a bloated staff!

Opposition MPs also “raised concerns over other funds related to the monarchy that were included in planned expenditure in other ministries.”

That sent PPT back to previous reports for context. We earlier posted that in 2021, the Royal Offices alone got more than 8.98 billion baht, up almost 17% over 2020.  So, next year is a slight reduction, but overall, since 2017, the royal budget has increased substantially.

We at PPT continue to wonder if the figures supplied by Reuters are complete. Does it include the budget for the hugely expensive royal projects? Our feeling is that the monarchy gorges on more than we are seeing here.

Update: Recall that Ruangkrai Leekitwattana has complained to the Election Commission about the Move Forward Party’s questions over the royal truckloads of taxpayer loot. He wants the party dissolved by the Constitutional Court. There’s a fuller story on this corrupt buffalo’s posterior at Prachatai.





Wealthy winners

12 07 2021

moneybagsWith some of the rich in the news of late, it is timely that Forbes has released its annual list of Thailand’s wealthiest. Forbes includes 50 on its list, and PPT shows the top ten.

Recent news has the top tycoons, CP’s Chearavanont family, yet again denying “any involvement in the government’s procurement of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine from China.” This came after cabinet’s decision last Tuesday “to procure 10.9 million more doses of Sinovac at a cost of 6.1 billion baht.” The report has CP stating:

Charoen Pokphand Group once again insists the Sinovac vaccine procurement is conducted in a government-to-government (G2G) format only, which has nothing to do with CP either directly or indirectly….

The Bangkok Post report neglects to recall CP’s role in the company producing the vaccine, via CP’s Sino Biopharmaceutical. Given the tight links between the regime and the top tycoons, including the Chearavanont family, we can only wonder about the claims made and those denied.

And, of course, PPT has recently posted on the Yoovidh­ya family, who rank second, and their runaway scion and the efforts to (further) corrupt the justice system for the wealthy.

As usual, the Forbes list leaves out the fabulously wealthy monarch. We estimate his wealth as about double that of the Chearavanont family.

Richest

Comparing the most recent Forbes list to earlier data, it is seen that the wealth of the top 5 is not back to their 2018 high. However, the top 5 has increased by $13.6 billion over 2020. As for the top 10, they also remain below their 2018 high, but have added $15.5 billion over 2020.

This is in a context where per capita GDP declined between 2019 and 2020 by 6.3%. And, we’d guess it might also decline in 2021.





Seals and frogs

30 05 2021

If one believes the palace and regime propaganda, Princess Sirivannavari is a multi-talented phenomenon rarely seen in Thailand or anywhere else in the world. Everything she fancies and tries her hand at, she’s just fantastically brilliant.

Of course, this kind of buffalo manure has also been showered on other royals, not least King Bhumibol. But, probably reflective of her “special” relationship to her father, this woman gets more propaganda manure than most.

The Bangkok Post carries yet another story that polishes this royal posterior. It tells us that the:

Royal Thai Navy has presented a navy Seals insignia to Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya for providing special lectures to naval academy students and initiating a project to conserve coral reefs and marine life in Thai waters.

A Navy spokesman, Admiral Chettha Chaipiem, said “the princess was a special guest lecturer for a course on diving for the conservation of coral reefs and marine life in Thailand.”

As indicated in this picture, she’s also credited with having “helped train naval academy students in scuba diving sessions.”

Of course, this is all royal backside burnishing. The Navy has divers far more skilled than a part-time, tourist diver like the princess. When she goes diving, she stays at luxury resorts, used luxury yachts, and uses the Navy to shut down all other activities in her area so she can have everything for herself and a coterie of pampered friends. Her renowned selfishness extended to demanding that an island be renamed for her. She’s never been shy about flaunting royal power or royal wealth.

But, over the years, we have come to see that Sirivannavari relishes the propaganda caress. After all, not only does she see herself as exceptionally beautiful, but she seems to accept the propaganda that she is exceptional at everything she tries.

