Fear and unintended consequences II

19 04 2017

Most of the breaking stories on the fate of the 1932 plaque are on social media, including the Facebook accounts of Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Another Facebook account worth following is that by Pravit Rojanaphruk, one of the bravest of local journalists.

The mainstream media is publishing material but because it is now widely assumed that the king had the plaque removed, that media is treading very carefully and fearfully.

Marshall claims that the plaque was removed on 5 April, the evening before the announcement of the military junta’s 2017 constitution. That, of course, would be symbolic vandalism.

When thinking about the king’s reason for moving against memories and symbols of 1932, it is important to recall that all he would know of that revolution would have been gained from his grandmother and father, both of whom were anti-People’s Party and anti-Pridi Phanomyong, or from disgruntled royals who mostly hated the events and people of what they consider a travesty of (their) history.

Reuters reported that The Dictator and the junta have been getting a plausible story together.

Self-appointed royalist premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “warned people not to protest against the mysterious disappearance of a plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy, a theft some activists see as a symbolic threat to democracy.” He’s also been working on “protecting” the replacement plaque “celebrating the monarchy.”

Prayuth babbled something about “police … investigating…”, but also diminished the significance of the theft, the plaque and the 1932 revolution. Essentially, Prayuth’s message was a mafia-like “forget about it.” He said that it was all in the past, history, and not worth the effort.

The idea that the junta doesn’t know what happened in an area that is usually crawling with police and military and is watched by dozens of cameras beggars belief. As Reuters says, the “square where the plaque went missing is close to parliament, to a royal throne hall and to an army barracks. The area is also surveyed by several police posts.”

Prayuth knows what happened. He is now worrying about the political fallout and the boot he may get up the backside if he says or does anything wrong.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, the police claim sudden attacks of brain death. Deputy police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul “admitted yesterday that he had no idea how to proceed with the case involving the mysterious removal of a plaque marking a 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy.” He knows he can’t move on this without some kind of “insurance” that he won’t end up shaven headed in the Bhudha Monthon Temporary Prison.

His babbling seemed like a man crazed or crazed by fear. In any case, while Prayuth declares the police are investigating, the police say they aren’t.

A group of activists filed a complaint, part of which explained to the police what they should be doing and why. We doubt the police, knowing the risks, will get of their ample posteriors.

What the police did do, according to several reports, was throw up a protective fence around the new royalist plaque, with a sign declaring it “royal ground.” You get the picture.

Reporters didn’t get the picture, however, as the police with some military support tried to prevent them from filming in the area.

They would not have done this without orders from The Dictator or from Tutzing.

Srisuwan Janya, arrested yesterday while trying to complain about the removal of the plaque, was released from military custody. He proclaimed that he would continue to complain, saying the new constitution gave him that right.

It remains to be seen what the full consequences of royal vandalism will be for the junta and the monarchy. It is certainly a damaging fiasco. Yet the junta knows it can manage fiascos – it has in the past. The question for the junta is whether they can manage the king.





Updated: Who took the plaque?

18 04 2017

Being on holidays and out of Bangkok for a few days, the social media frenzy surrounding the political vandalism of the People’s Party plaque has been a bit difficult to follow.

This post is quite a bit out of the ordinary for PPT as we are getting into very heavy speculation with little to go on other than joining some dots together. We are posting now because we think this is a very dangerous reactionary trend in Thailand, one that goes far beyond that of the military junta.

We think we know why it is difficult to follow, but more on that below.

The vandalism was not a minor bit of pilfering. This had to be a fair sized and well-planned operation.  After all, the historic plaque had to dug up and stolen on a day with light traffic and replaced with another plaque commemorating nothing significant, but displaying ridiculous monarchist graffiti.

That piece of royalist metal pap was set in cement, or so the pictures suggest, and that takes time to set, so this was not a snatch and grab raid.

This is all suggesting an operation that could only have been done by the authorities or with their connivance. (We will pretty much ignore the predictable ultra-royalist cheering that another step to re-establishing feudalism has been taken.)

The junta and its minions, including the police, are Sgt Shultzing this. They know nothing.

But, oops, someone complained. This brings one of those police responses which is the response you get when you just know that something is being hidden or that the cops have their private parts in an important vice.

