Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Since the days of Pumipon, the Thai king has owned a huge capitalist conglomerate, in the shape of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB). This makes the king the richest person in Thailand and one of the richest monarchs in the world. The CPB owns a large number of shares in the Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement. It also owns huge amounts of land, often in prime real-estate sites in Bangkok. Historically it never paid tax.
Royalists have long claimed that the king did not actually “own” the CPB but that it belonged to the monarchy as an institution. This was always as illusion. Simon Montlake, in a 2012 Forbes article, called the CPB a “family enterprise, gifted to the next generation”. It is neither a government enterprise, nor a private firm, nor a charity. King Pumipon was formally in charge of its investments and appointed all members of the board except for the Minister of Finance, who acted as a powerless Chair. The investment policy and management of the CPB were secret affairs. None of the profits created by the CPB were returned to the Thai State. The King also had a separate private fortune. That is why Forbes always calculated Pumipon’s wealth based on the CPB holdings and his private fortune. [See https://bit.ly/2yknoCQ ].
The CPB was not “independent” of the king in anyway. The wealth originated from forced labour and a monopoly on trade in the Sakdina feudal era. In the late nineteenth century the Sakdina system was overthrown by King Rama 5 under pressure from Western Imperialism. The monarch’s ill-gotten gains were transformed into a capitalist enterprise. However, immediately after the 1932 revolution, which overthrew the absolute monarchy, the equivalent of the CPB in those days was nationalised under the control of the government.
This situation did not last for long and in 1948, when a pro-monarchy government came to power, they robbed the state of this public asset, giving it to the king. However there were three pots of wealth associated with the king. The Crown Property Bureau was organised independently from the king’s personal wealth, even though he controlled both. There was also a bureau which owned and managed some of the palaces “on behalf of the nation”, although ordinary citizens never benefitted from this royal wealth either.
Now King Wachiralongkorn has formally taken personal control of all the monarchy’s wealth, including the CPB [see https://bit.ly/2t3zA5Y ]. This is not an attempt to grab public assets for his own personal use, but an attempt to make sure he is in sole control of what Montlake called “the family enterprise”. It makes sure that the previous royal officials and managers who were loyal to Pumipon are not able to interfere with the whims of Wachiralongkorn. It also makes it clear that no one else in the royal family has a say.
Those who get over-excited by the odious behaviour of Wachiralongkorn are always looking for conspiracy stories to claim that he is seizing political power and becoming the most powerful man in the country. This is not the case. He remains weak, greedy, extremely rich, and uninterested in affairs of the state. [See https://bit.ly/2oD4YGD ].
The monarchy should be abolished and its wealth put to good use in improving the lives of ordinary citizens. But the main obstacle to freedom and democracy in Thailand is the military junta and its plans to extend its influence for the next 20 years through a system of “guided democracy”.
See also: https://bit.ly/2MyX4Yx