After topping her class at Chulalongkorn University, the sycophantic Thai media claims she’s a talented designer, with her own Paris shows and has her own fashion brand. She was once a member of Thailand’s national badminton team and, just like her grandfather, received a gold medal at the SEA Games in 2007, despite the fact that she normally played on a secondary circuit. And she is also said to be an international class equestrian. And, for a while she was a diplomat.

Only the gullible and the royalist butt burnishers believe this propaganda.





Mad monarchists madder still II

30 03 2021

With the resurgence of protests and the regime intensifying its repression, the mad monarchists are increasingly agitated.

While reporting on Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon and her recent speech targeting the monarchy and other reforms, Thai PBS spends space on enraged monarchists and their bizarre claims.

Mind

Mind

Already facing a lese majeste charge, on 24 March, Mind made three calls on the monarchy, calling on the king to cease interfering “in the military, in politics and in public assets.”

As a result of these reasonable demands of a monarchy meant to be constitutional, Mind probably faces additional lese majeste and other charges. She says she is “bracing for jail…” and vowed to “continue her fight even if she was jailed during the court trial.”

The rabid royalists given space are alleged “scholar” Arnond Sakworawich and political aspirant Warong Dechgitvigrom. It is interesting how each royalist repression of protesters since 2005 has seen a new bunch of royalist spokespersons promoted as the “defenders” of the monarchy.

Arnond claims Mind is “mistaken in alleging the King has ‘his own army’, independent of the Thai armed forces.” His view is that the “King’s Royal Guards were simply transferred from the military and police to form the royal security unit.” He doesn’t explain how it is that this “unit” is under the direct command of the palace or why it was necessary to vastly expand the “royal security unit.”

Arnond’s rebuttal of Mind’s observation of the king’s political interventions – preventing his elder, non-royal, sister stand in an election – seems to confirm Mind’s point. Arnond ignores other interventions, including the king’s demands for constitutional change.

Royalist Arnond’s defense of royal wealth and the king’s assets is just loopy and ignores the king’s own changes to the law that allowed him to take total control of all assets associated with the monarchy, while rolling back decades of legislation.

Warong Dechgitvigrom relied more on the concoction of a conspiracy, a royalist strategy that has been used repeatedly since 2005 to smear and repress.

He claimed Mind is manipulated “by a hidden hand bent on defaming the King with distorted facts.” He declared:

It’s a pity that you didn’t do your homework before reading the statement. The person who prepared the statement for you is so cruel. Without supporting truth, they sacrifice you just to incite people….

This conspiracy claim is repeated and expanded by the maddest of the Bangkok Post’s monarchists, Veera Prateepchaikul. Agreeing with the yellow-shirt conspiracies and cheers the detention without bail of those accused of lese majeste.

Like Warong, he believes that Mind and other protesters are manipulated and the tools of dedicated anti-monarchists. He pours accelerant on the royalist fire, repeating scuttlebutt that her “demands for reform of the monarchy was allegedly given to her by someone believed to be an anti-monarchist.”

He demeans and diminishes all the young protesters, preferring to believe they are misled and tricked. His claims are a familiar refrain. It was only a few years ago that yellow shirts demeaned red shirts, considering them uneducated buffaloes, led around by the nose, and or paid by Thaksin Shinawatra. Obviously, the kids protesting aren’t “uneducated,” but there is still a search for a political Svengali.

In an attempted political assassination, Veera names and seeks to shame “Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the Progressive Movement Group and anti-monarchist lecturer at Thammasat University…”. Veera decries Piyabutr’s view that the protesters are agents of change, who “will not change their mind on the monarchy” by jailing them.

Veera peddles more royalist tripe by questioning why several academics have been willing to post bail for those jailed.

Veera states that “many students have been exploited,” and claims that Mind is manipulated: “What if she is thrown behind bars for reading the script in question while the actual writer remains scot free? That is unfair, cold-blooded and sheer exploitation of a young mind.”

Yellow shirt ideology is conspiratorial and displays a remarkable penchant for patriarchal nonsense, diminishing the views and actions over many months of demonstration. Clearly, the students understand that reform to the monarchy comes with a diminution of patriarchy and other hierarchies that keep old royalist men in charge of the country.





