Corruption under the junta

23 09 2018

We don’t always agree with academic Sungsidh Piriyarangsan’s politics, but his research on corruption is usually pretty good. We found these bits of a report in The Nation worth quoting for readers:

Sungsidh Piriyarangsan said his “cautious estimate” put the damages at between Bt50 billion and Bt100 billion for 2018 alone. He based his estimate on the findings of 14 studies on corruption funded by the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC)….

“Corruption has increased rapidly because Thai politics is a closed system,” the academic said. “A big weakness is that we have no agency that truly scrutinises. Parliament and independent agencies exist but they can’t scrutinise politicians.

“The country’s history and culture enshrine the existing patronage system, in which people with connections thrive. Also, law enforcement is not effective enough although this government has issued a lot of good anti-corruption laws,” he added.

We are still waiting to hear more about Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s watches, all those “investigations” into Rolls Royce engines at Thai Airways and PTT’s commissions, the Kyodo News Agency report in the Bangkok Post about Japanese executives being charged over bribes to a Thai official of the Ministry of Transport, former police chief General Somyos Pumpanmuang’s “borrowed” money, Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda’s alleged approval of the purchase of hundreds of road speed guns for six times the normal price, Rajabhakdi Park and many more.

Yellow reform II

27 10 2014

The Nation also reports on the group of the junta’s handpicked National Reform Council (NRC) members led by academic Sungsidh Piriyarangsan should also launch its very own “civic group” which they have called the “Thailand Reform Institute” at Rangsit University.

The Nation unaccountably refers to ” noted academics and reformers” when it should be calling them anti-democratic ideologues. It goes on to say that they want to “transform the country’s democracy into a ‘dhammocracy’, or democracy based on Buddhist philosophies and principles.” We thought we have heard this before. Sure enough, it was something appropriated by Buddhadasa in the 1960s and appropriated by the palace as an alternative to real democracy. Paul Handley mentioned it in the context of the notorious Tanin Kraivixien royalist-rightist regime of 1976-77:


A review of The King Never Smiles stated:

Handley concludes that Bhumibol essentially impedes Thailand’s transition from kingdom to a modern nation-state. He primes the public to taint democracy, secular laws, and constitutions so that the alternative of “dhammocracy” is the only option left. He obstructs political reform by nurturing mass cynicism for elected authorities and contributes to rising criminality by undermining the rule of law. With an uncertain dynastic succession in the prospects, the 79-year-old patriarch risks plunging the country into chronic instability once he is no longer at the helm. Such is the legacy of this cold-blooded Chakri king who always puts himself above the interests of his people.

A return to the base repression of the Tanin regime might be what the extremist yellow shirts have in mind.


Yellow reform I

27 10 2014

Anti-democrats reject elected politicians and political parties as divisive and corrupt. This is an essential point of the royalist discourse that seeks to limit policy making to the great and the morally good.

Of course, any reasonable assessment indicates that the great are often fabulously corrupt and the morals of the good are usually flexible. The notion of rule by the morally good simply equates with those who slither about saying what great monarchists and loyalists they are. Nepotism and collusion are quite alright if you are of the right politics, as the military dictatorship has so relentlessly demonstrated.

This is why it is expected that a group of the junta’s handpicked National Reform Council (NRC) members led by academic Sungsidh Piriyarangsan should also launch its very own “civic group” which they have called the “Thailand Reform Institute” at Rangsit University.

Along with Chulalongkorn, Rangsit University is one of the centers of anti-democrat/PAD/yellow shirt academic activism. The university is owned by Arthit Ourairat. Arthit’s self-promoting profile is here.

The “new” group at Arthit’s university “was founded to act as a coordinating centre for movements of civic groups working in the areas of national reform and development as well as helping to build a democratic society…”.

Frankly, we do not believe them. We can accept that they might want “reform.” After all, that was the unspecified demand of the anti-democrats who are responsible for the military’s coup, which they repeatedly demanded. But democracy? That’s a stretch for this group.

For a start, the “institute” is as much about disseminating royalist propaganda as gathering “people’s opinions.” The idea that the “institute” would “monitor the government’s use of power” is a stretch too far. Then, the members of the “institute” are dedicated anti-democrats.*

Suriyasai Katasila, listed as “a lecturer at the College of Social Innovation and the Green Group leader, [who] was appointed the director of the newly formed group” by the Bangkok Post is actually a former PAD leader and speaker on the anti-democrat stage.

