Cost of virus crisis

7 07 2020

We at PPT are not economists, but we have seen a flurry of bad economic news, so there’s a need to put it together, especially as the regime continues to cling to the virus crisis to maintain its political control. But the economic crisis is looking like a tsunami. In the Bangkok Post, there’s a Bloomberg article that states:

Gross domestic product is forecast to contract 8.1% this year, according to the Bank of Thailand. That’s worse than official forecasts for any of the main economies across Asia, and would be the country’s biggest GDP decline ever, surpassing even its plunge during the Asian financial crisis two decades ago.

Also in the Bangkok Post, there’s an article on a new political group (Care — Creative, Action, Revival and People Empowerment), said to have been made “by a group of big names in Thai politics and the economic arena, including investment banker and renowned economist Supavud Saicheua…”. As soon as we hear that big shots are involved, we begin to worry. Despite this, read what Supavud says:

What bothers him the most is the fact the economy is faltering badly.

“There is a belief that you could take it slowly, you could open up the economy slowly and things will be OK, as long as you keep the country free of Covid-19. I think there’s a huge trade-off between what you want to achieve on Covid-19 and what the economy needs,” he said.

Roughly, the economy loses about 250 billion baht a month during the lockdown.

He said even though it’s noble to be cautious on Covid-19, the government should be aware of the cost of being overly cautious.

He urged the government and the public to see the importance of opening up the economy or risk it faltering further.

He continues to talk about employment/unemployment:

“Estimates from the private sector had talked about 5 to 7 million jobs being possibly lost if the economic reopening doesn’t proceed as rapidly as it should,” he said.

“Now compare that to 1997. We actually only had 1.4 million jobs lost. So this thing is about three, four times more severe.”

That may be overly optimistic, with the Bangkok Post detailing another private sector view. It is scary, at about 25% of the total workforce:

This image is clipped from the Bangkok Post

What does The Dictator/unelected premier/general Prayuth Chan-ocha have to say? According to Atiya Achakulwisut, his response is: “What would the country be like without me?” Arrogance can’t overcome the basic problem. Atiya goes on:

Although the Prayut government has found success in curbing the coronavirus outbreak, its efforts have taken a heavy toll on the economy.

GDP is shrinking. Shops have been shuttered and people are too afraid of the future to spend. Millions are at risk of becoming jobless and even more are losing hope.

Given the situation, it is just a matter of time before hardship turns to anger and acrimony against the government.

We do know that the super-rich are doing pretty well and we guess that plenty of regime purses are being filled.

Update: Another negative assessment has appeared, this one from the Bank of Ayudhya. The bank’s Somprawin Manprasert said that “GDP may shrink by as much as 10.3 percent this year due to economic woes caused by the coronavirus.” The bank’s report added that “as many as 80 percent of the labor force is affected by the virus, a rise from its earlier forecast of 50 percent.” Somprawin made the forecast even worse by observing: “Delay factors on basic infrastructure investments and drought impacts could reduce the GDP by yet another one per cent and 0.4 per cent respectively…”.


Panic and coup round-up

11 03 2010
As for yesterday, PPT offers a summary of some of the many news stories doing the rounds, and is by no means comprehensive. Readers should know that all reporting now is heavily biased and many stories are clearly manufactured or reporting manufactured claims. If anyone says they know what is going to happen over the next few days, they are probably not worth listening to. This is a work in progress for the royalist government and their opponents.

Abhisit says don’t panic: As several other commentators have pointed out (see Thai Crisis), it seems truly odd that, after days of stoking fear and panic over the forthcoming red shirt rally in Bangkok, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva suddenly says not to panic (Bangkok Post, 10 March 2010). This after he and ministers have spoken of terrorism, sabotage, grenade and bomb attacks and talked incessantly of violence. Abhisit himself seems in quite a flap.

Kasit’s baggage: The Nation (10 March 2010) reports that Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya spoke to diplomats and was reported to have stated: “Thai people have freedom of expression – but toppling the government in an undemocratic way is against the law and hurts Thai society…”. Of course, Kasit was and is a great supporter of the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy who held a record-breaking, non-stop demonstration, occupied the airports, saw their own car bomber blow himself to pieces and celebrated him, called for political changes even the king rejected as unconstitutional and wanted changes to political arrangements that would do away with many of the basic principles of democratic representation.

