Royals, capitalists, and inequality

28 01 2021

An op-ed at both Asia Sentinel and Eurasia Review, titled “Hierarchy, Power And Inequality In Thailand,” and published a few days ago, there’s a useful, short account of the country’s oligarchy. We reproduce the interesting bits:

Although Thailand is one of the region’s wealthiest states and has been cited as a success story of modernization and development, the gap between rich and poor is widening. Thailand is placed in the world’s top inequitable countries, in terms of wealth and income distribution.

According to a recent Credit Suisse study, one percent of the population holds 66.9 percent of the nation’s wealth, with 36 percent of equity held by only 500 people. According to the World Bank, poverty has grown from 7.21 percent in 2015 to 9.85 percent in 2018.

It has probably grown further with the impact of the virus.  The article then moves on to the oligarchs:

While more Thais are struggling to make ends meet, sections of Thailand’s elite class have been increasing their wealth. A survey by Money and Banking Magazine with the Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy at Chulalongkorn University using Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) data, found that Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, the founder of Thai Beverage and chairman of the TCC Group, Vonnarat Tangkaravakoon, chairman of TOA Paints, and Khunying Wanna Sirivadhanabhakdi, chairperson of Sangsom Group and Beerthip Brewery, had actually increased their wealth during the pandemic.

Notice that three are mentioned but it is only two families. The discussion adds:

Thailand is economically dominated and ruled by a small close-knit elite composed of the monarchy, the military, and a small number of families who control Thailand’s major businesses. This small group is interrelated through family ties, intermarriage and long-held relationships.

Don’t for a moment think this is something recent. Back in 2011, PPT posted on “maps” of elements of the ruling class going back to the early 1950s. For us, what has changed is eerily reminiscent of the destruction of symbols of 1932. The ruling class has been re-sculpted to be royalist.

From 1932, the People’s Party and the regimes that followed, at least until World War 2, had altered the nature of the ruling class by limiting the monarchy and the princes.

It was the ninth reign that changed this. One of Bhumibol’s great successes was in rebuilding the monarchy’s enormous wealth. Forget all the propaganda about royal projects and a frugal king. He was a determined acquirer of wealth. He did this in alliance with the military and selected Sino-Thai capitalists. It is that arrangement which produced the oligarchy of today. Some of the names have changed, but there’s continuity too.

Of course, many of the top generals did exceptionally well. A much-neglected and very detailed doctoral dissertation by David Morell, “Power and Parliament in Thailand: The Futile Challenge, 1968-1971” has lots of data, including claims about the wealth and economic connections of the top generals who were also ministers. Here’s a taste:

Thailand has long been a highly unequal society, and the palace, the military and the connected capitalists will fight tooth-and-nail to protect the inequality that allows them to suck the wealth from the country. That also means controlling politics. As the op-ed has it:

Right-wing political groups with monarchist ideologies developed, representing the elite. The elite classes were boosted with ethnic Chinese business families, civil leadership developed at both provincial and local levels, and military personnel. Nationalism and monarchy became more important than democracy, a doctrine which has been espoused to maintain the establishment grip on power beyond question. This espoused cultural-political concept of ‘Thainess’ totally encapsulates the need to maintain status quo of the position of the elite within politics and society.





Prayuth’s poverty regime

17 11 2020

A story in the Bangkok Post reports that Jinanggoon Rojananan, deputy-secretary general of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), “11.4 million households are at risk of falling into poverty from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, with the unemployment rate rising…”.

Today, there “are 637,000 households dependent on public and private financial assistance” with 467,000 of them reporting lower incomes today. These “households work in sectors that are more prone to job losses such as tourism or self-employment.” Jinanggoon claims that poverty fell between 2018 and 2019.

That poverty is claimed to have decreased between 2018 and 2019 may not be a huge surprise as the junta poured money into “buying” votes through all kinds of programs it once lambasted as “populist” or as “policy corruption.” But Jinanggoon seems to be warning of a dire downturn in 2020.

But the story of the Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha regime over several years needs to be told. Back in March, the World Bank reported:

Between 2015 and 2018, the poverty rate in Thailand increased from 7.2 percent to 9.8 percent, and the absolute number of people living in poverty rose from 4.85 million to more than 6.7 million. The increase in poverty in 2018 was widespread – occurring in all regions and in 61 out of 77 provinces. In the Central and Northeast, the number of poor increased by over half a million in each region during the same period. The conflict-affected South became the region with the highest poverty rate for the first time in 2017.

