The election and the VAT man

4 12 2018

Nipon Poapongsakorn is one of those neoliberal economists working with the Thailand Development Research Institute. He’s widely reported as being flabbergasted about “the government’s plan to offer a 5-per-cent VAT refund to shoppers during the Chinese New Year festival in February…”.

At the Bangkok Post, he’s reported as saying: “I am speechless about it…”. He reportedly “believes the move is aimed at winning popular support ahead of the general election.”

The Dictator “brushed aside allegations that the government was introducing populist measures to win public support ahead of next year’s general election.” He says he just wants to reduce “people’s financial burden during the New Year season.”

Now the price of that burden shifting/electioneering VAT refund is said to be up to Bt10 billion.

Meanwhile, the mobile phone SIM cards with free internet access for 11 million welfare card holders has been announced in such haste that no one knows how it will work:

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said his agency and the Finance Ministry are discussing how the measure would take shape in practice.

That’s what you get when the military junta is desperate to shore up the devil parties and their electoral “support.”





“Election” news

13 06 2018

There’s much in the news about the military junta’s “election” campaigning. Just in the Bangkok Post we found four stories of the junta on the campaign trail.

The first Bangkok Post story reports that instead of dealing with political parties as it said it would, The Dictator’s legal whipping boy Wissanu Krea-ngam – he always the one sent to deal with legal news and bad news – “will meet the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and the Election Commission (EC) Thursday evening to discuss preparations for the general election.”

Screw the parties that are meant to participate in the general election unless, of course, the junta like you and feeds you information.

Wissanu and that other anti-democrat since the 1970s, Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, seem to be the junta’s finger pointers.

Even so, Meechai “said that an agenda for the talks has not yet been set.” That seems to mean that he and Wissanu have yet been given their orders.

Meechai did say that the Election Commission “will specify the date from when, legally, an election can be held,” but that’s untrue because the process of approving legislation has maximum dates but also elastic periods in it as well.

Meechai dismissed the idea that parties should be able to communicate with the public – voters – saying they should be “sending the information electronically.” The idea of prospective politicians – other than the junta – talking to voters is off limits.

Getting in on the “election” act, National Legislative Assembly president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said: “Everything will happen next year as set out in the roadmap…”. He was “referring to the premier’s earlier statement regarding a poll next February.”

Even Wissanu doesn’t buy that claim.

The second Bangkok Post story is a bit of a re-run with the Puea Thai Party accusing “people in power” – the junta and its military minions – of “increasing their efforts to lure its politicians into their fold, asking whether this behind-doors approach is the best four years of political reform has to offer.”

The junta’s people have invited “some former Pheu Thai MPs … to meet authoritative figures to talk about switching parties in the lead-up to a general election next year.” As lures and bait, they were offered “positions, budgets and financial help during the election…”.

While some complain that this is “Thai politics is still trapped in the old cycle,” it is exactly what the junta intended by its “reform” efforts.

The junta’s vacuuming up of politicians makes James Dyson look like an amateur.

A third Bangkok Post story is about the junta’s “populist” policies. The junta is reacting to potential negative electoral impacts from rising fuel prices by subsidizing them.For gas, they’ve been doing it for some time already.

When previous “bad” elected governments did this there was considerable criticism, not least from the those campaigning against “populism” at the Thailand Development Research Institute. We await their market-friendly criticism of the junta. We won’t hold out breath.

The Energy Policy Administration Committee “will only be able to subsidise the cap until mid-July, assuming additional resources are not channelled into the fund.” That’s another junta decision to be made. It comes on top of diesel subsidies.

Almost 8 million households and vendors will benefit.That’s a lot of voters being influenced by what was called “policy corruption” when elected governments were involved.

But its not just using state funds but making huge promises almost everywhere The Dictator campaigns.

The last Bangkok Post story involves the money trail through the near north. There, the junta’s “cabinet accepted in principle Tuesday a proposal to construct a double-track railway linking Tak and Nakhon Phanom as part of the transport routes under the East-West Economic Corridor.”

That proposal goes back to the 1980s!

Junta spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd “said the proposed 902km railway development” would begin in Mae Sot and go to Nakhon Sawan on the Lao border. Presumably, scenic carriages will be used as the train runs through the mountains around Mae Sot.

