Working for the man?

9 03 2019

As we mentioned in a recent post, King Vajiralongkorn is very wealthy. After changes to the Crown Property Bureau Act, his shares in the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) and the Siam Cement Group (SCG) are valued at US$9.23 billion. On those shares alone, the Forbes billionaires list should have him 3rd for Thailand. Of course, his portfolio is far larger than these two companies.

As well as being the major shareholder in both SCB and SCG, the king’s personal assistants hold positions on both boards of directors.

All of that makes a story at The Nation about the SCG very interesting reading. It begins: “There is a growing outcry over the government’s recent decision to allow corporate giant SCG to utilise parts of a forest reserve in Saraburi province, as a special case, till 2036.” SCG quarries the area for limestone, used in cement production.

The junta’s Cabinet on “Tuesday passed a resolution to permit cement manufacturer SCG to use … land in the Tab Kwang and Muak Lek Forest Reserve for its operations.”

According to reports, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Ministry “persuaded the Cabinet to give the green light mainly on grounds that those parts of the forest reserve had once been SCG’s concession area.”

The ministry said “the allotted land plots have enormous potential for mining, and SCG … has always complied with conditions related to permits issued to it.”

SCG’s previous permit to “use the … land plots expired in 2011, but its mining licence remains valid until April 27, 2036.” That permit was issued in 2002.

An official at the Royal Forest Department, reported anonymously, said: “The request to use these old concession areas has won approval from the National Environment Board and all relevant screening committees,” adding that “the authorities also recognised the importance of industrial development.” It was also stated that “the government can put in place efficient control measures to ensure the private miner won’t cause any adverse environmental impacts…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, the SCG “facility is located in the Tab Kwang and Muak Lek Forest Reserve in Saraburi province…. The forest covers 3,223 rai and contains a large protected Watershed Class 1A zone.”

Watershed Class 1A zones are considered “ecologically rich and were given protection under a 2005 cabinet resolution.” However, case-by-case exceptions are permitted.

The grant to SCG has drawn considerable (and surprising) criticism. Mahasarakham University’s Chainarong Setthachua called for an investigation of the concession. He worried that the area is a “top-grade headwater area” and reckoned that the area might be inside “a national park that was established in 2016,” he said.

Other critics included the deeply yellow Veera Somkwamkid and Srisuwan Janya who demanded Cabinet rescind its decision or be faced with court action. Somlak Hutanuwatr, said to be “an independent expert on primary industries and mines.” who claimed the Cabinet’s decision was “illegal,” as did EnLaw Foundation coordinator, Supaporn Malailoy,

Meanwhile, Amnuayporn Choldumrongkul, deputy chief of the Royal Forestry Department, “said the decision to extend the operating permit was made in accordance with the state concession previously awarded to the company, SCG Plc, to mine there.”

Some questions arise. One is what was SCG doing in the area from 2011 to today? If its permit expired in 2011, what did it do for lime in the intervening period? Another is to ask how much the junta’s Cabinet was influenced in its decision making by SCG’s royal connection? Does that connection and ownership provide the king with influence over the junta?

We think this story needs a lot more investigation. Is the media up to it?





Reaction to the NACC’s Prawit decision II

29 12 2018

The Nation reports “widespread criticism after the [National Anti-Corruption Commission] commissioners decided to drop charges against [Gen] Prawit [Wongsuwan]’s controversial collection of 22 luxury watches…”.

A Bangkok Post editorial states the NACC ruling “is unconvincing and dubious due to its weak rationale behind the decision and and its half-baked probe into the case.” It adds that “given its half-hearted commitment to pursue the case in the first place, the public has reason to suspect that the intention was to let the deputy prime minister and defence minister off the hook easily.”

