Business and The Dictator

22 09 2018

PPT has said some things about academics, who should know better, having international conferences in Thailand.

Business, of course, is different. For all the talk of stuff like “sustainability,” “corporate social responsibility” and “human rights,” most business people really couldn’t give a fig and just look to the bottom line.

Dealing with dictators is not difficult for them, so long as a profit can be turned. Naturally enough, in Thailand, domestic business has been supportive of individual generals, coups and military juntas over the decades, and support for the current regime has been enthusiastic, not least from those who funded the PAD and then the PDRC.

Even so, The Dictator must be ecstatic to see the Forbes announcement that, and we use its words: “His Excellency General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand, and some 40 prominent global business leaders and entrepreneurs are confirmed to speak at the 18th annual Forbes Global CEO Conference, which will take place in Bangkok from October 30-31, 2018.”

The general “deliver a keynote address in front of an audience of global business luminaries and thought leaders” about:

the theme of ‘The World Reboots’, this year’s conference will focus on how CEOs, companies and countries are confronting challenges and seizing opportunities arising from accelerating disruption. Some liken this era to the fourth global revolution, after mechanization, mass production and digitalization. The world in 4.0 mode will affect how companies are built and led, where money is made or lost, the role of governments, and how all of us live, work and play.

That a dullard like Prayuth even consider such a topic is testing the limits of credulity, but we guess someone else will write the stuff he says.

But then again, the list of “luminaries” is hardly stellar. It includes many of the junta-loving Thai elite:

Today, Forbes announced new speakers including, Chartsiri Sophonpanich, President of Bangkok Bank; Suthiphand Chirathivat, Executive Director, ASEAN Studies Center, Chulalongkorn University and Executive Director, Central Group; William E. Heinecke, Chairman and Group CEO of Minor International; Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings; Peter Moore, Chief Executive Officer of Liverpool FC; JP Gan, Managing Partner at Qiming Venture Partners; Harald Link, Chairman of B. Grimm; Goh Choon Phong, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore Airlines; Carrie Jones-Barber, Chief Executive Officer of Dawn Foods; Tan Min-Liang, Chairman and CEO of Razer; Peter Sands, Executive Director at The Global Fund; Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd; Gary White, Chief Executive Officer of Water.org and WaterEquity; Jim Walker, Chief Economist at Asianomics Group and Parag Khanna, Managing Partner at FutureMap.

So perhaps the idea is that the Chirathivats, Heineckes, Links, Sophanpanichs are just getting their business buddies along and are paying for The Dictator’s propaganda and helping him with his election campaigning:





Keeping tycoons with the junta

6 08 2018

We have posted a lot on the military junta’s campaigning and not enough on how The Dictator maintains his relations with the Sino-Thai tycoons.

Fortunately, the Bangkok Post has provided some insights on this process.

Before getting to that, however, a reminder of how well the really rich have done under the junta. A while ago we compared 2014 wealth – the year of the coup – and 2016 wealth. The totals for the top 10 show that their combined wealth has increased by almost $16 billion over that period. The top two families have increased by more than $9billion. Not bad pickings.

More loot awaits: “Activists and workers’ unions have demanded land development plans be immediately excluded from the terms of reference of the high-speed railway set to link Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U-Tapao airports, alleging it would monopolise involvement in the megaproject down to ‘a few large firms’.”

Activist Srisuwan Janya said granting land rights to the firm that wins the rights for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) railway project is “unnecessary.”

What’s necessary is throwing out infrastructure projects that produce great wealth for the big conglomerate that wins – we would bet on a CP or a Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi being involved. Based on previous experience, we might also expect that some bureaucrats and political leaders will also benefit.

Those funds lubricate a whole 1980s-like political system, dripping corruption.

In this case, the winning firm gets “both operation and land development rights under a 50-year concession.” That’s after the 200 billion project is completed.

Srisuwan explains: “These firms will just be receiving the land around the railway as an added bonus at cheaper rates, compared to the actual, substantially higher value of such land.”

The reports adds that the State Railways “must hand over the land it owns around the Bangkok-Rayong route to the winning firm, including 150 rai in the Makkasan area.” That’s smack bang in central Bangkok and a prime piece of real estate worth billions of baht.

That’s ample lubrication.





Elections, populism and campaigning

12 07 2018

Current Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was an important member of Thaksin Shinawatra’s economic team, responsible for the policies labelled “populist” by opponents and “policy corruption” by the People’s Alliance for Democracy. Others considered the policies as examples of vote-buying by using state funds.

As the military junta embedded its rule following the 2014 military coup it looked to extend its time in power, Somkid was brought in as an “economic czar” to engage in policy plagiarism and improve the junta’s economic performance with doses of Thaksin’s policies.

From the Bangkok Post: Somkid and his master

Somkid adapted himself well to the military dictatorship and has now become one of the critical ministers in the junta’s efforts to “win” its rigged election. Somkid may tell himself that he’s just a technocrat but he’s become a willing tool of military dictatorship. This pattern of technocrats supporting authoritarian regimes is not unusual. In Thailand, it was a defining feature of Gen Sarit Thanarat’s regime, put in place in 1958 and extending to 1973 and the long Gen Prem Tinsulanonda regime.

Somkid has now become a junta politician, dealing with two other Thaksin traitors, organizing a political party that intends to have The Dictator continue in power for years to come.