In suggesting why these increases in poverty have occurred, the World Bank states:

The population at the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution is not sharing as well in prosperity, and in the recent period of 2015-2017, consumption and income growth in this bottom 40 percent were negative. The reversal in trend among this bottom 40 during this period is related to declines in all forms of labor incomes, including a stagnation in wage growth and declines in farm and business incomes.

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF. For an academic discussion of this report and its implications, another PDF is available.

Meanwhile, some of the filthy rich are doing well, with CP having a massive rise in profits.





The tycoons and the regime

29 06 2020

In what looks like one of its regular paid adverts masquerading as news and called “PR story,” the Bangkok Post has an account of Chia Tai, a CP family company. It “reports” a recent “volunteering activity under its ‘Chia Tai Volunteer Project’ corporate social responsibility initiative whereby its staff join forces to make a difference in the community during the crisis.”

We guess this is yet another PR activity associated with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s call to the country’s billionaires for support in responding to the enormous economic downturn associated with the virus crisis. CP has been doing pretty well during the crisis. So have others in the ranks of the giant conglomerates, so the PR seems like a political strategy.

This CP PR exercise involves the distribution of food boxes in communities surrounding Chia Tai Headquarters on Sukhumvit 60. Interestingly, it is said to be “supported by Phrakhanong District Office and Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC)…”.

As part of the embedding of the military in society, ISOC seems to be everywhere.

We can’t say for sure how far the mutual back-scratching between company, military and regime goes, but CP has done pretty darn well, soaking up state funds and helping itself. And there’s probably much more to come.

For example, the Bangkok Post recently reported that the “Industry Ministry is planning 1.9 billion baht in spending to help farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as part of a 10-billion-baht pandemic relief proposal submitted to the National Economic and Social Development Council.”

Farmers, right? Well, not really. Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said his ministry wants to “develop the whole agricultural industry from upstream to downstream production…”. The biggest beneficiary is likely to be CP’s Chearavanont family, one of the country’s largest landowners and long pushing for a more industrial-style agriculture.

The latter is being taken up by the regime in yet another virus crisis spend: “projects to cultivate sustainable growth include a 16.05-billion-baht project to develop five million rai covering 5,450 large-scale farms. The aim is to implement more machinery on large-sized farms to increase the value of production by about 11 billion baht a year.” And this is packaged among a bunch of state splurges said to be about promoting the dead king’s trite “New Theory”-cum-sufficiency economy, in the “agriculture sector which will cover a total of 240,000 rai.”

The mantra for sufficiency economy is as meaningless as it has ever been, but it polishes the royal family posterior and allows the regime to trumpet its “loyalty.” The importsant thing seems to be that the tycoons rub the regime’s tummy and the regime scratches the tycoons’ collective back. And, the taxpayer coughs up the loot.





Gorging on state funds

21 06 2020

Reading the media the past couple of days and we feel like the regime, its ministers and its buddies are engaging in gluttony, seemingly gorging on state coffers.

One deal we posted on them recently got more press coverage:

The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office’s Eastern Special Development Zone Policy Committee yesterday signed the [290-billion-baht] deal with winning concessionaire, U-Tapao International Aviation Co, an offshoot of the BBS Joint Venture that won the bid to develop the “aeropolis” in Ban Chang district of Rayong Province….

…[T]he BBS Joint Venture comprises Bangkok Airways, which owns 45% of the shares, BTS Group Holdings which owns 35%, and Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction (STEC) which owns 20%.

So we can identify two conglomerates involving two of the countries wealthiest Sino-Thai tycoons – the Prasarttong-Osoth family at Bangkok Airways and the Kanjanapas clan at BTS. It was Forbes lister Prasert Prasattong-Osoth giving advice to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha recently. It seems advice doesn’t come cheap. Then we have Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction:

Interesting. But what can we expect from people who are used to having with state officials in their pockets.

Then we saw that idea from convicted heroin smuggler and Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao for seizing land  illegally occupied by resorts and hotels, and then renting it back to them. Brilliant! Thammanat is already a baht billionaire and this looks like a surefire way to double money and pay for more of his big brother’s parliamentary seats and maybe even some watches. A Bangkok Post editorial commented that the scheme “is so outrageous that it should be dropped immediately…”.

And what about the news that the “Finance Ministry is ready to consider retail operators’ proposal for tax breaks on shopping to stimulate domestic spending…” with 50,000 baht per shopper! Now, who could that help most? We suggest it would throw shiploads of money into the big retailers, like the Chirathivat and Umpujh clans who are also Forbes listers.