Interestingly, the Post points to a similar case where an official was convicted:

In 2011, when it probed former transport permanent secretary Supoj Saplom’s possession of an undeclared asset, a 2.9-million-baht car, which he claimed belonged to a friend, the NACC ruled against him, saying such high-value lending was not possible. It also ruled that Supoj was guilty because he was the one who actually used the car, even though the registration papers stated that his friend was the owner….

Conveniently for Gen Prawit and the military junta, the NACC now seems to have reversed itself and it now says that holding and using watches worth millions is okay.

Other reactions:

Anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Junya … issued a statement … alleging malfeasance on the part of the five commissioners who had found Prawit innocent and declared he had gathered 20,000 signatures to get them sacked.

Activist Veera Somkwamkid said … he will file [a] lawsuit against the NACC for letting Prawit walk free.

Meanwhile, Puea Thai Party deputy spokesman Wattanarak Suranatyut asked if others face a similar situation do they now just say the valuable item is “borrowed” from a “friend“?

The Democrat Party’s Charnchai Issarasenarak said “the NACC appeared to have found an excuse for General Prawit, instead of finding facts regarding the controversial collection.” He added: “The NACC was incapable of finding facts about the 25 watches. This is a disgrace for the agency and could end up being a catastrophe for it…”. Worse for the NACC, Charnchai”accused the NACC of lying to the public by claiming it could not find out who had bought these watches.”

In another Bangkok Post report, Khattiyaa Sawasidipol, deputy spokesperson of Thai Raksa Chart, said “the NACC’s resolution would allow people suspected of assets concealment to cite being on loan as an excuse.”

In The Nation’s report, the NACC is reported as “defending” its decision. NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon insisted its decision was “based on evidence shown in the case file…”.

That is about as weak as it can get. However, it matters little for the puppet NACC. It does as it is told and then returns to its protective shell – the military junta.





When lese majeste is re-defined

29 05 2018

Buddha Issara is still in jail, now seen in a wheel chair. Our question is about one of his charges.

The last time we looked, lese majeste was being expansively defined by the current military junta to harass and jail political opponents. Dead kings. dead king’s dead dogs, princesses (although there was some pull back on that), against adults, children and the infirm and disabled, and for things said, not said but implied or nodded or winked about. It has been heavily used for those misusing the royal name/s and for profiting from royal proximity.

In short, lese majeste was draconian and more or less predictably horrendous.

So we were amazed and shocked to learn that the fascist and anti-democratic monk is charged with “forging a royal emblem on amulets he sold” but not lese majeste. As the report notes: “Claiming false ties to the monarchy is also considered a grievous offense in Thailand and has drawn royal defamation charges in the past.” The linked report also has some great photos of the fascist monk “at work.”

Yingcheep Atchanont, an activist who is said to monitor the use of lese majeste observes: “At least 40 people have been arrested in recent years for claiming a false connection [to the monarchy] for personal gain, as far as I know…. They include even some people who worked on royal projects.”

So what’s going on? Is the (former) monk protected? We don’t think anyone should be charged with lese majeste, but if he’s not, all those others, some who are dead, must be absolved of this most horrible of charges/convictions.

Interestingly, some of the monk’s former allies have abandoned him. “Veera Somkwamkid, an ultra-nationalist says: “His time is due. Because he is… well … Let’s say he has many more charges waiting against him…”. He added that an “influential person” wanted to “disgrace Buddha Issara but would not elaborate.” More interestingly still, he adds: “I believe police received a certain order from above…”. The question then is: what and who is above?





Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”





A party for Prayuth II

9 11 2017

It was only a couple of days ago that the Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan was saying there was no need yet for a military political party. It seems that was a statement designed to actually announce that a military party was in the works.

This Prawit non-announcement seems to have been motivated by, as Khaosod reported, General Songklod Thiprat “who once worked for the ruling junta” is now the “acting chairman” of a “political party called Palang Chart Thai (literally, Power of the Thai Nation),” denied he was fronting the junta’s party.