(Not) Taxing the crown

14 02 2021

One of the points of the announcement that he king was taking full and formal control of all crown wealth was that he’d pay tax. In its “explanation” of the secretly legislated changes the king had the junta make in 2017, it is stated:

Regarding the liability for duties and taxation, the Crown Property Act, BE 2560 (2017) stipulates that matters related to either liability for, or exemption from, duties and taxation shall be determined and regulated by the specific legislations covering the relevant types or duties and taxes. Such provisions differ from those under the previous statute which exempted the Crown Property Bureau completely from all types or duties and taxes. In implementing the new Statute, His Majesty made the decision to make the “Crown Property Assets” be subject to the same duties and taxation as would assets belonging to any other citizen Therefore, if the assets were to remain in the name of the Office of the Crown Property Bureau, they would have retained the exempted status under the current taxation laws since the Office of the Crown Property Bureau is designated – still, as an entity exempted from duties and taxation. “Crown Property Assets” are now given a status on par with that of any other legal person. The removal of exempted status was accomplished in line with His Majesty’s Wishes.

Like much that emanates from the palace, there seems clarity in this but there’s also plenty of ambiguity if the details are dissected. Of course, the question of whether the king actually pays taxes is opaque and one of the reasons why protesters have been calling for reform.

In a recent discussion at Prachatai, and attempt is made to cut through the secrecy, smoke, and mirrors. The result is an enlightening article, well worth reading, but the result is that the taxpaying public still doesn’t know if the king pays tax, on what, and how much. The report makes this statement:

the Crown Property Bureau still has not disclosed its annual report on its website, as was previously done during King Rama IX’s reign, so we do not have any information on the income of the Crown Property Bureau, especially on the transfer of real estate which used to be crown property and public property to become the property of King Rama X to be administrated, preserved, managed, and operated all at the King’s discretion.

That’s only partly true. There was an annual report for a few short years, but it contained no financial information. Now, however, the reporting on the CPB is missing but the financial information has always been kept a secret.

With regard to the billions of baht of taxpayer funds shoveled into the royal family and palace – some detailed by Prachatai – again, there’s no clarity on the taxation status.

For real estate, the report states that the 2019 Land and Building Tax Act sets a “rate of 0.01-3% of the estimate property value, depending on the category of land/building.” However, a Ministerial Regulation on Property Exempted from Land and Building Tax in 2019 exempted crown property and the property of members of the royal family for the following purposes:

(a) for use in governmental affairs, royal affairs or any royal agencies

(b) for use in any other affairs of the King and royal family members or for public benefit

(c) for use as a religious place of any religion to perform religious activities or public activities or as the residence of monks, priests or clergymen of any religion, or as a shrine.

The Prachatai assessment concludes:

The information given here cover only the facts and laws that are common knowledge, and the interpretation is based on the author’s understanding. It is difficult to confirm whether tax is collected as interpreted in this article or not. Ever since the changes in the administration of the Royal Offices and crown property there has been no clear explanation on the newly amended laws, and details about the crown property are not disclosed to the public. These questions therefore remain in society, as long as the people do not have access to sufficient information to answer them.

In other words, the king’s personal grab of crown property was propagandized as him paying tax. The result is less clarity than ever.





Royal wealth extraction

19 01 2021

Readers may recall the demonstration at the Siam Commercial Bank, where the king is the largest shareholder, when activists “demanded public oversight of … Vajiralongkorn’s vast wealth…”. In our view, the king’s control of huge wealth is as significant as his political meddling. And, perhaps more important than his personal wealth, and how he and his forebears got it, is the huge piles of taxpayer’s money that “supports” the monarchy.

Helpfully, and in the current circumstances, bravely, Prachatai has posted on these topics.

On the money sucked from the taxpayer, the Prachatai report states:

In summary, in 2021, various agencies allocated budget related to the monarchy, all of which total approximately 37.228 billion baht or 1.12% of all the national budget (3.3 trillion baht), divided into 20.653 billion baht in direct expenses and 16.575 billion baht in indirect expenses.