Then some unexpected persons decide to protest, and the cops quickly get agitated and see off these more-or-less unknowns operating for reasons that are not entirely clear. It’s a small group and hardly threatening, but the cops feel differently. This is suggesting the motive behind the removal is somewhere reasonably high up.

This is followed by serial prodder of regimes, Srisuwan Janya of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, showing up at the junta’s “public service centre” to “submit a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asking him to look for the 1932 Siamese Revolution memorial plaque…”.

So far The Dictator has been silent, suggesting that the normally talkative general is feeling unable to comment. It is as if he feels constrained, dumbfounded or fearful.

Odder than that, when Srisuwan shows up, soldiers are waiting and he is “whisked away in a military van … for talks at the 1st Cavalry Regiment…”.

That suggests there’s something to hide and that the regime is jittery as hell.

And then there’s the linking of the plaque and the earlier “order” about three overseas bloggers, seeking to criminalize and prevent contact with them.

We think there’s a story here of orders coming from the king. Of course, we have no evidence, but the fingerprints are there. There’s a fear that the banned bloggers are able to soak up leaks from close to the palace and that they will publicize them.

They already publicized the odd behavior of one of the king’s favorite concubines just meters from the plaque a month or so ago.

There’s a perspective emanating from the palace that suggests a desire to roll back 1932 as an aberration. In fact, the view is that the 17th century was a time when kings ruled with few constraints on their often aberrant behavior. Don’t be surprised to hear of suggestions that pre-Bangkok laws might still be useful in contemporary times.

We kind of hope our speculation is wrong.

Update: We think that Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s latest post at New Mandala, on the fear that infects palace circles and which infects much else, should be read with this post. He makes some excellent points about the reign after just a few months.





Updated: More corruption allegations

28 03 2017

While there is no news to report regarding Rolls Royce and other related corruption cases, there are more allegations of corruption facing the junta. These are not charges of fabricating plots and murders, but about state action and inaction.

The first story is about wealthy minor prince and former junta minion (two juntas, in fact, the one resulting from the 2006coup and from the 2014 coup).

Former deputy prime minister Pridiyathorn Devakula has very publicly complained about an “irregular move by the military” to “form a national oil corporation that he said would have unrestrained power.”

The National Legislative Assembly has rejigged a Petroleum Bill “in its second and third readings” to “centralise all authority in the management and allocation of national energy in one organisation.” Pridiyathorn says a “group of military officers was behind the addition…”.

He adds that they tried it before, when he was deputy prime minister. He says they were “six former high-ranking military officers in the NLA…”.

He asks: “Why does it emerge in the second reading, and why does the cabinet let it happen?” The answer is that the corrupt military men want to further enrich themselves.

Pridiyathorn explains: “Such a corporation with rights to all petroleum sources in the country could do more than one may imagine. It could organise bidding contests, or even form subsidiaries.” He adds: “When regulation and operation rest within one organisation, who will do the scrutiny? Finally, we cannot control it.” Then as a “good” person of high birth, he adds the bogey: “If politicians later influence it, you will be sorry…”.

Right. But for the moment, it is a bunch of military politicians who will make more money than they thought possible.

The second story is from the anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution. He focuses on borders and the Cambodian border in particular. He claims that “Deputy Prime Minister [General] Prawit Wongsuwon and 2nd Army commander Lt Gen Wichai Saejorhor of neglect of duty in allowing a casino to be built by Cambodian investors in a disputed border area was filed with the Ombudsman on Monday.”

Borders are the preserve of the corrupt military, allowing considerable wealth accumulation. Borders are, as shown during the past few governments, politically important in Thailand. Srisuwan claims that by “allowing private individuals to invest in a gambling business in the area, the agencies responsible had committed malfeasance, causing damage to society and the country…”.

Both are potentially explosive claims. However, the junta will ambiguate and threaten the media that reports any news that they think destabilize their grip on power.

Update: The Dictator blinked on oil, sort of. He “has rejected the idea of having the Defence Energy Department initially run the national oil corporation if it is to be set up.” He acknowledged that the “idea” for a national company came from “the Thai Energy Reform group led by Rossana Tositrakul, ML Kornkasiwat Kasemsri and Panthep Puapongphan.” All are paid-up yellow shirts and ultra-nationalists. Prayuth kept the idea of a national company open, but not run by the military, at least not for this moment.