It also potentially helps out the royal family and specifically Princess Sirindhorn, a member of the country’s wealthiest family that already scoops up billions in taxpayer funds. It was Chadatip Chutrakul, chief executive of majority royal-owned Siam Piwat Co, the operator of Siam Paragon, Siam Center and Iconsiam, that “said the government should come up with measures to compel people to leave the house and spend more.”

Happy to grab more loot

An academic once calculated that Princess Sirindhorn’s shareholding in Siam Piwat provided more than US$55 million per year from her property in the Siam-Ratchaprasong alone. She may be a bit short this year, so the state purse becomes a surrogate source of wealth.

Such “private” deals seem to be gathering pace under the virus crisis and rehabilitation plans. Recall how just a few weeks ago, the biggest of the business whales, multi-billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont was urging the regime to turn the country into a ‘safe haven’ for wealthy visitors.” His wish seems to be the regime’s command, with Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn declaring that the “government’s tourism-revival strategy is to target big spenders seeking privacy and social distancing in the Covid-19 era, rather than try to attract a large number of visitors…. He added that the virus “provides an opportunity to reset the sector, which had become reliant on Chinese groups and backpackers…”. With 11 million Chinese tourists in 2019 and a total of almost 40 million, it seems there’s a determination to crush most of the industry and all that flows from it to every other part of the service sector, which before the virus accounted 46% of total employment and 57% of GDP.

And, these “private” deals are being institutionalized, with the regime reviving a Prem Tinsulanonda-era idea, agreeing with the private sector “to revive the Joint Public-Private Consultative Committee (JPPCC) as a core forum for the two to work together on solutions for the country’s social and economic rehabilitation after the pandemic.” That was first suggested a year ago but looks increasingly likely to become a processing terminal for turning state funds into private gains.

Finally, we may have missed the announcements, but it seems that the long-delayed contracts for the Sino-Thai high (probably medium) speed railway are being doled out. If the reporting is right, it suggests smoke-filled rooms and cosy deals. We quote the Bangkok Post:

SRT governor Niruj Maneepun yesterday told the media that Contract 2.3 is worth 50.6 billion baht, which includes funds for the railway system, rolling stocks and staff training….

The signing of the contract will be carried out in October as planned, Mr Niruj said.

Contract 2.3 is one of seven railway contracts worth a total of 179.4 billion baht for the Bangkok-Nong Khai High-Speed Train Project. Contract 2.3 would cover the project’s first phase, which is a 253-kilometre stretch from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima….

The construction for the whole project has been ongoing since 2018 and it is expected to finish in 2023. [In fact, very little construction has occurred, apart from a very short section near Nakhon Ratchasima.]

So far, the SRT has said the project is making progress, noting it is finding contractors to develop all seven phases. It said a few have already agreed and signed some of the contracts.

That doesn’t look like open tendering, not that such systems stand in the way of the transfer of funds to private sector cronies and giant corporations.





(Some) winners and (lots of) losers

8 06 2020

The South China Morning Post reports on what looks like an ever-increasing gap between the filthy rich and the rest. It begins:

On a roadside in a mixed Bangkok neighbourhood stands a shiny metal box – a “Pantry of Sharing” – where the haves in one of the world’s least equal countries can leave food for the have-nots, the ranks of whom are bulging as the coronavirus lays waste to the Thai economy.

Of course, it is the “maids from the grand mansions” who deliver the scraps for the “pantries.”

The report highlights that stark realities of wealth and poverty in Thailand. There’s research on this, showing how well the big families have done in recent years.

Now, already struggling, the virus and the mix of technocratic and authoritarian measures to control it and the population “is pushing Thailand’s poor deeper into penury.” The report notes that “[t]here are millions of newly unemployed…”.

As the report observes, it is “not just the poor who are facing ruin. Middle-class workers are losing their office jobs, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are bleeding cash, with knock-on effects on mortgage, car and school payments.”

Looking at economic data, the report suggests that the economic decline is worse than during the 1997 crisis. It quotes academic Pavida Pananond who says that the hardest hit in the virus crisis “are the low and middle classes…”. She adds: “This crisis will further widen Thailand’s inequality.”

(We wonder if Pavida looked at 1997 data. Back then, the fact is that even the World Bank counted 1 million Thais falling into poverty and the top 20% saw their wealth increase through the crisis, although official Ginis declined, suggesting that the “middle class” suffered.)