That’s a lot of money – more than $1 billion! Helpfully, there’s considerable detail, all extracted from the Budget Bureau’s reports. The report states that “many of the projects among the indirect expenses are for the public benefit.” We are not convinced. After all, money sucked out of the public purse to glorify the monarch is money lost to other possibly good purposes.

The Royal Offices alone get more than 8.98 billion baht in 2021, up almost 17% over 2020. Meanwhile, the Thai economy languishes and millions are struggling to make ends meet. By 2024, this budget is forecast to increase to almost 10.7 billion baht by 2024, up almost 40% over 2020.

We at PPT also wonder if the figures mined by Prachatai are complete. For example, does it include the budget for the hugely expensive royal projects? Our feeling is that the monarchy eats far more taxpayer wealth than we are seeing here.

Further information on how the monarchy accumulated its wealth is covered in a second Prachatai report. This is mainly focused on historical wealth. We guess it is too difficult and potentially dangerous to add up Vajiralongkorn’s many property grabs.





Royalists, academics and palace propaganda

10 01 2021

A couple of days ago we posted on advice to protesters. That advice was well-meaning. At the Asia Times Online, however, academic Michael Nelson of the Asian Governance Foundation, writes the protesters off: “[Gen] Prayut [Chan-ocha] does not seem to be in danger. The royal-military alliance seems to be unassailable…”. He adds: “The protesters, though big on Facebook, also have little backing in the population. And now, the government is getting tough with them…”.

That seems somewhat premature, even if the regime has the “benefit” of a virus uptick and can use the emergency decree to good ill effect. In any case, as far as support is concerned, we recall the Suan Dusit survey in late October that seemed rather supportive of the protesters. Things might have changed given the all out efforts by the regime and palace, but we think the demonstrators have had considerable support.

Another academic is getting into the fray to support the regime and palace. At the regime’s website Thailand Today, pure royalist propaganda by “Prof. Dr. Chartchai Na Chiang Mai” is translated from The Manager Online. For obvious reasons, the regime loves the work of this royalist propagandist who tests the boundaries of the term “academic.” But, then, Chartchai is “an academic at the National Institute of Development Administration or NIDA,” a place that has played an inglorious role in recent politics and where “academic” seems a loose term used to describe a person associated with NIDA.

Royalists ideologues posing as academics have been well rewarded. Chartchai is no different. His rewards have included appointment to the junta’s Constitution Drafting Committee and its National Reform Council. In these positions, he opposed any notion of an elected prime minister and supported the junta’s propaganda activities on its constitution. He has also been a propagandist for “sufficiency economy,” a “theory” lacking much academic credibility but which is religiously promoted as one of the “legacies” of the dead king.

Self-crowned

His latest effort is a doozy. Published in November 2020, “Resolute and Adaptive: The Monarchy in the Modern Age” is a defense of a neo-feudal monarchy. It seeks to dull the calls for reform by claiming that King Vajiralongkorn “has already been reforming the institution of the monarchy to adapt in a modern context, even before protesters were making their demands for reform. Moreover, His Majesty’s approach has always been people-centred.”

This sounds remarkably like the royalist defense made of King Prajadhipok after the 1932 revolution, suggesting he was thinking about granting a constitution before the People’s Party, a claim still made by royalist and lazy historians. In the current epoch, if the king is “reforming,” then the calls for reform are redundant.

Reflecting the good king-bad king narrative, in a remarkable contortion, Chartchai warns that the bad king should not be compared with his father. He declares this “unjust” and “unfair.” The bad king is “preserving those achievements, but to also work with all sectors of the country to extend these accomplishments even further, as he carries his father’s legacy onwards into the future.”

That’s exactly the palace’s propaganda position on Vajiralongkorn.

How has Vajiralongkorn “sought to reform the monarchy”? Readers may be surprised to learn that the king has been “adjusting royal protocol by closing the gap between himself and his subjects, allowing public meetings and photo-taking in a more relaxed manner which differs greatly from past practices.”