Warning the already frightened: As PPT pointed out previously, there are a rash of emails and blog postings that are frantic and frightened. The don’t-panic prime minister and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban have both said the grenade and bomb attacks are possible. Now there are many versions of the 30-40 sites considered possible. One list even states (keeping their spelling) that there will be “snipers around Skytrain and Subway stations” and adds, for good measure that “UDD men are going to burn down Grand Palace to pacve the way to turn Thailand to Republcian regime!” and that they will attack “Siriraj Hospital to Commit Regicide against His majesty.” Add to that the comments about Central World and Central Lardprao being “Main target for looting” and the claim that Chulalongkorn will be stormed and there will be “lots of hostages,” and the picture of stoking fear and possibly attacks on the red shirts is clear.

Journalism and the red shirts: The Nation (11 March 2010) reports that Thai Journalists’ Association president Prasong Lertrattawisut has “admitted that some media outlets were indeed being manipulated and urged the print media to be careful about the tone of its headlines.” He also called “on broadcast media to not vilify those whom they disagree with.” An interesting statement from the TJA which has been heavily pro-yellow shirt in the past and many mainstream journalists remain so.

Take, for example, the yellow shirt supporter Nattaya Chetchotiros in the Bangkok Post (11 March 2010). She is said to be an Assistant News Editor at the Bangkok Post and former President of the Thai Journalists Association, but still comes up with this unsourced (not even the “unnamed source” so prized in the press) comment: “One factor that could be a game changer, however, is growing dissatisfaction among rank-and-file protest leaders who have not been fully reimbursed for the expenses they footed beforehand. Each group has reportedly to spend at least 10 million baht a day for mobilisation. The more than one hundred grass roots leaders have begun to turn against one another and family members of the ‘Grand Master’, such as Payap Shinawatra who is supervising the movement from the Northeast, and Yaowapa Wongsawat and her husband Somchai who are taking care of the North. These relatives of Thaksin have approved the budget for former MPs or people who wish to run in the next election and they reportedly have not paid up in full, asking the protest leaders to make advance payments out of their own pockets. This money factor was also at play during the bloody Songkran riots and which the Thaksin side could not win. As this same factor has come in to play in this impending red march, it remains to be seen if the reds will see victory.” For Nattaya, there can only be money involved and nothing else. This is the standard middle class and elite perspective on the great unwashed who are marching on Bangkok.

Meanwhile, Supalak Ganjanakhundee (The Nation, 11 March 2010) has a bit of a surprise for Nation readers when he claims “The government, with collaboration from the mainstream media, managed to portray itself as an angel and the red-shirt group as former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s evil lackeys – ready to use all violent means to bring their boss back to power. Visions of last April’s bloodshed have been planted in the public mind many times a day to show the red-shirt group is nothing but a bloodthirsty monster.” Exactly. And by doing so, they make violence far more likely.

Supalak even states that it is not just Thais who fall for this propaganda: “Even a foreign diplomat like British Ambassador Quinton Quayle subscribed to such discourse as he rushed to see Pheu Thai Party leader Yongyut Wichaidit on Tuesday, to urge the party with its strong links to the red shirts not to use violence in the weekend demonstrations.”

Stop the red shirts: According to television reports, the efforts to stop red shirts getting to Bangkok have been increased. The television news claims that railway and bus stations are under heavy security. It is also reported that police and provincial officials have been ordered into to villages to have phu yai ban stop red shirts from leaving for Bangkok. It is also reported that the roadblocks are being made tighter between red shirt assembly provinces in nearby provinces and Bangkok. One claim is that the police and military are not going to stop red shirts, but intend to delay them so long that many will turn around and go home. Another claimed possibility is that there may be serious clashes at these roadblocks as red shirts break through. This would mean considerable violence even before the red shirts get to Bangkok proper.

Raising funds, preparing to retreat: The Bangkok Post (11 March 2010) reports that the red shirt rally organizers are raising funds for their rally. In fact, PPT has seen solicitations for some weeks now, and red shirts, despite the regular claims that it is funding by Thaksin Shinawatra that keeps them mobilized, have been selling merchandise and asking for donations for some considerable time. The Post claims the red shirts are short of funds, so their rally may be only 3-5 days. It is claimed that it costs 30 million baht a day to keep a large rally going – so just how much money did it take to keep the People’s Alliance for Democracy rallying for months, and where did that money come from?

The Post says “sources close to the movement” claim that the red shirts are “preparing to retreat to the provinces if its mass rally against the government in Bangkok this weekend falls flat…”. When they retreat, they are said to be aiming to “seize provincial halls.”