This general has recently “presided over meetings and banquets, surrounded by party supporters. Media analysis dubbed his clique a ‘soldier party’ or ‘NCPO [junta] party,” having “pledged to support” to the junta.

General Songklod has been targeting members of other parties and especially the Puea Thai Party in his recruiting. We do not yet know what he and the junta have on offer.

The General is now Sgt Schulz-ing:

… on Monday, Maj. Gen. Songklod told reporters his party was nobody’s ally. In fact, he disputed founding a party in the first place – saying it was the media who misunderstood him.

“I have not done anything. I’m not good with politics,” Songklod was quoted as saying. “I have not disputed the news because I didn’t know anything about it … I think it’s because I seem to know a lot of people, so people connected me to politics.”

He knows nothing, nothing!

His “party” was just a  “volunteer group” that was “dedicated to helping the junta and improving the country, and it was not registered with the election authorities.”

Interestingly, bright yellow Veera Somkwamkid “added that another factor of what the next government will look like depends on King Vajiralongkorn…”. He said: “If His Majesty wishes to see democracy, he must support a political system based on genuine democracy…. But if His Majesty supports military rulers, then it’s undemocratic.”

That’s a brave observation that is likely to get Veera in considerable trouble. The junta has difficulty understanding Veera as he is a yellow shirt who is not now pro-military.

After all of this, as The Nation reported, facing calls to lift the ban on political party ban got peeved (again) blabbering that he would not “rule out the formation of a political party…”. He garbled his response: “I’m not thinking about [setting up a party] now but I’ll see how the situation is in the future.”

In other words, the planning is under way (see above).

Then Prayuth seemed to say that the election might be further delayed. He said “he would use … Article 44 of the interim Constitution, to extend the preparatory time for parties if necessary.” That means that the ban stays and that he’ll delay the election again by not lifting it in time for parties to meet the requirements of the political party bill.

He confirmed this delay by saying that the junta had “concluded … that the current situation was not yet settled. The country is still in a period when it should not go through a conflict of any kind…”. That is, no election until, as we have said many times before, the junta decides its party can win easily under its rules.

The military dictatorship is supported in its delaying tactics by its various puppet organizations like the Constitution Drafting Committee. There’s not even an Election Commission set up or likely to be any time soon. That is, no election until the junta decides its party can win easily under its rules.

Then The Nation reported The Dictator’s firm confirmation that a military party is in the works.

General Prayuth presented “another set of questions to ask people regarding the future of politics…”. In fact, though, they are a softening up process for the military party. They are also about the junta campaigning. The propaganda/questions were:

1. Do we need to have new political parties or new politicians for the people to consider in the next election and whether the old politicians or political parties can form a government that pushes forward reforms or the national strategy?

2. Is it his or the junta’s right to support any one of the parties?

(After asking the question, Prayut himself appeared to answer the question by saying that it was his right to support or not support any one, and if there were all the old faces he would not support them.

3. Do people see a better future from the government’s work during the past three years?

4. Is it appropriate to raise the idea of going back to the administrative style of previous governments in the current moment?

5. Have democratic governments or politicians been effective over the years and shown enough governance to drive the country’s growth in a sustainable manner?

6. Why are politicians lining up together and attacking the government?

We actually think this is a potential kindling point. Having mostly proclaimed (quite falsely) that the junta only acted to prevent chaos, these questions reinforce that The Dictator and the military junta are power hungry thugs.





Further updated: Covering the corruption money trails

22 10 2017

Recall the claim that Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda had approved the purchase of hundreds of “road speed guns for six times the normal price?”

Anupong said the “849 hand-held laser speed detectors – each costing 675,000 baht – was urgent to replace outdated equipment.” That’s more than 573 million baht. The project did not go to open bidding. And, oddly, the speed cameras were said to be for the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

The Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey states that General Anupong is one of The Dictator’s “closest associates …[and] has hit the headlines once again and this time, again, it is for the carelessness of his decision making.”

