Rich royals

11 09 2022

The world’s remaining monarchies are mostly very wealthy.

We all know that King Vajiralongkorn is fabulously wealthy and that his reign has been marked by his moves to make that fortune undeniably his own. Under the dead king, the palace and the state preferred to fudge the issue of royal wealth.

It is interesting to see a Financial Times article that assesses the fortune and management of the dead British queen’s wealth. That article also refers to the new king there facing some of the management issues that motivated Thailand’s new king.

This is not to say that the wealth of the British monarch is in any way as personalized as Vajiralongkorn has made his fortune. And, Vajiralongkorn seems uninterested in the demands of constitutional monarchy:

Elizabeth II was one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, with property holdings ranging from central London prime real estate to farmland across the country, but her ability to profit from, let alone sell, many of the assets over which she presided was limited….

The Queen’s managerial style was unavoidably guided by the specific demands of constitutional monarchy and shaped by a gradualist approach to change that ruled out radical innovation.





Reform the monarchy!

12 08 2022

Thai PBS reports that “[p]ro-democracy groups have reiterated their core demands, for monarchy reform, the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his clique and the drafting of a People’s Constitution, at a rally yesterday at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani, held to mark the second anniversary of the publishing of a ten-point reform manifesto on the same spot.”

A statement was issued:

…the groups said that Thai society has changed irreversibly since that rally on August 10th, 2020, adding that “these days, many people come out to demand and aspire to a better political society. We are sure that today’s political society is not the same as it was.”

It claimed that a major achievement of the political activism has been its success in changing the thoughts and beliefs of people in Thai society….

Some of the reporting in other newspapers probably add some insight into why the monarchy must be reformed. In the royalist-capitalist rag known as the Bangkok Post, the effort of “working towards the monarchy” was on display as tycoons sucked up to the monarch.

Clipped from Digital Camera World

This time, it is Thapana Sirivadhanabhakdi, the CEO of ThaiBev, Thailand’s largest beverage company, organizing a pile of loot from an auction of Royal Limited Edition, gold-plated Leica cameras, complete with the Royal Coronation Emblem.

It is reported that 30 units cameras were produced: 10 cameras said to be “yellow,” but we are pretty sure these are gold-plated with yellow alligator skin body covering. It is reported that these cameras are “priced at 1,500,000 baht.” Another 20 have green alligator skin body covering and gold plating and are “worth one million baht each.”

Six of the cameras “were given to the Royal Family.” That’s roughly 6 million to 9 million baht of gifting from the tycoons.  Now, 22 of the cameras are being auctioned and the loot given to charities, piling up merit for royals and tycoons.

Meanwhile, it is reported that parliament did not reduce budget requests for some agencies: the royalist Foreign Ministry, the royalist-dominated Thai Red Cross Society, and, of course, “the office of personal servants of His Majesty the King.”

It is long past time to reform the monarchy before it makes the country as its private estate.





Malls and the status quo

13 07 2022

Archinect is not in PPT’s usual reading list. But it is this week after we found “Architecture, Consumerism, and Human Rights: On ​‘Subverting the Narrative of Power Systems in Thailand’ with Shopping Malls.” The story and interview begins:

Thesis projects offer an exciting glimpse into the minds of emerging designers and their unique architectural perspectives as they navigate through their careers. This is the case for Syracuse University B.Arch graduates Pin Sangkaeo and her collaborative research partner Benson Joseph. Together they explore the practice of merit-making and how political tactics and consumerism have impacted Thailand’s social and political agendas through their thesis project, Temples of Consumerism.

According to Sangkaeo, the project “investigates the role of shopping malls as physical tools of maintaining the status quo, used by those who hold political powers in order to superimpose their ideologies on the collective citizens and perpetuate the systems.”

Reproduced from the linked article where it is placed with the permission of Pin Sangkaeo





Richest of the rich

11 07 2022

There’s been plenty of attention to the Forbes rich list. That list has not put the king at the top of the list despite the fact that the king took personal control of it all a few years ago. While corporates like the Siam Commercial Bank now list the king as being its largest shareholder under his personal name, Forbes doesn’t do this.

Even so, at about the same time that Forbes came out with its list, another appeared at The Artistree, listing the top ten wealthiest royals. In this list, the Thai royal family comes in at no. 6: “The Royal Family of Thailand is estimated to be between $30 – $50 billion. There is not much information about the earnings and income of this royal family.” We think it is worth more like $60-70 billion.

Then, the Daily Star decided to recycle a range of interesting and bizarre stories regarding the king and his family, under the headline: “Crazy life of Thailand’s king with leaked vids, abducting daughter and 20 mistresses.” That story has his wealth at about $34 billion.

We are sure that all readers will be aware of the controversial items mentioned in the story and then some.

Which reminds us, where is official consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi? As far as we can recall, not a peep has been heard about her since at least December last year.

Of course, plenty wonder what’s going on. There are rumors. She’s jailed again, she’s dead, she’s pregnant, or she’s stuck in Germany. She is certainly banished from royal public life.

 





The Alps beckon (again)

13 11 2021

Hugely wealthy, erratic, dim and tone-deaf, King Vajiralongkorn has been supported by military leaders past and present, security services, and the judiciary in seeing off the popular calls for him to back away from his path to restored absolutism.

Confident he’s won the battle, the king has jetted off to his Germany, his preferred location. It was all done secretly, but leaked.

We had mentioned this trip a couple of times, pointing to Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Facebook posts, but wanted to wait for more verifiable details before posting. Now the poodle is out of the bag, with Bild (in German) and several other newspapers reporting his travels, his entourage, and his harem.

Bild journalists reported being threatened by the king’s “security” detail.

The Guardian reported: “Thailand’s King … Vajiralongkorn has reportedly flown to Germany in what is believed to be his first trip abroad since pro-democracy protests escalated last year, breaking long-held taboos to call for reforms to the monarchy.”

The SCMP had this: “He’s back and is feeling at home with his poodles in his favourite kingdom of Bavaria,” Bild wrote, adding he had brought 30 poodles with him from Thailand. The Guardian adds that the king and entourage “booked an entire [4th] floor of the Hilton Munich airport hotel for 11 days.”

Several aircraft were used to transport the entourage and the huge amount of “luggage” they “need.”

This is why protesters have criticized the king for his extended trips abroad and called for changes to curb his powers and wealth, many of which he’s grabbed since he took the throne.

Who pays?

On Facebook, “some criticised the king’s luxurious lifestyle, saying it struck a poor contrast to the struggles of the pro-democracy activists.”

It is unclear how long he’ll stay in Germany, with some saying he should return soon for the seasonal costume changing ceremony for the Emerald Buddha. Yet with quarantine requirements in Germany, that would been further quarantining. But perhaps he’s not worried as the amount of stuff taken to Germany suggests an extended stay and short trips to Thailand, re-establishing his previous pattern.





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.








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