A safe place: The Bangkok Post (11 March 2010) reports that the 11th Infantry Regiment “would accommodate VIPs and emergency cabinet meetings…”. It is understood that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will stay at this base for the duration of the rally. Meanwhile, morning television reported that the queen has joined the king at Siriraj hospital and people have been asked to “not bother them.” Is Siriraj a safe house too?

A coup?: Acting government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn is reported in the Bangkok Post (11 March 2010) as saying there is “no substance to a report that there would be a military coup before this Sunday…”. He claims the “government has double-checked the story and found that it has no grounds.” PPT wonders how that conversation went?

Apparently this rumor developed “after people saw troops moving out of their barracks to maintain peace and order under the Internal Security Act, which came into force today…”. A spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command said “soldiers early this morning began manning checkpoints in Bangkok and seven nearby provinces.” In fact, troops have been out on the streets and working roadblocks for several days already. ISOC says more troops are being deployed today.

As far as PPT can see at present, a reason for a coup would be to dissolve parliament, but not for an election. Rather, the aim would be to reshuffle government seats and allow a civilian government to stay in place with even stronger military backstopping. Elections would be off the agenda. If there is considerable conflict over the next few days, anything is possible.

Sufficiency economy projects and corruption

20 01 2010

Update: The Bangkok Post (20 January 2010) reports that the first investigation into Thai khem kaeng (Strengthening Thailand) projects are just beginning in the Ministry of Education. At the moment it is an internal inquiry. This inquiry is worth following, although the external pressure is not as significant as in the Ministry of Public Health case.

The Post also calls for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to be more open and transparent. It calls for him to release reports on the Ministry of Public Health and Thai Airways scandals. It says: “For a government that occasionally pledges openness and accountability, the actions of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his subordinates in two recent cases must raise eyebrows.” Importantly, it is added: “Abhisit should order their public release, and should also make members of the Banlu commission and the airline’s investigating committee available for close media questioning. These are rapidly becoming cases where justice may seem to have been done. But without full access to the reports Mr Abhisit used as the basis for punishment, no one can know if justice is actually being done.” An excellent point.

*** Original post is below ***

As regular PPT readers will know, we have repeatedly posted regarding the accusations of corruption within the Office for Sufficiency Economy Community Projects since 8 August 2009. We followed up on that first report with more detail on 19 August 2009, and continued to post after that, especially as the projects disappeared from the news. That disappearing act followed the appointment of well-known royalist MechaiViravaidya to take charge of the Office .

In these sufficiency economy scandal, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Korbsak Sabhavasu resigned his role as chair of the Office and his brother, who was deputy head of the Office resigned, but there was no accounting of the corruption that was exposed. It was announced in October that Korbsak would step down as Deputy PM to become Abhisit Vejjajiva’s secretary-general. That only happened this week. No better than a slap on the wrist for an incompetent and allegedly corrupt minister.

Now Mechai has finally made comments that have been reported (The Nation, 19 January 2010).

Mechai is reported as saying that he will “reveal guidelines on fund allocation to district chiefs nationwide. He said these guidelines should minimise corruption because provisions have been made for those involved in graft to face criminal charges.” Interesting comment for it appears to admit corruption (but see below) and, second, seems to say that there were no measures for criminal charges previously. Is that serious? There are umpteen opportunities to bring civil charges and to seek anti-corruption agency investigation.

More interestingly, though, Mechai dismissed the earlier reports of corruption as a public relations problem: “Mechai attributed the negative news to poor public relations and lack of public understanding and participation.

Mechai plans to change this by having “anybody above the age of 15 … [being able to] voice their opinion. This is the first time that the country’s youth, numbering about 5 million, will offer opinions on how the Bt18.6-billion government budget should be allocated…” says Mechai. He also plans a “nationwide referendum for most-needed projects”. In addition, referendum “participants will be encouraged to point to all traces of corruption. At the same time, Mechai has decided that the budget will be used to first help the poor and the underprivileged, not purchase equipment.Mechai added that: “Different opinions are welcome, and a second round of the referendum is possible.

Mechai is a PR specialist. Is PR sufficient? Nationwide referenda will trump local needs assessments? Is this really the way to deal with this particular example of corruption? Thai Crisis also comments here.

Why is the king in hospital?

10 12 2009

Also available as: ทำไมกษัตริย์ยังคงทรงประทับในโรงพยาบาล

Thai Crisis is blocked to some readers in Thailand. In it’s latest blog, Thai Crisis asks the questions that many people are asking but that no commentator in Thailand wants to touch. Why is the king still in hospital? Is he really so ill that he needs to be there for 3 months? What’s going on? PPT is not sure about the speculation, but if the palace and its Royal Household Bureau was more transparent, maybe there wouldn’t be continual rumor and speculation.