No funds have been promised. Maybe in the 2019 budget, when The Dictator is still premier, “election” or not. Feasibility? Economic, environmental and social impacts? No news. It’s just an “election” pitch.

There’s also a “26.8-billion-baht road expansion proposal covering 486km for the same cluster” of towns on the route.

Another pitch was a “a proposal to build an airport in Nakhon Sawan” that would be “considered”even with so-called high-speed railway scheduled to zoom through that city. Even the junta knows this but promised some kind of airport to voters.

We are sure the “election” news will continue to mount as the junta seeks to rig the “election.”





Updated: Panama papers II

6 04 2016

We continue to look for data on Thailand in the Panama Papers. So far we aren’t having too much luck. We were, however, reminded of an earlier report of some 600 Thais stashing loot overseas.

That 2013 report, also from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, included Pojaman Shinawatra, Nalinee Taveesin, Bhanapot Damapong, members of the Chirathivat family, Yuenyong Opakul, and note this very carefully, the Vongkusolkit family and Admiral Bannawit Kengrian.

The latter was described as “the former deputy permanent secretary of defense, who is listed as one of many shareholders in the British Virgin Islands company Vnet Capital International Co., Ltd in 1998” with 2006 coup connections and who is described in a Wikileaks cable as an acolyte of Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda.

On the new release of leaks from Mossack Fonseca, the main new report we have seen was in the Bangkok Post. It states that the “Office of the Auditor-General has weighed in on the so-called Panama Papers, asking the Revenue Department to look into tax payment records of Thai nationals named in a list of people allegedly using a Panama-based law firm for offshore holdings.”moneybags 1

Yet, as might be expected in a country that is protective of its wealthy elites and ruled by a military junta, a cover-up seems likely, unless the junta can come across the names of those it sees as political opponents. At the moment, “Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya and the business community are urging the public not to rush to conclusions and let regulators verify the information first.”

“Verify” sounds like “cover-up” or “manipulate.”

Like the rich everywhere, the first bleat refers to law rather than ethics: “… using offshore company structures is a normal and legal business practice.” Not paying tax is legal they say. In Thailand, tax, like so many other things, is malleable and politicized.

Recall that Thaksin Shinawatra’s sale of the Shin Corp involved tax havens. While he didn’t have to pay tax on the transfers in Thailand, there was an outcry over this, and the opposition to him was strengthened. Now, it seems, things are to be reversed. So much for Buddhist ethics and the “good” of “The Good People.”

The report says there are “almost 400 Thais among 780 individuals who used Thailand as a residence and 50 companies were named on the lists.” While it is stated that “[p]rominent names include well-known business people, politicians, a former military officer and celebrities…”, only a few names are named.

As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) observes, “there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts and it does not intend to suggest or imply that those named in the leak have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

General Paiboon said “… the leak is not verified information. But once it’s verified, no one can dodge an investigation. So let Amlo [Anti-Money Laundering Office] work on this first…”.

Our question is: Where are Thailand’s journalists who should be working on this? In most other countries, journalists are pouring out stories.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas says “he has seen the list and had proceeded to ask the tax authority to review tax records to detect any possible wrongdoing.” He names no names.

Pisit also suggested that the “Centre for National Anti-Corruption (CNAC) can facilitate the probe by acting as a coordinator as it is the hub of 11 anti-corruption agencies.” Some of this group and Pisit were recently part of another cover-up, finding no corruption in the military’s Rajabhakti Park, while making “commissions” acceptable.

Now to some of the names and what they say.

Isara

Isara

One name in the Panama Papers is Isara Vongkusolkit, who is chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. His response was to say that “he did not know and had noting to do with Mossack Fonseca. He was wondering how his name was mentioned on the lists.” Wondering? Really? He doesn’t remember the 2013 report?

He did admit that offshore banking and companies were necessary to avoid taxation in Thailand. He then went on to blame government for tax avoidance because it has had “high” tax rates!

The Vongkusolkit family maintains a tight set of relationships. One Chanin Vongkusolkit is a member of the Council of the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption (CAC), which is:

an initiative by the Thai private sector to take parts in tackling corruption problem via collective action. The CAC aims to bring effective anti-corruption policy and mechanism into implementation by companies in order to create an ecosystem of clean business community.

Forbes says this of Isara and family:

To offset volatility in sugar prices, Isara Vongkusolkit’s privately held Mitr Phol Sugar, Thailand’s largest sugar producer, is expanding its energy business, which generates 400 megawatts of electricity, half for its own consumption. The company, which recently faced allegations of human rights abuses and illegal land- grabbing in Cambodia, said it was in discussions with the Cambodian government about its concessions. Brother Chanin stepped down as CEO of family’s Banpu, the country’s biggest coal miner, after running it for more than 3 decades.

Chanin remains on the Banpu Board of Directors. Others from the family on the Board are Buntoeng and Verajet Vongkusolkit. Australia’s controversial Centennial Coal Centennial is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Banpu.

Banpong

Banpong

The point seems to be that Isara and his family are fabulously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons and like their ilk everywhere, seek to “minimize” tax while claiming to engage in ethical business behavior, if that is not an oxymoron.

Another listed is “Banyong Pongpanich, chairman of Phatra Capital and a member of the State Enterprises Policy Commission, posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was taken aback that his name was on the list.” Like Isara, he claims to not know Mossack Fonseca: “I have just learned of the company today and I never contacted or did any business with Mossack Fonseca…”.

Schultz

Schultz

We are reminded of Sgt. Schultz, again and again. How many times can “I know nothing” be used?

Patra Capital is a “certified” company at the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption and Phatra Capital promulgates a Code of Ethics for Directors, Officers and Employees. In part, it states:

By adhering to exemplary standards and conducting our business with excellence and integrity, we enhance our reputation and cultivate the growth of our business. All of us must take personal responsibility for conducting ourselves in a way that reflects positively on the Capital Market Business Group and with the letter and spirit of the Guidelines for Business Conduct.

Like many of Thailand’s tycoons, Banpong has royal links, his with the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. He is also a member of the junta-created Superboard, which is said to be “overseeing all state enterprises has the stated aim of getting them all moving in the same direction towards strength and efficiency.” A Superboard of bankers, coal miners and more means endless conflicts of interest.

Both the Vongkusolkit and Pongpanich families are represented on the Board of Trustees of the royalist Thailand Development Research Institute, which has often commented on corruption and ethics in Thailand’s politics.

Bannawit

Bannawit

The last Sgt. Schultz excuse came from Admiral Bannawit Kengrien. The “former deputy defence permanent secretary, whose name is also on the lists, said this came as a surprise to him…. According to the retired officer he never conducted any business transactions overseas or given permission to anyone to use his name to set up offshore accounts.”

Bannawit has appeared previously at PPT as one of “Dad’s Army,” which was an elite forerunner to the more popular People’s Democratic Reform Committee in trying to bring down the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He was a member of several other yellow-shirted and royalist groups that sought to create conflict with the Yingluck government. Earlier, he was previously a member of the assembly appointed by the junta in 2006 and then caused controversy when deputy defense minister. He was not averse to very odd and racist claims when opposing red shirts.

Bannawit also seems to have conveniently forgotten the 2013 leaks from the British Virgin Islands. Or perhaps the rich and powerful expect the junta to enforce collective amnesia on the country.

Update: Khaosod has cast doubt on the Bangkok Post story, above, saying that the newspaper (and many others) confused the 2013 leak with the Panama Papers. INterestingly, whether its 2013 or now, nothing in our post would seem in need of change.





Blame Yingluck for climate change

2 07 2015

Yingluck Shinawatra has been blamed for many things by her political opponents. Some of the accusations descended to base misogyny. In a report at the Bangkok Post, Nipon Poapongsakorn of the royalist Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) says that “the current water shortage has its origin in the mega-flood that hit the country in 2011.”

We tend to agree with this and with his statement that: “It [drought] is the failure of the water management policy. Drought and flooding are related problems and cannot be managed separately…”.

We are a little less sanguine about this as the bureaucrats are ignored:

In the wake of the disastrous flooding, the Yingluck Shinawatra government adopted a policy to maintain low water levels in the Sirikit dam in Uttraradit and the Bhumibol dam in Tak, to create capacity to collect water during heavy downpours.

PPT has few doubts that the Irrigation Department has become reluctant to store large amounts of water in dams after being severely criticized in 2011. Nipon’s other claim is, we think, him being nothing more than royalist critic:

Later in 2013, the Yingluck government introduced the rice-pledging scheme, which significantly increased rice planting in the Central region and required a large amount of water for paddy fields.

Nipon always hated this scheme, as did many of the other royalists at TDRI. Yet much of the criticism of Yingluck and her government ignored the fact that she and her government had only been in place a couple of months before the deluge, yet she and her government copped a lot of the blame for the 2011 flooding.

Nipon seems to be blaming Yingluck for everything including natural forces, climate change and more. Yet consider this report in the Asia Times:

Thailand and Vietnam, the world’s two largest rice exporters, face severe drought conditions that threaten to severely undermine this year’s crops and global supplies. Climate change and El Nino are variously being blamed for the unusually hot weather and lack of rainfall, which began with an early end to last year’s tropical rainy season.

We should quickly add that this report is dated 2 July 2010. That’s today, five years ago. According to a research paper, the 2010 droughts and floods:

… provided evidence of increasing extreme weather events in Thailand. In 2010, Thailand experienced the worst droughts and the second worst floods in the past two decades. Because the tropical rainy season ended earlier than usual in November 2009, together with global warming and the El Niño phenomenon, Thailand experienced unusually hot weather and a lack of rainfall at the beginning of 2010. As the country entered the hot season in March, experts had issued national drought warnings, and these droughts stretched until almost the end of August. The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department declared 64 provinces to be disaster areas because of severe water shortages. The drought had an adverse impact on more than 4 million people, mainly through damaged agricultural production. The drought damaged 2746 km² of farmland with the estimated loss of 1.5 billion baht (US$46 million; Rerngnirunsathit 2012). Later in the year, Thailand experienced a series of flash floods and seven incidents of flooding. From 15 July to 30 December 2010, all regions in Thailand were hit by floods caused by the La Niña phenomenon, which brought about higher than average rainfall and a longer period of precipitation. The southern part was further hit by a tropical depression, which brought about heavy rainfall and flash floods lasting from 1 November 2010 to 25 February 2011. A combination of inadequate drainage and a well above average rainfall intensity left the country totally unprepared for the disaster. The death toll from the floods stands at 266 people with 1665 people injured. In total, 74 provinces were affected by the floods, 17,455 km² of farmland was damaged with the total estimated loss of 16 billion baht (US$536.6 million; Rerngnirunsathit 2012). A long, severe drought prolonged beyond the first half of the year, followed by destructive floods later in the year, made 2010 a unique year to study the impacts of climate variability.

Perhaps not so unique. The 2011 floods followed extraordinary rainfall in early 2011.

But, heck, if a royalist, let’s blame Yingluck for floods, droughts and for time slowing down.





Academic and other freedoms

27 05 2014

The Bangkok Post reports that a bunch of liberal academics and NGOs have complained about the junta.It counts the “Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), 77 academics and the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD)” and says they “all issued separate statements along the same line, urging the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to end the orders.” PPT isn’t sure exactly which “order” are targeted in this statement, but the report does go on to say more.

TDRI president Somkiat Tangkitvanich, who spent a bit of time working with the previous junta’s government, said the think tank was “deeply worried” about a threat to academic freedom in the first days after the coup. Of course, the threat from the coup and the junta is to far, far more freedoms than academic freedom freedom alone. The junta is an illegal organization, in power based on its capacity for organized violence.

Somkiat says: “Those in power should be open-minded to different opinions, especially under the present circumstance when there are no mechanisms to check and balance the power of the state…”. Weak, but the point is clear, yet this is weak-kneed horse manure:

“‘I believe that academic freedom will provide comments and suggestions for the benefit of the NCPO,” the official name of the junta, he added. The generals had threatened legal action against critics, Mr Somkiat said.

See above on Somkiat’s previous work with another illegal junta.

When he talks about “reform … undertaken in a democratic environment,” he sounds pathetic.

A group of 77 scholars “made a similar call, urging the junta to release all anti-coup protesters as well as critical students and scholars.” Good enough, but what about political opponents who have been spirited away? Are they happy enough for red shirt leaders to be political prisoners?

The call for the “military [to]… quickly return power to the people to avoid bloodshed” seems appropriate when combined with this: “Absolute power without accountability and transparency, all the while silencing critics, will never bring peace, equality and justice to any society including Thailand…”.

 





NACC bias

7 04 2014

It has been a busy couple of days, and PPT has been trying to find time to get to this post, and we now can.

