Evil and threatening

20 02 2017

The anti-coal protest has been seen off by the junta. In the end, it became a kind of political bonding exercise. Double standards proliferated throughout.

The other confrontation has been the 4,000 police and soldiers raiding Wat Dhammakaya. PPT has posted a bit on this case previously and why it has been so central for the junta and for the broad yellow shirt movement.

For the junta and its supporters, the perceived connection to the Shinawatra political clan seems to have been the underlying motivation.

What is not at all clear to PPT is why a wealthy temple, supported mainly by Bangkok’s middle class is politically associated with red shirts and Thaksinites, but the wealth of the temple certainly worries the junta, which continues to operate on the assumption that money motivates all political positions other than those of the great, the good and the royalists.

We do understand that Thaksin and his elected regimes were considered a threat to monarchy and thus nation, so perhaps throwing in the third element of the royalist and nationalist trilogy – religion – is a way of further conveying the royalist notion that Thaksin was an evil threat to the very core of the royalist nation.

In this context, we thought that readers might be interested in the views of a dedicated anti-Thaksinista on the evil threat posed by the temple, its monks and its followers.

Veera Prateepchaikul declares:

The real objective of the operation, I believe, is to clamp down on the temple, to strangle the Dhammakaya cult until it is no longer active and does not pose a threat to Buddhism for its distorted Buddhist teachings.

We can’t imagine what “real Buddhism” constitutes for Veera. Not the almost daily scandals of monks drinking alcohol, drug taking, engaging in sexual predation, gambling, high living and so on of official and hierarchical Buddhism. Perhaps he is thinking of that other “cult,” Santi Asoke so close to the yellow shirt movement? He goes on:

More importantly, the trial of Phra Dhammajayo — if there is one — is not the trial of the monk as an individual. It can also be seen as a trial of our own monastic order for its failure to rein in the monk and for its complacency that allowed the monk and his sect to grow so strong they can defy the state and the monastic order with impunity. This does not mean there are no other rogue monks who have misbehaved, but they were deemed a lesser threat than Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult….

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is more than a temple. It qualifies as an empire. Besides the main headquarters in Pathum Thani … [i]t has spread its wings to reach out to the world with meditation centres overseas and across the country, most of which encroach on forest reserves or parks.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya branched out in a similar fashion that a business branches out to get a bigger share of the market.

For the cult, its goal is to attract a bigger following and spread its adulterated Buddhist gospel to encourage its followers to make donations under the slogan that the bigger the amount of the donations, the higher the plane to heaven for the donors.

What the preachers didn’t tell their gullible followers is that some of them may find hell in this life before they may or may not go to heaven in the after-life….

Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult are just one major problem that poses a threat to Buddhism in this country.

We get the feeling that nation, religion and monarchy are under threat. But it isn’t a threat from the Thaksinites as much as from the forces that surround military dictatorship. Conservative forces that seek to maintain feudal and hierarchical institutions of (let’s say) the mid-20th century in a society that has changed.

Winding back the clock to some perceived “simpler”, “purer” and “better” time for the old heads and old men doesn’t mean that their clock isn’t broken. That their “model” (and clock) is broken is their biggest worry and their problem. Thaksin and his supporters heralded the royalist problem, they didn’t create it.





Secrets, constitution and election

19 02 2017

Not that long ago, PPT posted on the secret amendments to the draft constitution. Despite the sham “referendum” on the “constitution,” the king demanded changes that, according to The Dictator’s account, give the king more power and flexibility.

Those amendments were crafted, in secret, by a puppet committee. Then the military junta declared that these palace and junta secret amendments would only be revealed to the public by the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary.

We remain in awe of the notion that a “constitution” put to a “referendum” can then be amended by a feudal institution and announced by that same feudal encumbrance. This is certainly a defining feature of Thailand’s authoritarianism in the tenth reign.

The Bangkok Post again quotes Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on this bizarre process. He says the “draft constitution has been re-submitted to … the King and its revised content will be revealed soon…”.

He can’t say when, because that choice remains with the feudal forces of the palace.

Remarkable, even in this extraordinary process, Wissanu is quoted as saying that the junta’s “cabinet will be officially informed about it on Tuesday…”. We assume that “it” refers to the changes made.” But who knows, this is such a farcical exercise.

Wissanu then turned to the delayed junta “election.” He declared taht the junta’s so-called “roadmap to a general election remains intact…”.

That nonsensical claim was then amended: “It’s only that we can’t fix the date of each step as everything is set within a framework…”.

That’s in part because they don’t seem to know what the king will do. Wissanu says that the “date the constitution is proclaimed will be the start.” Then there are junta laws to draw up “on national reform and national strategy” and these “must be completed four months after that [proclamation of the constitution].” Then the organic laws “will be completed within six months from that date…”. He then got to the junta’s “election,” stating the “general election date can be set once the organic law on elections is proclaimed.

That the “election” is delayed hardly bothers the junta. It wants it delayed so it has plenty of time to prepare for its “election” victory.