In preparing for the “election,” Somkid’s attention is not just on organizing the Palang Pracharath Party but to ensuring that huge transport infrastructure projects (valued at almost 1 trillion baht) are in place for the Sino-Thai conglomerates to continue using state budgets for enrichment and pouring funds into the poorer parts of the population who make up the majority of voters. (As the poor spend most of the money they receive, this consumption spurs businesses, as Thaksin proved.)

As Somkid showed when he worked for Thaksin, such policies are powerful vote winners.





The junta and big business

18 05 2018

The Nikkei Asian Review has an article by Marwaan Macan-Markar that begins the much-needed task of unraveling the military dictatorship’s business dealings.

Over almost four years, the junta has quietly gone about reshaping the relationship between the military and business, both state enterprises and Sino-Thai conglomerates.

The article refers to a “cosy relationship between Thailand’s business-minded generals and powerful Thai-Chinese conglomerates.” It refers to junta-supporting companies as the Central Group, Thai Bev, Mitr Phol, Thai Union and the Bangkok Bank.

The report cites academic Veerayooth Kanchoochat who argues that the junta’s Pracha Rath project that brings the blue suits and khaki together represents the “collective endeavors of Sino-Thai conglomerates to replace competitive markets with hierarchy, rather than encouraging SMEs to catch-up with them.”

The report states that: “Conglomerates have been enticed to sign up with Pracha Rath with generous tax breaks and hopes for previously elusive project approvals.” It adds: “Officers in and out of uniform are meanwhile finding their way on to corporate boards and being given shares in return for acting as ‘fixers with authority’.”

In addition, academic Napisa Waitoolkiat is cited as saying “this symbiotic relationship has again become the ‘norm’.” PPT can’t recall hearing this since the 1970s. She added that state-owned enterprises have again become a sinecure for generals. She says that of “56 state-owned enterprises, 42 now have military directors…”. She adds that the movement of generals onto boards is beginning to include the private sector.

Those generals and their business “partners” are keen to protect this corrupt system, just as they were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.





An anonymous Bangkok Post

16 05 2018

In the fallout following the Bangkok Post’s sacking/transfer of then editor Umesh Pandey, the Bangkok Post’s management first tried character assassination via other outlets.

That seemed to produce little positive for the tycoons’ press. So they have now tried statements of “integrity” and “autonomy.”

The statement is signed “The Editors of the Bangkok Post.” The problem is that this statement is effectively signed by an anonymous group. There are no names and when one goes to the company’s website (at 07:00GMT) there’s no indication of who might have the position of editor or editors.

Anonymous statements of integrity and autonomy are meaningless when there’s zero transparency. It does, however, say much about the Post as a company.





Bangkok Post capitulates on free expression

14 05 2018

This morning the Bangkok Post had an editorial on press freedom: “Censorship must go.”

Presumably this editorial was approved if not written by editor Umesh Pandey.

Prompted by the suspension of Voice TV, the editorial said things like:

Censorship by this regime began the day of the coup — May 22, 2014. At that time, martial law was in the hands of the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC). The junta closed hundreds of community radio stations and effectively shut down all Thai broadcasting, as well as many foreign stations repeated locally. Eventually, all national broadcasters were allowed to resume, including Peace TV. Since then, the pro-Thaksin station, fronted by the top names of the red shirt movement, has been shut for various periods by the intrusive NBTC. By 2015, Prime Minister and junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha made the unconstitutional decision to give the NBTC the power to censor and ban any radio or TV broadcaster.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not in the constitution to protect parroting of the government line, repeating what official spokesman say or reprinting government or big-business press releases. Such publication and broadcast needs no protection. Extraordinary laws protecting the media and citizens’ speech are necessary to protect the opposition, dissidents and unpopular voices and views. One needn’t agree with a single word or opinion by Peace TV to disagree with government-approved decision to force it off the air.

By the time of the editorial was being read locally, Umesh was gone as editor. We are not saying that this particular editorial is the reason he’s been removed from his post. However, Umesh managed to improved the Post as editor, making it more like a real newspaper and being more critical of the junta than under his predecessor and re-establishing the Post as a newspaper that was worth reading.

Social media commentary suggests the Post’s owners and directors have been pressured by the military dictators to get rid of Umesh and this more critical reporting. Then again, perhaps the fabulously wealthy tycoon owners and directors prefer a newspaper that is junta-friendly. It isn’t the first time the Post has buckled on freedom of expression.





Campaigning with the devils

10 05 2018

As all media outlets have reported, The Dictator’s “election” campaigning has been expansive and expensive. At the same time, pro-election/anti-junta campaigners are restricted and threatened.

The Bangkok Post reports that the junta’s “massive injection of development funds into the lower Northeast is not a political quid pro quo for the regime to return to power after the next election,” at least according to chief campaigner, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. After a Bhum Jai Thai Party-Newin Chidchob arranged mass rally, he promised 121 projects worth “more than 20 billion baht proposed by the private sector.”

That “private sector” is dominated by Sino-Thai tycoon companies and Newin’s family and allies (rather like the BJT itself). Newin himself had proposed “as much as 10 billion baht…” for his own backyard in Buriram.

It was Newin who “announced before a crowd of about 30,000 people who gathered to welcome the prime minister at his Chang Arena football stadium that at least 10 billion baht would be allocated to Buri Ram after Gen Prayut visited the province.”

That’s a pretty good indication of how government will proceed after the junta decides to hold its “election.” Power brokers – many involved in activities at the fringes of legality – manage small groups of MPs who deliver benefits and loot to the local area, patronage and paternalism are entrenched and enforced, and democratic and participatory politics undermined and made weak (even redundant).