In a story reported at The Nation, the National Anti-Corruption Commission has declared that it “will give caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra a fair chance to defend herself and will use the same standards as in court trials…”. We assume this is in response to media outlets and others pointing out that the NACC was not prepared to hear all of the witnesses Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wanted for this case.

NACC member Vicha Mahakun said that Yingluck’s repeated request that the “NACC allow four additional witnesses to give statements on the rice-pledging scheme, Vicha said the NACC had yet to decide whether to accept her request.” They had earlier rejected witnesses, allowing just three of the 11 the premier wanted.

Probably realizing that the NACC looks legally sick, “Vicha said the NACC would adopt the same standards as courts in allowing witnesses to give statements.” By this he means that: “We allow only witnesses who we believe have involvement in the case in some way. We are not allowing all witnesses…”. Without hearing them, we wonder if the NACC has a resident clairvoyant who can determine what witnesses will say.

But just suppose that we took Vicha and the NACC at their word. Would we be totally daft to do that? The answer seems to be that we’d be stark raving mad. On the very same day, it was also reported at The Nation that the very same Vicha had spoken at Thammasat University to mark Sanya Dharmasakti Day.

Not only did Vicha want “Thailand’s entire legal system should be revamped” to tackle corruption, but he made comments on the premier’s case before the NACC.

Vicha proclaimed that “bad people must be eradicated from the system.” Has he been drinking from the anti-democrat fountain of megalomania? Eradication carries all kinds of nasty overtones.

Turning to the present government and the anti-government calls to be rid of it he stated: “You can’t say that [a bad government] will stay for four years only. It won’t go as it has already put its men in the system…”. Yep, that’s the “Thaksin regime” anti-democratic mantra of Suthep Thaugsuban he’s repeating.

Vicha “heads an NACC committee investigating the government’s rice-pledging scheme,” helpfully pointed out that the:

Thailand Development Research Institute had done a research into the scheme two years ago and had warned the government to stop the programme to prevent further loss…. The research said [the rice-pledging scheme] would bring to an end [development of] rice production. Farmers will be stuck and short of money because the Bt200 billion revolving fund from the government’s annual budget would be turned into the hands of companies or businessmen with deliberate plans. Only a small budget would reach the farmers….

He “also pointed to the missing 2 million tonnes of rice from the government’s silo since 2012 as another problem in the scheme.”

It looks like the “fair chance to defend herself and will use the same standards as in court trials” mentioned in the first story is horse manure as Vicha already has all the evidence he needs to convict. The bias is so great that no reasonable person could ever take this kangaroo court seriously.

And, yes, according to this report, Vicha was appointed to the position by the coup-makers in 2006.





Inequality and the rich

2 07 2013

Over the past couple of weeks, PPT has posted several stories related to inequality, growth and politics (here, here and here).

Interestingly, The Nation has a brief report on a TDRI researcher commenting on inequality. In the report are some of the reasons why inequality remains stubbornly high in Thailand over the past several decades.

The TDRI study appears to have mainly been about savings:

Among five groups in 2009, the richest reported savings of Bt6,300 per person per month, while the poorest had no savings, reflecting inequality in education…. In 2009, 94 per cent of the poorest households held financial assets of no more than Bt50,000, while 30 per cent of the richest held financial assets of more than Bt100,000.moneybags

These figures sound remarkably low for the wealthy, but then the really, really rich seldom take part in such surveys or report their wealth to anyone. That the poor are broke will surprise no-one. Yet the point remains that the rich are doing pretty darn well, still.

The report states:

… the government should attempt to add to the tax rolls high-income earners who have not paid taxes yet or have not paid according to their ability to pay….

That could boost the government’s revenue for use to improve welfare for the poor and the economically and socially disadvantaged…

While pro-Thaksin Shinawatra governments since 2000 have introduced many policies that aim to boost the income of the poor – we expect that the 300 baht a day wage will impact inequality a bit – and have added several important elements of a social welfare program, they have not tackled tax reform in any serious way.

A government of the people, owing its election to the votes it gets mainly from the less well-off, needs to have the policy guts to take on real reform, introduce progressive taxes and tax the still untaxable at the top of the wealth structure. That way it can both pay for social welfare and redistribute income.

After all, the rich in Thailand have had it easy for a very long time and have become fabulously wealthy. That’s why they oppose elected governments. They want it all – wealth and political power –  and they protect their assets with violent force.