The article continues:

Thailand is a country of extremes. Its king is one of the world’s richest monarchs while business monopolies with deep political connections have carved extraordinary wealth for family empires spanning from beer and duty-free to shopping malls.

The country has 57 billionaires, according to the 2020 Hurun Global Rich List, the ninth most in the world with a combined wealth of US$135 billion – more than Singapore, Japan or France.

Only China and India boast more billionaires in Asia, according to the list by the Shanghai-based publishers.

It’s raining money

Commenting on Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “unprecedented plea for the tycoons’ help to float the economy and head off potential discontent…”, Pavida observes the quid pro quo: “Prayuth’s appeal for help “offers these tycoons direct opportunities to do favours for the government…”. She adds: “These tycoons know better than most what political favour can do for their businesses.”

But, as the report notes (as PPT has too), “most  the billionaires have so far offered little…”. Their “advice” has been self-serving and their funds limited and often building their own enterprises.

It goes on to observe that CP’s patriarch Dhanin Chearavanont, ignoring galloping unemployment asked for an open door for “foreign expertise.” He said, “Thailand needs around five million world-class talents to teach and lead Thais…. Give them Thai nationality to incentivise these great brains…”. We assume he means Chinese “talent.”

Forget fake  “Thai-ness” and “contributing to Thai society.” Dhanin wants more for his family and companies. His position is little different from that exhibited by the rest of the filthy rich.





Profits up

16 05 2020

PPT is not a regular reader of Successful Farming, but one of its recent stories did catch our attention. That story reports that “Thailand’s largest agribusiness Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl (CPF) expects to have its best year ever due to soaring pork prices and plans to expand in North America…”.

Yes, that’s the CP where its ruling clan has headed rich lists in Thailand for years. Its the CP that had Suphachai Chearavanont, chief executive of Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group, hailing “the prime minister’s gesture as a smart move” when Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha begged for help from Thailand’s billionaires. It is the same CP that had multi-billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont “urging the government to relax lockdown measures and welcome foreign travellers as soon as possible, and turn the country into a ‘safe haven’ for wealthy visitors.”

It is a reminder of how some benefit greatly from a crisis as pork and other food prices soar. One of CP Food’s bosses boasted:”This could be our best year … because pork prices are very good and chicken prices are recovering and an easing of lockdown measures will allow restaurants to open…”. Ah, yes, and if the tourists Dhanin wants back come, think of even higher profits. And, CPF profits from some falling prices, like corn.

CPF “reported a net profit of 6.11 billion baht ($190 million) for January-March, up 43% from a year earlier and a record high quarterly profit due to high pork prices in Vietnam and Cambodia.” We can but wonder if CPF actually pays taxes somewhere in the world.

Clipped from Prachatai

An earlier virus – African swine fever – means that CP is boosting investment in Canada so it can export pork to China and other parts of Asia that have soaring prices. And, in Thailand, the junta/post junta regime is depending on Thailand for its only economic idea: the Eastern Economic Corridor.

Life is good, and the hope for CP remains that its “helping the nation” propaganda hides its profit(eering).





Wealth haven

14 05 2020

The Bangkok Post reports that tone-deaf multi-billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont “urging the government to relax lockdown measures and welcome foreign travellers as soon as possible, and turn the country into a ‘safe haven’ for wealthy visitors.”

Now a member of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s billionaire advisory group known as Team Thailand, and previously a shadowy figure of influence behind several royalist regimes (and, once, of Thaksin Shinawatra’s government), Dhanin is speaking up on the economy, fearing that the extended lockdown is killing the economy. He’s right, but his perspective is that of huge wealth and massive privilege.

He is reported to have stated:

“We can’t wait until a vaccine is developed and produced in sufficient quantity to roll out to the entire population,” Mr Dhanin said. “The economy won’t survive that long.”

He said the tourism sector accounted for 16-17% percent of GDP and should be revived due to improvements in the virus situation.

Mr Dhanin proposed the government attract high-spending tourists from across the world by highlighting Thailand’s success in containing the spread of Covid-19.

So his proposal is to wind up tourism but for the wealthy, like him. Presumably he would also be one of the first to get any vaccine if it is safe and when available.

His perspective is that the poor majority in Thailand are there to be exploited by him, his companies and his tycoon buddies. We can imagine a “haven” for wealthy tourists, built on a service sector of low wages, low skills and great profits for companies like his.