They continue to work at neutering the Shinawatra clan and its supporters and the “reconciliation” talks give them the opportunity to sound out their potential electoral allies. The junta is also working to ensure that the bureaucracy is junta-friendly and sufficiently anti-Shinawatra and anti-“politician” so that the election counts for nothing.





Palace problems

17 02 2017

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post reported that the police were investigating “encroachment of forest land in Thap Lan National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima allegedly committed by former deputy national police chief Jumpol Manmai and two other suspects.”

The details are in the report.

But, the report did not say much about Jumpol. As Jumpol is known as a “special” policeman and official, this is odd.jumpol

However, Khaosod, after a delay, has reported some of the truth. It’s report is headlined: “Grand Chamberlain Investigated for Land Encroachment.” The story begins:

A man who at the height of his career served in the innermost circle of the royal palace is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

Jumpol Manmai, a former deputy police commissioner and palace grand chamberlain, is accused of building a luxury mansion in a national park without permission, police announced earlier this week. The news came as a shock to many because he is said to be one of the closest confidantes of … the King.

The report adds that the police are “tight-lipped.” We guess this is because they don’t quite know what to do and how to deal with the case. It isn’t clear to them what’s happening.

In fact, no one is clear. Has Jumpol fallen out with the prince. Vajiralongkorn has a penchant for destroying those who fall out with him. Yet Jumpol only became Grand Chamberlain in September 2016.

Another possibility, and this is startling, is that someone is going after the king. Perhaps a delayed succession crisis?

Back to what is known. Deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul is quoted as saying the investigation is a “confidential matter.” He added: “All of the details are in the case file, I cannot talk about them right now.”

It is also reported that “the authorities” told the media “not to report about Jumpol’s case before the police made official statements.”

It was Thai Rath that “broke ranks and briefly posted a story about Jumpol’s mansion in Thap Lan National Park and a possible police investigation into the alleged intrusion Friday afternoon before deleting it without explanation an hour later.”

Jumpol has quite a history. For one thing, after being sidelined as a Thaksinite following the 2006 military coup, he was back by 2009. This is what Khaosod says:

A policeman by trade, Jumpol is better known as a well-connected political player with links to both former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the influential tycoon-turned-politician and de facto leader of the Redshirt movement, and the traditional establishment.

While he served as deputy police commissioner, Jumpol was considered for the top job at the police force in 2009, but did not make the final cut.

He’s considered by many political analysts to be a rare figure who can serve as a liaison between the Shinawatra clan and the palace circle.

After retiring from the force in 2010, Jumpol came back to the limelight in September when he was appointed deputy director of the Royal Household Bureau, a title also known as the Grand Chamberlain.

The job appeared to be tailor-made for him; the title of deputy director in the royal household did not exist prior to Jumpol’s appointment.

There’s more than this. Jumpol was rumored to be the then prince’s “candidate” for police chief back in 2009, which saw a major standoff with then premier Abhisit Vejjajiva. One result of this crisis was the resignation of secretary-general to PM Abhisit, Nipon Promphan, related by marriage to Suthep Thaugsuban.

Wikileaks has several cables that tell various elements of the police chief saga and the rumors of links between Jumpol and Thaksin: 21 Sept 2009, 24 Sept 2009, 28 Sept 2009, 6 Oct 2009.





The corruption glacier I

14 02 2017

In a recent post, PPT commented on the many failures of the National Anti-Corruption Commission: it is politicized, biased and just plain slow. Glacially slow.

Two stories today emphasize these points. The first seems like a story of stalling, inertia and perhaps incompetence. Yet is also illustrates the politicization of corruption and bias. We only cover that story in this post and will follow up with a second but related post on the other story.

At the Bangkok Post, former academic and former NACC commissioner Medhi Krongkaew raised questions “over the slow progress of the investigation into alleged bribery payments made by a British alcoholic beverage giant [Diageo] to Thai officials in 2011.” Back then, Diageo “agreed to pay the US Securities and Exchange Commission more than US$16 million (561 million baht) to resolve Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act offences involving bribes to foreign officials in India, Thailand, and South Korea between 2003 and 2009.”

In this case, the official/political figure is pretty well identified, but not in the Bangkok Post story, which kind of fades away. Medhi lets himself off the hook by saying “he was not responsible for probing the case, all he could do was forward the information received from the US to the other NACC members who were directly responsible for the investigation…”. He said, “I don’t know what has been hindering them…”.

It’s not a bad question for both Medhi and the NACC are anti-Thaksin Shinawatra, and this case is about people close to him. Part of the story is here. But the more detailed account is a PDF. This is a bit long, but worth reading through:

From April 2004 through July 2008, DT [Diageo Thailand], retained the services of a Thai government and foreign political party official … to lobby other Thai officials to adopt Diageo’s position in several multi-million dollar tax and customs disputes. For this … DT paid approximately … $599,322. DT compensated the Thai Official through 49 direct payments to a political consulting firm … for which the Thai Official acted as a principal. Most, if not all, of the $599,322 paid to the Consulting Firm was for the Thai Official’s services and accrued to his benefit.