Of course, this is recent and the palace’s propaganda response to the demonstrations. Before that, the king worked to distance the palace from people. Not least, the king lived thousands of kilometers from Thailand.

A second reform – again a surprising construction for propaganda purposes – is the “reform of the Crown Property Bureau…”. The king officially taking personal control of all royal wealth and property through new, secretly considered, laws demanded by the king is portrayed as intending to “demystify the once conservative and disorderly system the King himself found to be corrupt. The Bureau is now made more transparent to the public and prevents any further exploitation of the old system.”

There’s been no public discussion of this CPB corruption and nor is there any evidence that there is any transparency at all. In our research, the opposite is true.

We are told that the king’s property acquisitions were also about corruption and “public use.” The examples provided are the “Royal Turf Club of Thailand under the Royal Patronage” and military bases in Bangkok.

The Royal Turf Club was a which was a “gathering place for dubious but influential people” and has been “reclaimed as part of the royal assets is in the process of being developed into a park for public recreational activities.” That “public use” is a recent decision, with the palace responding to criticism. Such plans were never mentioned when the century old racecourse was taken. It is also “revealed” that the military bases that now belong personally to the king will be for public purposes. Really? Other “public places” in the expanded palace precinct have been removed from public use: the zoo, parliament house, and Sanam Luang are but three examples. We can only wait to see what really happens in this now huge palace area.

Chartchai also discusses how “[r]Reform of the Rajabhat University system or the Thai form of teachers’ college, has also slowly and steadily been taking place, with the King’s Privy Counsellor overseeing the progress.”

Now we understand why all the Rajabhats have been showering the queen with honorary doctorates. The idea that this king – who was always a poor student and didn’t graduate from anything – knows anything about education is bizarre. How the king gained control of the 38 Rajabhats is not explained.

What does this mean for the protests? The implication is, like 1932, those calling for reform are misguided. Like his father, the king “is the cultural institution and must remain above politics and under the constitution.” Is he under the constitution when he can have the regime change it on a whim and for personal gain?

Chartchai “explains” that “the monarchy is constantly adjusting itself…”. He goes full-throttle palace propaganda declaring the monarchy a bastion of “independence, cultural traditions, and soul of the nation, is adjusting and fine-tuning itself for the benefit of the people.” As such, Thais should ignore the calls for reform and properly “understand, lend support and cooperation so that the monarchy and Thai people sustainably and happily co-exist.”

For an antidote to this base royalist propaganda, readers might enjoy a recent and amply illustrated story at The Sun, a British tabloid, which recounts most of Vajiralongkorn’s eccentric and erratic activities.





Protecting princess property

27 12 2020

PPT noticed a recent Thai PBS report that had “Siam Paragon, one of Bangkok’s largest shopping malls,” complaining about “political activist groups” making use of “the mall’s property for political activities…”.

In a statement from the “management of the mall,” it is maintained that the privately-held company “has never consented or accepted the use of its property by any political activist groups.”

Siam Paragon’s management babbled about “investments” in “equipment … to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among customers and staff alike.”

As far as we know, no virus transmission has been attributed to any mass rally, so we assume this line is simply buffalo manure.

The report adds that “Siam Paragon is just a stone’s throw from Pathumwan skywalk, which has been a favorite rallying point for political activities, most recently by the Ratsadon Group. The Pathumwan intersection was also the site of a mass protest by the Group in mid-October.”

We recall that one of the charges against democracy protesters in 2018 was “illegal public assembly within a 150-metre radius of a Royal palace…”, meaning the Sra Pathum Palace, ” the official residence of Princess Sirindhorn…”.

Siam Paragon is royal majority owned through Siam Piwat Co, which is also the operator of the Siam Center and Iconsiam. As we understand it, Siam Paragon is on land owned by the princess. An academic once calculated that Princess Sirindhorn’s shareholding in Siam Piwat provided more than US$55 million per year from her property in the Siam-Ratchaprasong alone.

At the present time, royals are everywhere reasserting their power, wealth and personal preferences.








%d bloggers like this: