Tag Archives: Corruption

What a surprise!! Thai Elections Postponed to 2019

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The military junta has once again postponed the date of future elections to 2019. Previously it made many promises about elections in 2017 and then in 2018. But as usually, the junta’s promises all turned out to be lies.

Meanwhile General Pig-Face Prawit, Prayut’s deputy, has been crying that he has been unfairly criticised for displaying numerous highly expensive watches on his wrist and not declaring his assets. Generalissimo Piggy claimed that they were all “loans” from friends. People have had a field day on social media making jokes about watches and borrowing items from friends. No one with an ounce of intelligence believes him, especially after his lavish spending on an official junket to Hawaii.

At the same time the minimum wage level for millions of workers has been raised by a mere pittance because the junta are keen that any wage increases should not affect the profits made by their friends in the business community.

Some commentators claim that the junta has no credible exit strategy [ http://bit.ly/2FX1lBZ ]. But this is not the case. They have been planning for the nature of any future elections for some years with the new elections rules and the National Strategy. The whole process is designed to ensure that the reactionary undemocratic ideas of the junta remain in place to control any future “elected” governments and also to ensure that as many obstacles are in place to make political life hard for Taksin’s allies. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I ]

Prayut starting his make-over to look like a civilian

The junta are not really interested in an exit from politics as such. They merely wish to install a system of guided, Thai style, “democracy” under their control. It is a strategy to exit from a military dictatorship to a military controlled civilian government. Included among so-called civilian politicians could be generals like Prayut who merely slip out of uniform and put on a suit. There is even talk of setting up a pro-military party or encouraging many so-called small “independent” parties to fragment parliament and allow Prayut to be chosen as Prime Minister in the future.

Part of the junta’s strategy continues to be the stifling of any criticism. A whole barrage of laws now exist, alongside lèse-majesté, which are designed to limit freedom of expression. A prominent academic has been summoned by the police over a social media post concerning the price of a hand bag belonging to General Prayut’s wife. The satirical “Kai Meaw” internet page which poked fun at the junta, through its cartoons, has mysteriously disappeared. The site enjoyed the highest number of visits among those interested in politics. Naturally the junta has denied all knowledge of this, just like they denied all knowledge of how and why the 1932 revolution plaque disappeared.

What we must never forget, however, is that the strength and the ability of the junta to survive is always inversely related to the strength of pro-democracy social movements. The Egyptian revolution and the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia were never predicted in advance and events can change rapidly. But what makes the overthrow of the junta and its legacy more likely is a large body of people who are prepared to get organised.

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Junta use Yingluk’s Rice Policy as an excuse to destroy elected Politicians

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the junta and the kangaroo courts in Thailand are using the court case against former Prime Minister Yingluk to destroy the Pua Thai Party and elected politicians close to Taksin. Yingluk is facing a court case over the rice price guarantee scheme which was introduced when she was in office.

The junta claim that she must take responsibility for losses incurred under this scheme and the corruption that took place. No one disputes the fact that Yingluk was never involved in any corruption and did not gain anything financially from any corruption that may have taken place.

On the one hand Yingluk does need to take responsibility for any wrong-doing that took place under her time as Prime Minister. In the same way Prayut and Abhisit must answer for the mass murder of pro-democracy red shirts in 2010. Abhisit was the military installed Prime Minister at the time and Prayut was the most powerful general in the military. There is clear evidence that they were directly involved with orders which led to the cold-blooded shooting of demonstrators.

In the case of Yingluk and the rice price guarantee scheme, she needs to take “political” responsibility for any corruption by others, if it took place. In a democracy that would be resolved in elections or a politician might be forced to resign.

But when we are talking about “financial losses” under the rice price guarantee scheme, they are not mainly about corruption. Such losses to the state budget which took place in order to support the livelihoods of poor farmers are perfectly right and proper.

Of course, the neo-liberal free-marketers decry using state money to relieve poverty. Yet they remain silent about the huge amount of state spending on Thailand’s new idiot king, his father’s wasteful funeral and on the tanks, submarines and aircraft for the military.

I do not really care if the millionaires in the Shinawat family have their riches taken off them. I care more for the plight of ordinary working people, including the farmers. That is why Yingluk’s rice price guarantee scheme was a good scheme. That is why the Universal Health care policy brought in under Taksin needs to be defended from the military vultures who want to bring in “co-payments”.