On a casino in a disputed border area, the claim has been denied, as expected, but ultra-nationalists are at work again.





The many failures of the NACC

12 02 2017

PPT has posted a lot on corruption of late. At the same time, so little gets done about it. For example, the big corruption story from a week ago on Rolls Royce “commissions” seems to have gone quiet as the police have grandstanded on a drugs bust that has the military eerily silent.

A reader pointed us to a story at Khaosod that we missed, and it seems worth quoting some bits from it.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission was born as an independent Commission in 1999, created under the 1997 constitution. Khaosod says:

Since its inception in 1999, the NACC has accepted 3,383 cases for investigation. Of those, it said investigators found evidence of corruption or malfeasance in about a third – 1,191 cases.

Fewer than one-in-10 of those secured a conviction in a court of law that was not overturned on appeal. And those convictions have not been for the marquee cases involving rich and powerful defendants: All but one involve infractions by mid- and low-level administrators such as mayors, school directors, policemen, clerks and registrars.

Further, Khaosod’s investigation found:

out of thousands of cases processed by the committee, only 105 led to convictions. As for why it has little to show for the investment – the commission’s 2016 budget was 1.8 billion baht – corruption crusaders and legal experts said the agency is bogged down by its bureaucracy and biased in its judgment.

Khaosod warns that even the database of cases appeared incomplete….

Some of those accused do not even find out about their cases until years afterwards. Khaosod has an example of a teacher, accused in 1998, who was formally told of the case last week.

But never fear, the junta is here! An NACC official stated that:

the agency has operated more smoothly under the junta.

“We found that we have more power to enforce the law. We can work with more efficiency and convenience and have more thorough investigations…. For example, we can use Article 44 to tell the accused to prove their innocence later. It’s handy and works well.”

Nothing like anti-corruption agency being able to bend the rules under the junta. Yet, cases continue to drag, unless the junta has political scheming to do.

Khaosod quotes Srisuwan Janya, a well-known anti-corruption campaigner who specializes in “politicans.” He says:

the nine current NACC commissioners have conflicts of interest with the ruling junta.

“Many of the commissioners in this set are questionable. For example, the president used to be a police officer and served administrators in the current government directly,” Srisuwan said. “Therefore, whenever there’s cries about corruption relating to powerful people in the government, there’s a direct conflict of interest.”

He said the NACC is reluctant to use its power to investigate members of the junta and its allies, decreasing its credibility as a watchdog.

It also quotes law lecturer Somchai Preechasilpakul on political bias:

the NACC shows selective enthusiasm by moving forward cases against the political opposition while ignoring those brought against the powers that be.

“Usually, the high-profile cases involving those against state power, especially involving elected officials from the Pheu Thai Party, go extremely fast, as we can factually see from the past 10 years,” Somchai said. “Yingluck and Abhisit both have NACC cases, but Yingluck’s proceeded much faster, while stalled cases are never given a substantial explanation for being stopped.”

A politically-motivated shambles is one description that comes to mind. Yet the NACC is worse than that.

Remember when Thaksin Shinawatra was rightly accused of attempting to reduce the independence of “independent agencies”? The yellow shirts in particular were loudly critical. Where are they now? What “independent agency” is now not a tool of the military dictatorship? Where are the complaints now? Just more double standards from anti-democrats.





Brotherly corruption

28 12 2016

What should have been the big story today seems to have been reduced in significance in some newspapers as they pussyfoot around the story. It is the story provided by Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution.

He “wants the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate the mansion reportedly owned by former permanent secretary for defence, Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, who allegedly failed to declare the property to the anti-graft body.” The photos of the mansion and details of the assets declaration are here (in Thai).

General Preecha is a younger brother of General Prayuth Chan-ocha. He’s got form.

When Preecha made his assets declaration, their were problems. Then, in April, The Dictator was defending his brother against allegations of nepotism after a leaked memo revealed that the permanent secretary for defence had secured a military post for a son. Earlier posts, here and here, provide the background.The last reported scandal was when another of General Preecha’s sons was getting military contracts from the army region his father once commanded.

He’s already past three strikes. And now a mansion.