Dhanin, clipped from Forbes

In fact, Thailand is already a wealth haven for Dhanin and all the other billionaires and multi-millionaires. Their wealth is built on their capacity to exploit the wealth created by Thai workers, enforced by a (military) state that works in their interests. The bags of money his companies drag into to fling at royals is part of their insurance policy on maintaining a wealth haven.”

A tourism “safe haven” for the wealthy includes “five-star hotels and resorts; we also have five-star hospitals and the best doctors…”, most of them owned by fellow billionaires. He wants a safe haven to make even more money.” Dhanin adds: “If we can make rich people feel confident that staying in Thailand is safer than their own countries then they will come.”

Dhanin and his billionaire buddies will also feel safe, so long as they maintain the protective shell of the military, prevent the king from too self-inflicted backlashes and keep the military-backed regime dawdling along. Dhanin’s pitch seems designed to nudge the regime along. We are waiting for the response. Will Gen Prayuth want to be publicly seen as a billionaire’s puppet?

 





Helping themselves

7 05 2020

In another of the uncritical reports vigorously polishing the posteriors of the filthy rich, it is reported that the Chirathivat family’s Central Group, best known for its hotels and retail stores, is reported to have “ approved 2.3 billion baht to boost the sustainable grass-roots economy…”.

There’s a bit of a theme going on among the rich, seeing a win-win in cheering the monarchy, royal projects, sufficiency economy and the like while portraying a concern for farmers.

But in this, at least based on the reporting, it seems Central is helping itself as well, allocating “1.5 billion baht to buy products directly from growers and community enterprises, including farm produce and SME products, for sale in stores …”. Cheeky accounting here because we aren’t told how much it already buys in this way. At the same time, two-thirds of its “giving” is shoveling goods into its stores for sale, presumably at a profit.

Of course, Central trumpets this as “support [for] 25,000 farmer households in 42 provinces.”

They say that their “contribution” is a response to the letter from Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chano-cha.

Meanwhile, the rich seem to be finding ways to make the poor feel even more insignificant and unimportant. According to one report, the well-heeled can get gourmet take-out delivered by a butler in a black sedan.

As the report observes, “the super-rich have not forgone luxury during a pandemic which has locked the country down, crushed the economy and left millions unemployed.” It continues:

Thailand is one of the most unequal nations in the world and the chasm between rich and poor is widening as the coronavirus eviscerates jobs, leaving 22 million registering for a government cash hand-out.

Hundreds line up daily for food donations across Bangkok, a grim sign of an economic contraction forecast at more than 6% this year — the worst since the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

It concludes:

For rich Bangkokians the pandemic has brought the inconvenience of restricted movement — with an overnight curfew still in place despite some businesses reopening — but no end to the lifestyle of plenty.

Perhaps the claim of allocating millions to Gen Prayuth’s recovery (non)plan is a kind of insurance in case the poor, unemployed lower classes get uppity.

 





Patronage and ideas sclerosis

22 04 2020

Readers will be over the moon to learn that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s request for help from Thailand’s filthy rich billionaires has received a positive response:

Thailand’s top business leaders are ready to help the government ease the crunch of the coronavirus crisis, and plan to offer their ideas to lift the country out of the economic quagmire.

There was much mutual back-slapping and self-congratulations:

Suphachai Chearavanont, chief executive of Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group, “hailed the prime minister’s gesture as a smart move.”

He compared Thailand’s wealthiest to ministries:

Each of the businesses is like one ministry. They are from the real sector and they are running their own micro economy. If they work under the government, the prime minister will automatically have twenty more ministries working for the administration….

A Bangkok Post editorial notes that Gen Prayuth “wanted the rich to do more to ease the suffering of the masses,” urging them “to propose tangible projects in writing by next week on how they can help more.”

The editorial proclaims: “Requesting the captains of industry to help the country during a crisis is not wrong.” It might be asked why he even has to do this.

One reason is that it is “natural” for those in a symbiotic relationship to rely on each other. Since at least the late 1950s, the relationship between the wealthiest capitalists and military rulers has been cosy and has resulted in massive exploitation of people and environment. The military has created a social order where the rich get richer and the very rich are bloated, with cash flowing to them from multiple state coffers, semi-monopolies and corrupt relationships.