According to Umesh, “Gen Anupong defended himself, saying that he was unaware of the pricing of the equipment and it was only his role to pass on the requests of the agencies to the cabinet. The cabinet did not ask too many questions and approved the procurement plan presented by Gen Anupong.”

Sound familiar? It should. General Anupong made similar noises when he approved the Red Bull plant in Khon Kaen that has now been cancelled. Don’t blame me, he said, I just processed the approval.

Yeah, right. Then there was the deflated zeppelin. And the GT200 magic wands, both purchased in the past with Anupong and General Prayuth Chan-ocha working on the very bad deals that were both likely to be corrupt.

On the speed guns, there’s a belated attempt to construct a story that is so riddled with nonsense that the story is designed to befuddle while hoping the story goes silent – the junta’s trusted strategy. (Think of Rolls Royce corruption, the murder of Chaiyapoom Pasae and the “stealing” of the 1932 commemoration plaque, to name just three silences.)

The new story is that The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department planned to buy laser-equipped speed detectors to enforce speed limits and would lend them to the police every so often. We looked at the Department’s website and couldn’t see how it might use speed guns….

Department Director-general Chayapol Thitisak “said the detectors were necessary for officials to effectively enforce the law against speeders and inculcate traffic discipline. The devices would mainly be used on secondary roads connecting districts, tambons and villages.” The department’s plan was claimed to be “in response to requests from organisations running campaigns to reduce road accidents…”.

That seems a most unlikely story to us.

Trying to save the boss, director-general Chayapol said the “procurement process had not begun…” and that “no sale had been concluded…”.

Maybe. Let’s see, when The Dictator gets his boot out of his mouth over Facebook, how he defends his former boss and co-conspirator.

Update 1: Interestingly, Veera Prateepchaikul, in an op-ed at the Bangkok Post has almost the same points about this deal as our post.

Update 2: General Anupong is under continued attack from yellow-shirted ultra-nationalist Veera Somkwamkid who says that Anupong’s proposal to “the cabinet on Oct 10” was approved at “a budget of 957.6 million baht for the procurement of 1,064 hand-]held speed guns, each worth around 900,000 baht.”

Meanwhile, Anupong went all Sgt Schultz: “I have no idea how many speed detectors the government approved for the procurement because it’s beyond my authority. You have to ask the DDPM…”.





Who is taking advantage of the funeral?

20 10 2017

PPT has had several posts in recent days that compare The Dictator’s campaigning and his accusations that Puea Thai Party’s Sudarat Keyuraphan was “political campaigning” in the name of remembering the dead king.

Khaosod has a report that deserves some attention.

Anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Janya points to “two purchasing scandals” he says have surfaced in the past week, but claims he can “only fume … because of the period of national mourning for for … King Bhumibol…”.

Yet he was not too constrained to refrain from slamming the military junta: “this is a period of sorrow for the entire nation…. But the government has no decency to consider this at all.”

One case involves officials who are buying hundreds of “road speed guns for six times the normal price.” The second case involves “revelations the army spent upward of 15.9 million baht to build restrooms” at Corruption/Rajabhakti Park.

After criticism, Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda said “849 hand-held laser speed detectors – each costing 675,000 baht – was urgent to replace outdated equipment.” That’s more than 573 million baht.

We, like others, can’t see why Anupong needed to buy more than 800 speed guns right now. Given that “[c]ritics said similar devices can be found for about 100,000 baht…”, it seem reasonable to think that there’s “commissions” in the wind.

The main issue is that “[n]either of the projects went to open bidding, meaning the contracts were awarded to contractors solely at the discretion of those officials in charge.”

Yellow-shirted ultra-nationalist Veera Somkwamkid thundered that the speed gun “purchase was intentionally slipped through under the cover of mourning…”.

Veera observed that the junta had criticized Sudarat but questioned its own actions: “those bastards are engaging in corruption! It damages the public!… It is both inappropriate and damaging to the country.”