Srisuwan’s petition to the NACC is about a large house in Phitsanulok’s Muang district said to belong to General Preecha and that went undeclared. As the corrupt often say, it’s difficult to remember all of one’s assets when one has so much.

Anti-corruption advocate and rabid yellow shirt, Veera Somkwamkid “posted on the internet pictures of a luxury house he described as a multi-million-baht mansion constructed on two conjoined plots of land totaling 5 rai.” Veera claims “neighbours confirmed the owners were none other than Gen Preecha and his wife, Phongphan.”

Apparently General Preecha “was quoted in interviews as saying it was his. He said he did not declare it because it was not yet finished and didn’t have a house number.” He said he purchased the land in 2011 and it “had already been included on an assets list submitted to the NACC for inspection.”

The Dictator pushed back, saying: “It’s my brother’s business. Let him explain whether [he has] abided by the law or not…”.

We guess Preecha will remain untouched, unless The Dictator decides Preecha’s failures are weakening the junta’s grip.





Updated: Mutual back-scratching

12 12 2016

It is not a secret that companies that do well in Thailand have tended to be big “donors.” Most conspicuously, they fork out millions each year to various royal things, including charities, projects and just handing over bags of money for unspecified royal use. In the giving season, there is an endless parade of donors handing over the loot. Most recently, it has been Princess Sirindhorn doing the receiving on behalf of the world’s richest monarchy. A red royal garuda outside the company head office is one marker of these Sino-Thai tycoons having gained royal approval and acknowledgement.

These companies give less conspicuously to state events and projects. Least conspicuous of all is the myriad of payments that are made to military officers, police top brass and senior bureaucrats. This can involve positions on boards. Think of General Prem Tinsulanonda’s long chairmanship of the Bangkok Bank and all that carried with it for the company and its owners. the marvelous and still unexplained wealth of former police chief Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang, who now heads the casino known as the Thailand Football Association.

Another strategy is the creation of advisory positions, paying nice monthly stipends but where little advising is required unless their is some trouble that needs to be ironed out. And then there are the payments to those officials who are required to do favors, bend rules, overlook things and so on.

This is oiling the wheels of their commerce and trade through a hierarchy of corruption. Yet a blind eye is turned because this is the great and the good scratching each others’ broad backs.

Sometimes, though, through arrogance, forgetting that this is shady dealing and knowing that everyone does it, a revelation is made. The mutual back-scratching is visible and confirmed as in a recent report at the Bangkok Post.

Perhaps believing that revealing unexplained wealth and extra income is okay because so many others have done it with impunity, city police chief Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn declared that the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc pays him 600,000 baht a year as an “adviser.” ThaiBev is a company controlled by one of Thailand’s richest, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, worth almost $14 billion (naturally, he’s also close to the palace.) The Post story continues:

The payment is shown in Pol Lt Gen Sanit’s list of assets and liabilities that he recently declared to the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) as a member of the National legislative Assembly (NLA). The record shows he began receiving the monthly stipend last year.

The news from the NACC was released in the middle of a long holiday weekend, when it is guaranteed to attract the least possible notice.

It seems the senior policeman thinks receiving loot from the country’s wealthiest – meaning they must be great and good – is normal despite the fact that one aspect of his job is to implement a range of laws that govern the operations of the beer kings, who also have huge land and property investments in Bangkok (and beyond). This senior cop can’t see any conflict of interest, but can see his bank balance doing very nicely. This senior policeman probably also thinks that 600,000 is something of a pittance when compared with all the other illicit funds that funnel up to him. This strategy of corruption in the police is well-documented, and that’s why senior police are so wealthy. When the NLA was put in place by the junta, the top cops averaged a whopping 258 million baht in assets. And, moonlighting by doing favors for the rich and powerful is widely believed to be “legal.”

The criticism has been muted. After all, this corrupt cop has just been appointed by the junta to the NLA, so criticis have to be careful or they could end up in jail, harassed or worse. Somchai Armin, the chairman of something called the Lawyers Association for Rights and Environment Protection, has demanded Sanit give up his job as adviser to ThaiBev. That’s it? Even the Post wonders: “Somchai provided no reason for failing to call for Pol Lt Gen Sanit to resign from the police.”

Of course, Sanit is laying low: he “was not available for comment as of the press time Sunday and it is not clear what advice he has offered to the firm.”