Other committee members include NRC members “Rosana Tositrakul, Anek Laothammathat, Niran Pitakwatchara of the National Human Rights Commission, Sirichai Mai-Ngam, chairman of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) labour union, former PAD leader Pipob Thongchai and academics from various disciplines.”

Rosana is a strident yellow shirt who has supported all anti-democrats since 2004. Most recently, she has opposed having different views on the NRC, so her participation in this “institute” is likely about exclusion rather than inclusion of opposing views.

Anek is one of the ideologues of anti-rural propaganda that denigrates voters as bought, duped and ignorant.

Sirichai heads the unions that have supported every anti-democrat action since 2004. His unions were the ones who went about disconnecting water and electricity at government departments during the anti-democrat protests earlier in the year. All the state enterprises are now controlled by the military.

Pipob is a political ally of Suriyasai and a former member of the PAD leadership.

Suriyasai defended the notion that “some committee members were also on the NRC because talks to establish the institute had taken place before the selection of NRC members. But this would not be a problem in terms of work…”. In fact, conflict of interest is nothing for the “good.” These anti-democrats have colluded for over a decade, so there’s no obstacle to their propaganda work.

*We don’t rule out the possibility that this ginger group could fall out with The Dictator when he begins to make compromises and angles for a longer-term military presence in politics (think of 1991-92). They also want to make sure that he and his junta stay “on track” for radical royalist “reform.”


Yellow-green-multicolor-no color-white masks

10 06 2013

While some of the media seems to want to maintain the facade that the small group of people who have taken to wearing Guy Fawkes masks are some kind of new ginger group on the royalist side of politics, the fact is that each report on them shows they little more than a new political gimmick being tried by the same people who were the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the multicolors/no colors and so on.

The Bangkok Post reports on the white masks as “faceless men and women” who “are making a bold showing on social media and trying to rally support on the streets.” Some political pundits – almost all of them from the royalist/anti-Thaksin Shinawatra coalition, reckon this is a “new style of political activism.”

For example, veteran People’s Alliance for Democracy activist Suriyasai Katasila, now coordinator of the Green Politics group “predicted it [the white mask group] would be a more powerful social movement than the multi-coloured group formed in 2010 to counter the red shirt supporters of Thaksin.” That isn’t too difficult as the multicolors were a fringe group of ultra-royalists. Suriyasai is then reported to have had this tautological “insight”: “if the movement gained popularity the government would not be able to remain in power.”

The claims for white masks being “new” or using “new” political technologies are simply wrong and mostly intent on propagandizing for the anti-Thaksin cause. In fact, both red shirts and yellow shirts have used social media for some time, and various political events have been organized via social media. Even the use of the white masks isn’t new. Think of flash mobs, the facelessness masks of some months ago in support of free expression or the flash dancing of February:

The more that is published about the “new” group, the more they appear to be recycled yellow shirts and support, in the words of the Post, “has been modest.” Those who speak as members of the group sound very PAD-like. For example, one says they aim to ”encourage the silent majority to rise up and be aware how evil the Thaksin system is.” That core member acknowledged the membership “came from previous and current incarnations of anti-Thaksin groups such as the multi-coloured shirt group, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and supporters of the Democrat Party.” Another member “said he was also a member of the multi-coloured shirt group that opposed Thaksin in 2010.”

And the reason for trying a new political gimmick is crustily old: “We love our nation and we love our royal institution.”


Further updated: Innovation missing in plagiarized policy making

28 12 2010

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij felt moved to write to the Bangkok Post to defend the Abhisiti Vejjajiva government’s Pracha Wiwat scheme as “not populist”! Readers will recall that PPT commented on this scheme and an avalanche of other pay increases, handouts and so on, when we asked what had happened to all of the academic and political critics of “populism.”