We reproduce This Crisis on this below, correcting a couple of obvious typographical errors and trying to keep the links active:

Why the King is kept in hospital ?

Published 10 December 2009

The question might appears as provocative. But let’s review some hypothesis.

First the fact : the King is in hospital since… September 19. Almost 3 months!

Second : at the beginning, the state apparatus spent a lot of energy to try to divert attention, to water down the reality of the King’s ailment. That was achieved through surreal “daily official statements” (read a few of my previous articles here and there).

Third : the King made 3 public appearances… 2 at the hospital. And the last one was for a very brief address, for his birthday last week (read here).

On December 5, as soon as the speech was over, the convoy of official cars (a VW van for the King) went… back to the hospital. Live on TV.

Now,  let’s go deeper.

1-We can assume without any risk that the King of Thailand would be able to get all doctors and equipment money and modern science can buy. When he wants. And where he wants.

2-It would be rational to assume that the King would prefer to be in his palace,  home, while being treated, rather than in a hospital room.

3-And we can assume, due to past events (the attempts to water down the reality of the health situation), that it would be  in the interest of the state apparatus to continue the same policy. AKA : stability. We could even say : it’s in the public interest. For that matter, It would be perfectly logical to try, as far as possible, to shorten and/or to hide the most visible proof of abnormality, AKA the King’s hospitalization.

Normality = King in his palace (even if very hill). Abnormality = King in hospital.

It’s basic common sense.

So let’s recap… 1+2+3 = ?

Why do they keep the King in the hospital? Why did they show to the world this convoy of official cars… travelling back from the palace directly to the hospital, right after the royal speech?

Why such an ostentatious hurry ? Live on all Thai TV channels?

Why they didn’t even try to… pretend?

It doesn’t make any sense.

Until… well… it makes perfectly sense… AKA = this is exactly what they want to show.

Let’s assume that the whole situation is designed.

What would be their motives ? Who would benefit from this operation?

The answer seems then obvious: while the King is in the hospital, AKA in a position of weakness, the struggle with the opposition cannot resume. The Thai people is compelled, in a way, to unite behind its monarch.

To summarize : in order to prevent (political) abnormality, a group of people (?) could paradoxically gamble and play on a… a real abnormality.

What do you think? Far stretched?

The question of why the king remains in hospital is now pretty much a political one. Some of the other speculation is that being in hospital is “safer” than being in the palace. Exactly who is the “danger” varies with the telling. In any case, while there is no reliable information, speculation will continue.

Thai Crisis blocked

13 11 2009

Reports state that the blog Thai Crisis has been blocked, apparently on TOT connections. The blog is one of the best for reports on economic data and has useful reports on politics. Difficult to see why it would be seen as a threat to national security.

Junya Yimprasert on the Thai crisis

13 05 2009

Junya Yimprasert of the Thai Labour Campaign has just posted a long analysis of the current crisis in Thailand. Many pertinent questions about the present and recent past are raised.  While PPT urges readers to read and examine the entire analysis, we wish to draw your attention to  the comments about the new “cyber army” who are using alternative media to bypass the censorship now common in the mainstream and corporate media in Thailand:

“The cyber army plays an important role in helping to track and inform on the health and whereabouts of arrested leaders, and in the search for the dead and missing. In countering government-controlled misinformation the chat-boards throw up important questions. What kind of government blocks discussion on real issues and permits statements like ‘red-shirts are not Thai, not human and should be shot on sight’? How come the Monarchy, Army, Police and the whole academic community do not actively condemn such incitement?”

PPT asks the same questions. Any answers?

Read the entire article here, Junya Yimprasert, 12 May 2009, “The ‘Voter’s Uprising’ that is changing perceptions in THAILAND”

openDemocracy on the Thai crisis

14 04 2009

At openDemocracy, an article by Tyrell Haberkorn on the current Thai crisis has been posted. Haberkorn links the demonstrations in the streets to the growth of the use of the lesè majesté law over the last past months. In particular, she criticizes the assumptions underlying Philip Bowring’s NYT op-ed from yesterday, commenting that he  “leaves unquestioned the relationship between the enduring royal institution and the possibility of full democracy or the just use of law in Thailand. A lesson of this now lengthy crisis is that scrutiny of the sources and uses of power in the interests of strengthening democracy in Thailand and the participation of all citizens in governance is now needed.”

Read the entire article here, Tyrell Haberkorn, 14 April 2009, “Thailand’s democratic crisis”

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