If anyone should be in the dock for not preventing corruption, it should be Generalissimo Prayut. Not only has he incurred massive state losses on weaponry and the royals, he has failed to prevent endemic military corruption which is taking place right now. His friends and relations have benefitted from this corruption. Soldiers have also enjoyed free junkets abroad at taxpayers’ expense.

Prayut should also be charged with mass murder and over his military coup which destroyed democracy. That can only happen if a mass movement is built to overthrow the military.

It would be foolish to predict if such a mass movement could develop and grow out of public anger over the way Yingluk is being treated. Some Pua Thai politicians are hoping for mass support on the streets for Yingluk. That would be a good thing. If this does actually happen, and there is no guarantee that it will happen because of the way that Pua Thai has demobilised the red shirts, then pro-democracy activist should be part of such a movement. Pro-democracy activists need to be arguing that the movement go well beyond merely defending Yingluk and develop towards confronting the military and demanding the release of all political prisoners. But that requires political organising independent of Pua Thai.

Junta’s rubber-stamp parliament is a feeding trough for the generals

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many may rightly wonder why the Thai military junta ever appointed its so-called “parliament” which merely goes through the motions of deliberating national issues and then rubber-stamps the junta’s laws. This is because Prayut is hell-bent on by-passing even this pretend parliament with his dictatorial decrees carried out under Article 44. Naturally, the parliament was a weak and transparent attempt by Prayut’s junta to create a fairy-tale image of Thai Military-style “democracy”. No one has ever been taken in by this nonsense.

photo of Junta's parliament members from Matichon
photo of Junta’s parliament members from Matichon

However, new evidence highlighted by Matichon newspaper, shows that ever since the rubber-stamp parliament was appointed three years ago it has been a feeding trough for the generals and lackeys of the military.

Matichon reveals that at least 50 members of the “parliament” have all been busy appointing their family members as advisors and researchers at the expense of the tax payers. Remember that in Thailand the elites manage to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, the burden of which falls mainly upon the poor and ordinary working people.

Most of those appointing their wives and offspring to lucrative positions are military officers.

Special “expert advisors” to the “parliament” rake in 24,000 baht per month. Less experienced advisors enjoy 20,000 per month, and assistants are given 15,000 baht per month. To put this in context, most ordinary workers on the top rate of the minimum wage earn around half the amount enjoyed by the parliamentary assistants and most workers work a 6 day week. No doubt these parliamentary advisors and assistants do not have to work full time and many may enjoy salaries from more than one source.

pornpet

Pornpet Wichitchonchai, chair of the rubber-stamp parliament, explained that there were no regulations prohibiting the appointment of close relatives as advisors. He went on to justify this nepotism by explaining that members of parliament would naturally appoint people who they could “trust” as their advisors.

Deputy chair of the junta’s parliament, Pirasuk Porjit, further explained that he could not interfere or criticise what other members did. Members of parliament had the right to appoint people to be their advisors even if they had little knowledge of legal or political matters.

This is yet another example of the gross hypocrisy of the military junta and all those middle-class extremists who supported the military coups of 2006 and 2014. These people have always referred to themselves as “good people”, unlike “bad” elected politicians who are constantly accused of corruption and nepotism.

Another military corruption scandal has been exposed by an independent anti-corruption website. It appears that students and staff at a military training college, controlled by the Supreme Command, have been enjoying foreign trips to Europe at the expense of the tax payer. Some of the activities on these paid “holidays” include shopping at Britain’s Bicester Village, watching a football match, a trip to the London Eye and a luxury boat cruise in Scandinavia. Top generals have justified all this by saying that the new generation of soldiers need to have a modern international outlook. Shame that they don’t study how the military in Europe is barred from politics by the strength of social movements!

However, as Generalissimo Paryut has often said, his junta cannot be criticised because it was never elected and is therefore not answerable to the public! He has now appointment himself and his cronies to a Super-Board to oversee the “correctness” of state purchases. One could be forgiven for thinking that this is to ensure that the military receives its cut and that this activity is white-washed for public consumption.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/2kjB84E

They are ALL corrupt

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Now that the scandal of Rolls-Royce bribery of politicians and state official in Thailand has been exposed, we can draw some initial conclusions.

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In the case of bribes to “encourage” Thai Airways to buy Rolls-Royce T80 engines for its fleet, bribes were paid a total of three times. Between 1991 and 1992, $18.8 million were paid. Between 1992 and 1997 another $10.38 million was given and between 2004 and 2005 a further $ 7.2 million was handed out.

thai_airways_plane

A further Rolls-Royce bribery scandal involves payments amounting to $11 million to “persuade” PTT Public Company Limited, the Thai state-owned SET-listed “oil and gas company”, to award a total of 6 contracts to Rolls-Royce Energy Systems, Inc. (RRESI). These bribes were paid at various times between 2000 and 2012.

We do not know yet which individuals pocketed the bribes, and given the state of the police and the justice system we may never know. But what we can point to are the top state officials who should be held responsible for allowing this corruption to happen or for not instituting proper checks on large commercial transactions.

The Prime Ministers during the periods when all these bribes were paid were the following:

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(1) Anand Panyarachun, technocrat and so-called “Mr Clean”, who was appointed as an unelected Prime Minister by the military junta, after the coup d’état in 1991. The power behind this Prime Minister was Dictator Suchinda Kaprayoon.

(2) Chuan Leekpai from the Democrat Party.

(3) Banharn Silapa-archa from the Chart Thai Party.

(4) Chawalit Yongjaiyut from the New Aspirations Party.

(5) Taksin Shinawat from Thai Rak Thai Party.

(6) Surayut Julanon, military dictator following the 2006 coup d’état.

(7) Unelected Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat Party leader, appointed by the military under Prayut Chan-ocha and Anupong Paochinda.

(8) Yingluk Shinawat from the Pua Thai Party.

Some of the top officials at Thai Airways were military men and civilians associated with the 1991 coup and Thanong Bidaya, a Thai Rak Thai politician.

What can we conclude from all this?

Firstly, that rampant corruption has taken place and is still taking place under various military juntas who came to power in coup d’états, claiming to overthrow corrupt civilian governments. Given the long history of military corruption in Thailand under Pibun, Sarit and Tanom, this is hardly surprising. Even under elected civilian governments top generals sit on the executive boards of state companies.

Secondly, corruption also took place under elected and non-elected civilian governments of all the main political parties, including Thai Rak Thai, the Democrats and supposedly technocrat-led governments.

Thirdly, the entire Thai ruling class is steeped in corruption of both an illegal and legal nature. “Legal” corruption is taking place today because military generals have come to power and then appointed themselves and their friends and relatives to high paying positions.

Fourthly, corruption is an integral part of the world capitalist system, with Western multinationals paying bribes on a regular basis to avoid so-called free market competition. Corruption is not just a Thai problem, it is also endemic in the USA, UK and other European countries. We can see this in the “conflicts of interest” in the Trump administration and involving British cabinet ministers and payments to members of their families and dishonest claims for expenses by French and British politicians.

The difference between Thailand and many Western countries is that social movements, trade unions, opposition political parties and the press have more freedom and power to expose such corruption. The crucial role of mass movements can be seen only this past week in Romania, where a mass movement forced the government to withdraw a law which would have white-washed corrupt officials.

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In Thailand, the problem of corruption is closely linked with the lack of freedom of expression and the weakness of independent mass movements from below, including the trade unions.

Pigs at the feeding trough

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

All the tedious hype surrounding King Pumipon’s  death should not deflect us from looking at what the military junta is doing. Now that the military junta have settled in to maintaining power long term, with or without elections, they are busy making themselves comfortable and enjoying life.

General “pig-face” Prawit Wongsuwan is Deputy Prime Minister for National Security, Minister of Defence, Deputy Junta Head, Chairman of the advisory committee of the junta, Chairman of the Traffic Jam-Solution Committee for Bangkok, and Deputy Chairman of the National Land Policy Committee.

He has done such a good job in his various posts, especially in solving the terrible traffic problem in Bangkok, that, no doubt, he deserves to receive separate salaries for all his duties. He has also solved the land problem by encouraging soldiers to evict small farmers from so-called illegal land settlements and by cutting down their rubber trees.

A quick group photo before the party
A quick group photo before the party

In late September, he and his mates therefore took a well-earned rest and holiday to Hawaii under the pretence that they were all part of a vital delegation to the “ASEAN-US Defense Informal Meeting”. The total cost of the Thai Airways flight was 21 million baht, which included 600,000 baht for food and drinks consumed on board. All of this was paid out of public money. We don’t know how much was spent on accommodation or special “Hawaii Shirts” for the occasion.

Want to buy some cheap helicopters mate?
Want to buy some cheap helicopters mate?

Naturally, the military, the anti-corruption committee and all the various “independent” bodies dedicated to fighting corruption and abuse of power, have said that the budget for this trip was all “correct and above-board”. Thai airways also threatened to sue anyone who revealed the passenger list for this junket due to “issues of confidentiality”. The junta added that because they used Thai Airways, it was like “moving the money from one public purse to another”. Of course there are also generals on the Executive Board of the airline and we can only guess how much this scheme saved for the personal purses of Prawit and his mates.

In May this year Generalissimo Prayut took a trip to Russia which cost 16 million baht. On that trip the cost of food and drink for the party on board the flight amounted to 1.8 million baht. The excuse for this holiday was an ASEAN-Russia meeting.

Tell Vladimir to make sure there is enough caviar, boy!
Tell Vladimir to make sure there is enough caviar, boy!

russia-asean

I don't understand a word that this guy says, but the vodka is good.
I don’t understand a word that this guy says, but the vodka is good.

Again this junket has been deemed “correct and above-board”. But former elected Prime Minister Yingluk is facing prosecution for organising a rice price protection scheme which benefitted small farmers. Farmers are suffering from low rice prices today and the junta is clueless as to what to do. They probably don’t even care.

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While the uniformed snouts are in the feeding trough, the junta is trying to impose “co-payments” on the public for health care, some villagers are so angry that there are no funds to repair the roads into their villages that they have been bathing in the pot-holes, and the generals are always saying that there is no money for increasing the minimum wage.

Junta bringing happiness to the villages
Junta bringing happiness to the villages

In a recent move the junta has just appointed 28 MORE military and police generals to its rubber-stamp parliament. This is to ensure the necessary “peace and stability” for feeding at the trough and so that there can be more jobs for the boys.

Military coups and military regimes are truly carried out to eradicate corruption in society!!

pigs

Why does Thailand need an army?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In a recent newspaper column Ajarn Niti Eauwsiwong posed the question: “what is the purpose of having the military?” Naturally, this provoked a storm of abuse from the rather dim Generalissimo and his various underlings. Prayut lost it again (has he ever not lost it?) and shouted that the military were there so that “dogs” like those in academia and the media could ask the question.

Some people have mistakenly characterised the military, in the case of the authoritarian regimes like Suharto’s Indonesia or Burma, as a “state within a state”. This is misleading and not actually true. The assumption is that the military have somehow “usurped” state power. However, the military, or the “special bodies of armed men”, are an integral part of the modern capitalist state and this state can take many political forms. In the recent past, states in Western Europe have been both democratic and authoritarian. Spain, Italy and Germany were once fascist dictatorships.

The dominance of the military in the political control of the state in Suharto’s Indonesia or in Burma is not a deviation from the capitalist state form, it is just one form which reflects the weakness of other competing ruling class factions in the face of tensions and crises within society.

Today, Thailand is ruled by a military dictatorship and even when the military are not in government they have had varying degrees of influence. But never imagine for a moment that Prayut would be able to stage his military coup and cling on to power if he did not have the backing of other sections of the Thai ruling class; the capitalists and elite bureaucrats. Together with the military generals these elites form the ruling class. They are both a bunch of rival factions but also united in their determination to cling to class power. The King is their symbol to socialise class unity and nationalism among the citizens over whom they rule. When socialisation does not work they use lèse-majesté or brute force.

Recently the generals have been barking, in response to Ajarn Niti’s question, that the military is “the fence” guarding the country. The problem is that ordinary citizens are not located within such a fence. It is exclusively for the ruling class. What is more, the Thai military has failed abysmally to ever defend the country from outside invasion. In the Second World War they quickly surrendered to the Japanese. In the time of imperialist expansion, they were powerless in the face of the British and the French.

So what is the purpose of the Thai military?

The short answer is that it has two main functions.

The first function is to protect ruling class rule from challenges by mass movements to expand the democratic space. All the weapons, tanks and other military equipment used by the military have been used in anger against citizens. In Bangkok they shot down demonstrators in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010. They have waged a civil war against the communists who sought a more egalitarian society and they are currently engaged in a vicious war in the Patani to prevent Malay Muslim self-determination. They have also occasionally staged military coups in order to “hold the line” against civilian political threats. But more often than not military coups have been about military self-interest, which brings me to the military’s second purpose.

The second purpose of the Thai military is to satisfy the sheer greed of the officer corps. Even when not in political power, the military provides rich and corrupt pickings for those in the top ranks. Corruption from weapons purchases, excess state funds for military activities and the chance to sit on the executive boards of state enterprises, all go to lining their pockets. Add to this the illegal trade in narcotics, human trafficking and other mafia type activities. And when they are in political power like now, the opportunities for enrichment are unlimited.

The effect of this nasty parasitic organisation is to act as a barrier to political progress and to divert important resources from the health, education and general well-being of most citizens.

Laura Witheridge makes some serious points about the Thai justice system

 

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Any decent person must sympathise with the anger expressed by Laura Witheridge about how the Thai authorities handled the investigation of the murder and rape of her sister Hannah on Ko Tao. Hannah’s boyfriend David Miller was also brutally murdered there.

Laura Witheridge cuts through the myth about Thailand being “The Land of Smiles” and the image of beach paradises which attract holiday makers from abroad. Thailand is not a country of only warm gentle people who are constantly smiling. The murder rate is shockingly high and many political activists are gunned down in cold blood in the streets. The murderers, often state officials or people with powerful connections, go unpunished. The so-called “beach paradises” are often controlled by money-grabbing mafia types who viciously exploit migrant workers from neighbouring countries in order to provide services to holiday makers.

For many years now I have felt a mixture of sadness and disgust at the way holiday makers from Europe and other countries come to Thailand and stay in a complete bubble, showing little interest in what is happening in Thailand. The idea that I would go on holiday to a place without taking an interest in its politics and society is perplexing to me.

Ms Witheridge is 100% correct when she lambasts the Thai police for being both corrupt and incompetent. Most ordinary Thais, including myself, have experienced this first hand for all of their lives and are genuinely fed-up with the situation. Many people are angry and fed-up with the arrogance and callousness of government officials when communicating with the public. This is also something mentioned by Ms Witheridge and it all sounds convincing.

The reaction of the police to the Ko Tao murders reminds me of the words of the Chief of Police in the film “Casablanca”. “Round up the usual suspects!” he barks at his underlings. In Thailand the “usual suspects” are Burmese migrant workers.

Ms Witheridge also makes an important point about the racism of many Thais and how they despise foreigners including Western tourists. In previous posts on this site I have criticised the racism in Thai society. See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY and http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj

I can easily forgive Laura Witheridge for making angry sweeping statements about Thais and the society in which we live. What happened to her sister is appalling and the pictures of her sister which I witnessed being posted on Facebook showed an unbelievable callousness. (http://bit.ly/1n4bged)

But we must never forget that most Thai people, like most Britons or most ordinary French people, Syrians or Iraqis, are not vicious nor callous.

There are many Thais who show warmth, compassion and solidarity. There are many who are upset by rape and vicious murders and many who wish to see the police and the criminal justice system subjected to root and branch reforms. While some Thais are conservative and supportive of authoritarianism, others fight for freedom, justice and democracy. Thai society has two faces.

That Thai society has two faces is hardly surprising. It is after all a class society. This helps to explain much of what Ms Witheridge is criticising.

At the best of times, Thailand has been ruled by a hierarchical ruling class which is selfish and brutal. That is why wages for ordinary working people are pitifully low. That is why most working Thais and migrant workers are viewed with contempt. There is not justice for most citizens. Vicious laws, like the lèse-majesté law, are there to try to enforce loyalty to the monarchy, the elites and the military. On top of this steaming heap of dung, we now have a military dictatorship which acts with impunity.

The Thai ruling class uses the extreme ideologies of Monarchy and Nationalism to support their brutal rule and these things are socialised so that they are instilled in most people from an early age. Apart from this being an explanation for the outward and false appearance that everyone loves the monarchy and is proud of being Thai, it explains the racism in society.

Viewed in this wider manner, what Ms Witheridge describes about Thailand is what most Thais experience. It is a symptom of authoritarian rule in all its complex forms. Apart from the urgent business of overthrowing the dictatorship and building a more just and socialist society, there is a very urgent task concerning the Ko Tao murders. We must fight to save the lives of two innocent Burmese men who have become the junta’s scapegoats. These men must be regarded as “innocent” until proven guilty and the so-called evidence concocted against them by the Thai police is contradictory and highly suspect. The police have also used torture to obtain so-called confessions, a practice widely used by both the police and military.

Tragically nothing is going to bring back the lives of Hannah Witheridge or David Miller. But the lives of two other people can still be saved. We must do all we can for Zaw Lin and Win Htun.