Update: Serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, has filed a petition on this case with the Office of the Ombudsman.  Srisuwan argues that the Police Lt General “might have violated the Royal Thai Police code of conduct and ethics of 2008, the Prime Minister’s Office regulation of 2008 regarding ethics of political office holders, and the National Anti-Corruption Act of 1989.” The Office of the Ombudsman now has to decide if it will do anything. The military junta has apparently done nothing.





Updated: “Good people,” nepotism and unusual wealth

15 10 2015

The royalist claim is always that it is “politicians” who are corrupt and engaged in nepotism, sucking the nation dry.

As any sensible observer of Thailand’s politics and history knows, this claim is ideologically-driven claptrap. It is widely known that officials, who like to claim they are in the king’s service, are among the most corrupt and studies regularly show that the police top the list, followed by human smugglers navy commanders. The current military regime is no different, with dozens of “assets declarations” showing miraculously wealthy police and military officers.

Two recent stories shed further light on this and also show how cover-ups are abetted by agencies that claim to operate to protect the nation but who operate as politicized cabals to protect their sponsors and bosses.

The first is at the Bangkok Post and reports on so-called good-governance activists calling on the Office of the Ombudsman to launch an ethics investigations of The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha and appointed Deputy Prime Minister and junta flunky Wissanu Krea-ngam for nepotism. Ethics is not a word that can be used in the same sentence when discussing military dictatorships and coup masters and nepotism is their stock in trade.

Something called the Association of Organizations Protecting the Thai Constitution points out that Wissanu is the “brother of two men named to the National Reform Steering Assembly: Air Marshal Chalermpol Krea-ngam and Dusit Krea-ngam.” The organization also says that in appointing “77 military and police officers, both active and retired, to sit on the 200-member NRSA” Prayuth has broken ethical rules.

Of course they have, but as the junta rules by its own rules we don’t expect to see any investigation or responsibility taken.

The second report is also at the Bangkok Post: and involves Prayuth’s brother, Defence Ministry permanent secretary General Preecha. This story is not about nepotism, although it might have been, but about assets declarations and an “investigation” by the politicized National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

We guess this goes back to the “problems” Preecha had with his declaration back in October 2014. Then, Prayuth’s younger brother’s declared assets of almost 80 million baht. This turned out to be wrong and it was calculated by one blogger as being about 90 million baht.

At the time, the then Assistant army chief “defended his declaration of wealth … saying everything can be explained.” One of the “explanations” was that he was being singled out. He said that “people only focused on his wealth because he is the younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.” Another “explanation” is that he ” included accounts of the 3rd Army that he held when he served as its commander.” He doesn’t say which accounts or why he declared assets that weren’t his. He does say that “those accounts [were] worth a total 46.9 million baht.”baht2

None of this bothered the NACC. On Wednesday it declared him squeaky clean, even “praising Gen Preecha’s honesty.” Yes, he’s an honest general in one of the world’s most dishonest military forces.

The NACC secretary-general Sansern Poljeak revealed that the general and his wife held 10 bank accounts and all were included in the file submitted by Preecha, “although they were listed on different pages” and five of them were left off the summary of assets. This means, says the NACC, that the “couple declared 89.42 million baht in savings accounts, 42.05 million baht of which was under Gen Preecha’s name and 46.99 million baht under his wife’s name. It was unclear if the remaining 380,000 baht had been accounted for.”

By our calculations, this means that Preecha’s declaration of total assets should be at least 126.7 million baht. That’s about $3.5 million, with about $2.5 million in bank accounts. (We think all of these declarations are under-estimates as Preecha and his wife seem to have too few of the other assets reported by other unusually wealthy cops and generals.)

Instead of praising Preecha’s “honesty,” why isn’t the NACC investigating how it is that a man who has spent his life in the military manages to be a dollar millionaire just on the money he has in the bank.

Update: The main activist involved in the claims of nepotism is Srisuwan Janya who has run campaigns against just about every government since the mid-2000s (examples are here and here). The Bangkok Post reports that Srisuwan has been “invited by the military for talks to ‘promote understanding’…”. It seems like this is the standard re-education demanded for opponents as he posted on social media: “The soldiers are taking me to the 1st Army headquarters on Ratchadamnern Road.” The Dictator won’t abide critics.