A bit of innovation and then a cuppa

There has now been some relatively muted criticism, and Korn is commenting on an editorial in the Bangkok Post that was published a couple of days after PPT’s post. It stated: “No one disputes the need to help the needy. But what is needed are long-term, sustainable strategies to close the country’s social and economic divide, not stopgap measures that smack of political expediency.” It pointed out that Pracha Wiwat alone impacts more than half of the population. The Post states:

One may be forgiven for feeling a sense of dejavu. Ten years ago, Thaksin Shinawatra swept to power under the Thai Rak Thai banner with promises such as a debt moratorium for farmers and low-interest microfinance programmes for the poor. During the Thaksin administration, Mr Abhisit and his finance minister, Korn Chatikavanij, were vituperous critics of such schemes, labelling them as little more than well-marketed, populist programmes that traded off financial prudence for political pandering to special interest groups. The Democrat Party, then in opposition, also fiercely attacked the financing of such policies through state-owned banks as poor public governance by bypassing the parliamentary budget system.

Strange then to see Mr Abhisit and Mr Korn today tapping similar tactics and effectively putting old wine in a new bottle. It is hard to understand what has changed to make what was once populist, undemocratic and poor policies become sound development strategies today.

Korn’s response is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is in his definition of “populist policies” as “policies that are largely created by politicians, designed chiefly to win votes but are unsustainable and cause a heavy budgetary burden.” He rejects this account of his policies by referring to “process” that would also exempt Thaksin and the Thai Rak Thai Party from claims that it was “populist.”

Oddly, though, his comments bear little relationship with his own definition of populist, when he says: “It is new and is designed to created a ”total government” policy-making process that overcomes the age-old problems of departmental and ministerial compartmental approach. Most public issues require the involvement of a number of government agencies. Traditionally, these agencies will work independently from each other, sometimes at cross-purposes and often using different sets of data and assumptions.”

He then says that the “prime minister conceived of the Pracha Wiwat process where, upon his command, all relevant agencies were brought under one roof, literally, to work until a credible proposal was found. The Pracha Wiwat process started with the government listening to the needs of the people, prioritising their needs and posing them as problems requiring solutions.”Apart from making Abhisit appear king-like in issuing commands, the process still sounds remarkably similar to that employed by TRT prior to its election and then when in government.

Korn adds: “The government then ‘invited’ around 80 officials and academics from 30 agencies to work full time on these problems.” PPT wonders if there is any significance to “invited” being in quotation marks – was it another semi-royal command? These 80 were “provided with full facilities at the Government Centre, Chaeng Watthana and were encouraged to talk directly with the target groups. The prime minister empowered them to think out of the box and to address these problems in a practical and sustainable manner.”

Korn then assures us: “So far, nothing ‘populist’ in this.” Perhaps not, but then this comment would also apply to TRT’s focus groups and surveys in the period when the party developed its policies. For PPT, Korn is simply dissembling or just demonstrating that he has no idea about the nature of TRT’s political innovations.

Then he makes what is for PPT a remarkable claim. He says that the  “civil servants, academics and other interested parties, suddenly given this freedom and power, found a level of creativity that surprised themselves and certainly surprised us.” Apart from sounding like David Cameron, he again shows little knowledge of the TRT innovations that made the party so popular. And, he wants us to see plagiarized processes that produce essentially plagiarized results as innovative.

PPT doesn’t doubt that some good policy might come of repackaging and reconsidering the TRT innovations. Nor do we doubt that there isn’t continuing need for good policy that addresses real needs. But to claim innovation and difference when there is none demonstrated is sounding like the marketing men at work rather than anything else. They are the ones who must sell faux innovation to voters and hope that they ignore guns, censorship, repression and government mendacity.

Update 1: Suthichai Yoon at The Nation is critical of the Pracha Wiwat policies for several reasons, including this yellow-tinged epithet: “Don’t ask me what happened to the ‘sufficiency economy’ policy that the Democrats claimed as one of their top priorities. Don’t ask why they were saying that populism under somebody else was bad because it created grassroots dependency on the powers-that-be, and that it could be so addictive that the withdrawal symptoms could be fatal.”

Update 2: Readers will be interested in the interview in The Nation with Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, “who previously advised former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Now, Sungsidh is chairman of Chandrakasem Rajabhat University’s PhD programme in good governance. Earlier this year, the academic was approached by Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij to help formulate measures that work for the grassroots population.”

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