The Thai Official served as a Thai government and/or political party official throughout the relevant period…. At various times the Thai Official served as Deputy Secretary to the Prime Minister, Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, and Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The Thai Official also served on a committee of the ruling Thai Rak Thai political party, and as a member and/or advisor to several state-owned or state-controlled industrial and utility boards.… The Thai Official was the brother of one of DT’s senior officers at that time. Several members of Diageo’s global and regional management attended meetings with the Thai Official and senior members of the Thai government.

The Thai Official provided extensive lobbying services on behalf of Diageo and DT in connection with several important tax and customs disputes that were pending between Diageo and the Thai government. For example, with respect to excise taxes, the Thai Official coordinated and attended numerous meetings between senior Thai government officials and senior Diageo and DT management, including two meetings in April and May 2005 with Thailand’s then Prime Minister. In May 2005, shortly following the meetings arranged by the Thai Official, the Prime Minister made a radio address publicly endorsing Diageo’s position in … calculating excise taxes.

On Diageo’s behalf, the Thai Official also met repeatedly with senior commerce, finance, and customs authorities in charge of the transfer pricing and import tax disputes, as well as with members of the Thai parliament. The Thai Official’s services contributed to Diageo’s successful resolution of several components of these disputes…. Based in part on the Thai Official’s lobbying efforts, the Thai government accepted important aspects of DT’s transfer pricing method and released over $7 million in bank guarantees that DT had been required to post while the tax dispute was pending.

DT improperly accounted for the monthly retainer that it paid to the Thai Official through his Consulting Firm….

Diageo essentially made “improper payments to government officials…”.

Anyone familiar with the NACC and the political nature of its work would think this is a home run. They can get the easily identified TRT official and send some barbs Thaksin’s way as well.

Or can they? After all, back in December, it was revealed that metropolitan police chief Pol. Lt. Gen. Sanit Mahathavorn was on the payroll of the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc. The top cop was, and we assume, still is getting 600,000 baht a year as an “adviser” to the alcohol firm.

That seemed like a conflict of interest to many, but not to the police force. The Bangkok Post reported that the Royal Thai Police “confirmed that metropolitan police chief … is not violating police rules by holding an advisory role with a major alcohol conglomerate.”

If it’s “good” enough for the police, then presumably an official/adviser/deputy secretary to a premier/committee member of a political party/member and/or adviser to state-owned/state-controlled boards/consultant is in the clear as well?

Medhi’s raising an opportunity for political point scoring. Why hasn’t it and isn’t it being hit out of the park? Corruption Park?

We say more in our next post.





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.





“Election” slipping IV

9 02 2017

On the last day of 2016, PPT posted that there had been quite a few indications that the promised “election” would be delayed from 2017 to 2018. Then we observed that the military junta had an addition to repression and control, meaning that their authoritarian rule is likely to be extended for as long as it desires, especially as opposition has been pretty much neutralized.

We see no reason to change that view. Not least because the junta’s legal minion and deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has finally admitted that there will be no “election” in 2017.

That’s just one more promise nixed by the military dictatorship. It has been a repeated promise since the day of the coup in 2014, broken again and again. As the Post reports, the junta “had earlier set rough deadlines for elections via … [its] ‘roadmap’ in 2015, 2016 and 2017.”

Wissanu set a record for breaking a promise. He first said: “One year from today, there’ll be elections…”. Seconds later he said:

Please don’t force [the government] to give a specific schedule for the election…. We can only roughly estimate it…. In future we will talk about the election schedule in broad terms, not the exact timing….

National elections will take place when the junta feels it can adequately control the outcome. That desired outcome is no Thaksin Shinawatra, no Thaksin proxies and no political party having power to change anything the junta has put in place. More “positively,” the junta prefers that it continue to control things for the next 15 to 20 years.

Of course, this depends on the current junta being able to maintain its influence over a seemingly divided military and maintaining its coalition with the palace.

The junta’s servants are reportedly still at work on the constitutional changes demanded by the king. Wissanu said the amended charter would go back to the king on 18 February, and he has up to 90 days to think about it.

Wissanu reckons neither the Democrat Party and Puea Thai Party object to another “election” delay. Lies and broken promises are important parts of the junta’s political arsenal.





Wolves in charge of “reconciliation”

7 02 2017

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk has been in jail since 30 April 2011. In a long and deliberately tortuous trial, the labor activist was convicted of lese majeste in a sham trial. Because he refused to plead guilty, the “justice” system has deliberately treated him badly.

Despite all of this, a brave Somyos “has denounced the junta’s political reconciliation plans.” He declared:

If the regime is really serious about reconciliation, asserted Somyot, all parties to the political conflicts since the 2006 coup d’état must be invited to the negotiation table. This includes controversial figures such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Suthep Thaugsuban, Yingluck Shinawatra, Jatuporn Prompan, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Sondhi Limthongkul and Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

He made the good point that the junta’s “reconciliation plan … is like a story of wolves trying to solve problems about grass for cows and buffaloes. [The wolves] portray themselves as the protagonists but they have hidden agendas. It’s like a soap opera…”.

He’s right.