A second reason is that the junta post-junta regime is bereft of talent and ideas. As worshippers at the fount of great wealth, that’s where they seek “ideas.” The trouble is that most of these Sino-Thai tycoons live in a cocoon of inter-married families, royalism, nepotism and exploitation and know little of the world of those of Comrade Gen Prayuth calls the “masses.”

In fact, he should have gone farther, asking that more people on the top of the national wealth pyramid pitch in.

The Post editorial states it “is indisputable that many business moguls have long reaped the benefits of crony capitalism. They have utilised greater resources in the country to create wealth, inevitably widening the inequality gap.”

Observing that “Thailand is among the 10 most unequal countries” in the world, it notes that those with great wealth “have enjoyed the advantages of the political patronage system.” (We recall when Jakrapob Penkair got into terrible lese majeste trouble for his description of Thailand’s patronage system.)

Yet the Post – it is owned and operated by tycoons – feels the need to defend the beneficiaries of the patronage system, saying the the huge income gap “does not necessarily mean that these billionaires are villains. They have contributed greatly to the country and the economy, created a large number of jobs and developed many social projects.”

They have created businesses that have made them hugely wealthy on the backs of poor farmers and workers. They have used some of this wealth to grease the wheels of bureaucracy and military, adding to their wealth. They have funded the monarchy, cementing a ruling class in power for decades.

When they “give,” they do so for reasons that grow their wealth and power.

It even gets into some fake history, declaring: “The Chinese ancestors of several billionaire dynasties successfully established business empires in Thailand without state support.” Which are they? We can’t think of any.

Many old books on Thailand’s capitalist class tell a different story (see, for example, Bankers and Bureaucrats (PDF), Capital Accumulation in Thailand, and even Chinese Society in Thailand: An Analytical History.

The Post reckons that asking the “super-rich” for help “does more good than harm.” There’s no evidence for this. The ideas they’ve come up with so far suggest idea sclerosis.

Has anyone looked at how much or how little tax these tycoons pay?





The rich win again

9 01 2020

PPT’s collective memory chugged into action after we read a headline at the Bangkok Post. Wichit Chantanusornsiri’s op-ed carried the title “Rich get richer, poor get the picture.” We had a vague notion that we’d heard that phrase before, and a bit of searching reminded us that it is a song by the Australian band Midnight Oil. The band has been activist, especially on environmental and indigenous issues.

Naturally enough, we were also reminded of the news about Australia’s bush fires. But it isn’t just Australia that is struggling with climate change and its impacts.

In Bangkok, as a result of severe drought and much reduced water flows in rivers, residents are facing increasingly salty tap water as sea water intrudes further up the low-flow river systems. Meanwhile, “rice fields there are already withering and the government has now banned farmers [north of Bangkok] who are growing off-season crops from using water from the Chao Phraya and Pasak rivers from Jan 20.” And then there’s the pollution: “Bangkok on Wednesday recorded the world’s third worst air quality on Air Visual, a popular app monitoring pollution, while City Hall is on high alert for a predicted rise in PM2.5 levels until the end of this week.”

But Wichit’s not talking about the environment. Rather, he’s interested in the new land and building tax law. The new tax is mainly meant to impact the “super rich people who have owned land in amounts so vast that they would have to spend a good part of their life if they wanted to walk around every plot of their land.” This is essentially the first new tax in Thailand since 1992.

Wichit points out that:

the now-dissolved National Legislative Assembly (NLA), appointed by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order [the military junta], … passed the new property tax law, [and] watered down the rates recommended by the Finance Ministry and instead set more lenient applicable rates for the new tax regime that will mainly affect the rich (many of whom have served in parliament).

He explains:

In effect, this law will make the rich pay less than what they should do if the ministry’s proposed rates were adopted. For example, the NLA increased the appraisal value ceiling set on residential land and buildings, defined as principal homes, eligible for tax exemption to 50 million baht from the proposed ceiling of 20 million baht.

That means 99.96% of principal homeowners will enjoy such tax exemption because there are only about 10,000 people who own homes with an appraised value of more than 50 million baht.

While the op-ed loses focus, the point that the super rich have loopholes and got a better deal than they should have is clear enough. Of course, rewarding the rich in this way is standard practice for Thailand. The rich are indeed getting richer. We can’t imagine the king being asked for his full tax dues…. Meanwhile, the average Thai struggles on relatively low salaries, with little saving, a rudimentary welfare system and a rapidly deteriorating environment of choking air and water like fish sauce.

Midnight Oil’s lyrics do seem highly relevant, covering class, environment, war: