Friday, December 30, 2011

Yingluck: Give me a chance to work...for four years

It wasn't exactly her New Year's wish but Premier Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters today that she would like to ask for a chance to work until her four-year term is up.

It didn't matter that Government House reporters had just nicknamed her "Parrot." Nor did the opposition Democrat Party's spokesman's press conference on the same day calling her "puppet" of her brother Thaksin have any impact on Premier Yingluck's confidence that she could make it to the end of the line.

It was during an informal chit-chat with reporters that the prime minister raised the issue of her intention to stay in office for the full term despite critical remarks from the opposition and comments from certain quarters that her performance had so far been far from impressive.

"Give me a chance to do my work...until the end of my term," she said. You can't really describe it as a declaration of purpose. Neither can you say she was pleading with the press to be kinder to her.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

How do we stop them from stealing flood-relief fund?

The government says it plans to spend Bt800,000 million in post-flood relief and rehabilitation. The first question from a skeptical public is not how it is going to be spent. It’s how much of it will not be spent on the flood victims.
Thais have got used to stories about money from huge projects requiring large amounts of tax money being pocketed by politicians and bureaucrats who are so versatile in exploiting the legal loopholes that despite all efforts trying to keep corruption out of the way, they could always find a way of stealing the public’s money.
Premier Yingluck Shinawatra, whether she wants it or not, now gets an offer from the business community to help monitor the way the flood-relief budget is being disbursed.
In fact, the Counter-Corruption Commission (CCC) has on its own come up with a new tool to make all deals between government agencies and their contractors more transparent. For the first time, any firm that has won a contract from a government agency for over two million baht will have to fill up forms that detail their income and expenses and all financial items that are directly related to the deal. In an unprecedented move, the CCC even demands that the contractor show the “bottom line” of each government project. That means the public will under the new set of rules be able to ascertain how much profit (or, in that unlikely scenario, loss) the contractor makes, and why, and how.
At the same time, the “Anti-Corruption Network” which comprises the country’s biggest and most influential business, banking and industrial associations as well as other non-government organizations, has proposed to the Yingluck government to undertake three major steps to ensure transparency in the use of the flood relief budget.
First, the government must make public all details of projects that come under the scheme on a website to underscore the sense of accountability on the part of the government.
“Real-time” details about each project’s financial status, the median prices and profiles of the contractors must be made available to the public. The previous practice of producing such reports three months after the project was kicked off won’t be acceptable anymore.
The second requirement that the public wants implemented to ensure a high degree of accountability is that the government must put in place an audit mechanism that will check on every item of the project. Apart from the government’s audit agencies, the government must open the way for private-sector’s monitoring groups that should be allowed to participate in the process in an open and transparent manner. Anyone found guilty of breaking the budgetary spending rules must be punished.
The third part of the proposal is for the Cabinet to promptly set in motion the CCC’s new rules in checking up on all deals between government agencies and private contractors.
Do we know how our tax-money could be siphoned off to private pockets? The tricks and secret deals are no secret. The solution is how to keep track and snare the big fish.
Corrupt politicians and bureaucrats would try to circumvent the rules and regulations by resorting to “ special purchase practices” which under the long-established rules can waive the basic requirements of setting the “median price” for each tender for government schemes. In other words, under-the-table deals can be made and dirty money can be passed without being detected.
Duplication of tasks by concerned government agencies could open the way for corruption – and without an efficient evaluation system, the flood relief fund could be easily misspent.
Equally scandalous is the well-known practice of a politician or official farming out “projects” under the post-flood reconstruction scheme to their own dummy companies or cronies who have access to “inside information” on upcoming tenders for government contracts.
How effective this move to plug the loopholes against all those dirty hands in power remains to be seen. But one consolation, at least, is that the private sector has never been so aggressive in protecting the people’s tax money.
It is also the first time that the public’s distrust of how the Establishment spends our money in the name of helping our fellow countrymen becomes a matter of serious public and urgent concern

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is this serious?

Of course, nobody takes this Facebook page seriously. But it could lead to real national reconciliation. Don't you think?

Thaksin tells his MPs: Don't call me, I'll call you

Thaksin Shinawatra's cell phones have had lots of "missed calls" from Bangkok recently. He deliberately didn't pick up the phones. He knew they were from desperate MPs of his Pheu Thai Party with a very specific purpose.

"If I didn't answer your phone calls, please don't get upset. That's because there were lots of rumours about a Cabinet reshuffle and I didn't want to pick up the phones. Those of you who failed to get a Cabinet seats last time, just wait for the next round," he told a New Year Party's gathering of his MPs through Skype last night.

"I have kept quiet recently because I want the prime minister and her Cabinet members to devote their energies to their work to make the people happy," he said.

In brief, he was telling the Pheu Thai MPs: "Don't call me. I will call you."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What's so funny, Madame PM?

It's not clear what made Premier Yingluck go into such an open laughter. Can't possibly be the news that the Government House Press Corp had given her the nickname of "Parrot" in their annual handing out of humourous labels to politicians. She has reacted graciously by saying she wasn't offended. "It's part of the fun and games," she said.

This picture from the front page of Thai Post this morning was taken while the PM was enjoying a bowl of noodle at the reporters' New Year's Party at Government House yesterday. The caption didn't explain why she was overwhelmed with a good sense of humour on that particular occasion.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Right or wrong, this is the Speaker speaking!

"Once the House Speaker hands down a judgement, that's it. Whether it's right or wrong is something else..."

That's the statement from House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont which was today voted "Remarks of the Year" by Parliament Press Corp.

The Parliament reporters also gave him a nickname: "The Fake Hammer, Made in Dubai."

"Hammer" had been Somsak's nickname when he was deputy House Speaker and was then known for his decisiveness in handling House debates. He often used the hammer to put things back into order.

Now, it would be interesting to know his reactions to the reporters' tongue-in-cheek annual teasing festival

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ransom paid by Ital-Thai employees kidnapped in eastern Tavoy

A road sign near Tavoy, a site of a planned special economic zone and deep-sea port.

A number of employees for the Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) were kidnapped and 16 vehicles were hijacked for several hours on Tuesday by five armed men in eastern Tavoy, according to the Irrawaddy website.

Calling themselves the BBK, the armed gang released the hostages and vehicles a few hours later, but only after extorting 10,000 baht [US $300] from the workers, according to Eh Na, the editor of Thailand-based Karen news agency, Kwekalu who said he met with the hostages on Wednesday.

The employees were said to be mostly Thai and were working on road construction for the multimillion-dollar Dawei Development Project.

“In addition to the workers, the armed gang seized 16 trucks and three satellite walkie-talkies. They also extorted 10,000 baht in cash from the hostages,” said Eh Na. “They were all released at midday.”

The five armed men allegedly told the ITD employees that they each had to pay another 1,000 baht if they wanted to continue working on the project, the road construction phase of which is to link the industrial plant in Tavoy in Tenasserim Division to Thailand's Kanchanaburi.

Although Burmese government troops and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 4 are both active in the Tennaserim area, early indications are that the five armed men were not affiliated with any one armed group in particular.

Saw Kwe Htoo Win, the chairman of Mergui-Tavoy District for the Karen National Union [the KNLA's political arm], said the ITD had informed the KNU about the incident and that it was investigating who was behind the kidnapping.

“We certainly did not order our troops to do such a thing,” he said. “But we are checking into the incident.”

The KNU warned in July that road construction on the project should be stopped after local villagers complained that it would have a severe negative impact on the local population and the environment. Displaced villagers also said that they have not been compensated for the loss of their land and homes which were confiscated to make way for the mega-project.

In July, some 50 workers from the ITD fled from Tavoy to the Thai side of the border to escape fighting Burmese government troops and Karen rebels.

ITD's contract on the Dawei Development Project was approved in March 2010 by the Burmese military government. With an estimated cost of $60 billion, the industrial project will include a deep-sea port, a giant industrial zone, roads, railways, transmission lines, and oil and gas pipelines

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Yingluck reveals 'the toughest part' of a premier's job

What's the most difficult part being prime minister? No, not fighting floods. Nor is it running the Cabinet. It's responding to reporters' questions every morning.

That's what Premier Yingluck Shinawatra has told reporters in an informal chat over the weekend in Chiang Mai during a break in her northern visit.

Yingluck, according to Matichon, said she had to read newspapers and monitor morning television news shows to prepare herself for the questions from the press corps every morning.

"My trick is to anticipate the questions from reporters by reading the papers and watching TV in the morning. If I am late on any particular day, it's because there are lots of hot issues on the plate," the premier said with a hearty laugh.

One would assume the premier would have her assistants brief her every morning on the hot issues and the questions she could expect from the reporters. From what she told the press, that obviously isn't the case. Maybe she is crying out for help through this chat with the press.No?

A well laid-out front page for a 'well-planned succession'

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jatuporn as government spokesman?

It's more than just pure speculation. Jatuporn Prompan, Pheu Thai MP, red-shirt leader and outstanding public speaker may become the government spokesman -- especially if he is stripped of his MP's status.

The Election Commission has ruled that he is disqualified as MP because he hadn't exercised his voting rights in a previous election. The case now goes to the Constitutional Court to hand down the final verdict.

Jatuporn has warned that if his foes weren't careful, they would be making the mistake of edging him out onto the streets which could be more dangerous than allowing him to continue to be an MP. In other words, he could bring the mob out again if ousted from the House of Representatives.

It was at this time that rumours started to fly that Jatuporn as replace Thitima Chaisaeng as the government spokesman -- and Thitima, at least publicly, doesn't seem to mind.

"Khun Jatuporn is much more aggresive than I am. That would be good for the government," she said.

Red-shirt members have been increasingly demanding the rights to put their men and women into government positions claiming that they had been instrumental in boosting the chances of Pheu Thai in winning the last election.

Jatuporn hasn't made any comment on his next post. He seems determined to fight to stay on as MP until the last minute, failing which he could then plot his next big move. Being government spokesman may be one of his strategies to remain politically active. But then there are Cabinet posts and other portfolios that his supporters may be demanding for him. His stars are clearly rising.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In a new TV format, PM 'relaunches' her image-building campaign

As I write, PM Yingluck is live on Channel 11 for her Saturday broadcast, with a new twist. She has decided to turn it into a "reality show" of sorts, with Suranand Vejjajiva, former PM's Office minister, as moderator.

Yingluck chose a familiar ground -- her hometown Chiang Mai to "relaunch" her weekly morning show which since she took office was restricted to a radio show. Today, it became a new television format, aimed apparently at making her weekly "meeting the people" programme more lively and picking up ratings.

After a flesh-pressing walk around Waroros Market, the PM sat down with Suranand for an interview -- basically on non-controversial issues about the government's activities.

In the background are the two Pheu Thai MPs, including Foreign Minister Surapong Vijakchaikul from Chiang Mai, and the provincial governor.

They talked about floods -- and the premier said she would like to see a totally dry country as a New Year's Gift for the country.

She talked about recovery from the floods in general terms. The infrastracture must be rebuilt. Foreign investors are still confident in Thailand.

The PM also talked about the paddy mortgage project, car insurance for flood victims, etc...

Suranand asked: Is life as PM different from life as CEO? "Very different. But both are the same: We need team work."

She was asked about evaluating the Cabinet's work so far. "I have to be sympathetic with the Cabinet members many of whom have been busy with fighting the flood. We have been only here four months."

Suranand was obviously trying to avoid asking the direct question of whether she was thinking of a Cabinet reshuffle which has been one of the hottest political topics in the past week.

Self-evaluation? "I think the people should evaluate my work," she said. "Obstacles shouldn't be considered problems. They should be seen as issues we need to tackle and resolve."

"Give us a bit more time," she pleaded.

Next year's challenge? "The world economy is the challenge. Thailand may not face the direct impact. We must build our own strength from within.We need to improve our productivity (she uses this word in English here)."

She was asked about her visits to various branches of the armed forces in the past week. "I am ready to work closely with the military," she said.

Yingluck revealed that she is going to meet Aung San Suu Kyi when she visits Burma next week.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cabinet reshuffle: What has performance got to do with it?

If news of a possible Cabinet reshuffle only three months after the Yingluck government took office hasn’t created any real public excitement, it’s simply because there isn’t anything to get excited about.
For one thing, when the first Cabinet was put in place, and the qualifications of each minister were examined, most Thais were resigned to the fact that they hadn’t been chosen for their ability to run their respective ministries in the first place. Putting the right person in the right job wasn’t the main consideration.
In fact, it was clear that those who became Cabinet members were picked because of their personal links to Thaksin Shinawatra either for political or economic reasons. Somehow political debt had to be repaid and services earlier rendered had to be returned one way or the other.
Therefore, from Day One, it was an open secret that the next group of candidates would be waiting in line on the merry-go-round to take up Cabinet and related posts. The original time frame was probably six to nine months before Cabinet changes were to take place. But the devastating flood accelerated the process, because a large number of the Cabinet members were caught totally unprepared for such a crisis. Others were put to the test on the spot – and there was little doubt that they failed miserably.
It’s a tough task for Yingluck to handle the presence of nominees of so many factions within the Pheau Thai Party, not to mention the obvious conflicts between ministers from coalition partners. Most of course are Thaksin’s direct choices but faction leaders have also been able to convince the former premier that they must be represented if the government was to enjoy any agree of stability. Then, there are members of Premier Yingluck’s own inner circle who never did have any direct working experience with the hard-core politicians.
Thaksin and Yingluck did try to recruit some respectable technocrats and professional business leaders to head the economic side of the management. But those approached, fearful of political interference, were demanding their own team to be brought into the Cabinet. The negotiations become complicated and got bogged down in the end. One or two candidates for the premiership (before Yingluck became the choice of last resort) who were willing to serve as Prime Minister decided to decline the offer due to the obvious risk of a close link to Thaksin and all that he represents.

Some analysts believe that any Cabinet reshuffle would have to take into consideration the composition of the two “strategic committee” set up by Premier Yingluck. In fact, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Dr Virabongsa Ramangkura, head of the first committee (Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management), takes up a crucial portfolio in the new Cabinet line-up, such as the finance post or deputy in overall charge of economic affairs.
Dr Sumet Tantivejjakul, who heads the second panel (Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development) , isn’t expected to be recruited into a political post, however. He would rather remain a “non-political” figure providing advice to the Yingluck government – a equally , if not more, crucial role in propping up the government, whether or not the well-known technocrat himself intends it that way or not.
One major consideration in putting together a Yingluck 2 Cabinet is that the new line-up will have to be able to work with the two strategic committees which are seen, in more ways than one, even more important than the Cabinet itself. After all, the two panels – and not the Cabinet – are seen as the main image that could sustain the government’s credibility.
A Cabinet reshuffle is therefore in the works, not because a more efficient group of ministers will step in to make the business of managing the country work better but because promises of political largesse have to be kept – and everyone with any bargaining power is waiting for his or her turn on the merry-go-round.
Pheu Thai MPs were flying in droves to Singapore over the weekend, supposedly to lobby for new portfolios with Thaksin who later was said to have left for Cambodia allegedly to flee those seeking his favours. Premier Yingluck insists, meanwhile, that she isn’t considering changes to the Cabinet.
There is no contradiction here. Everybody can claim to be telling what he or she considers to be the “truth.” The only thing that matters is which “version” of the truth is being taken seriously.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thaksin is reshuffling Cabinet -- on the run

It looks like Thaksin Shinawatra is on the run -- while trying to work out a Cabinet reshuffle for his sister who is the prime minister and who has been saying nothing about the rising speculation about her new Cabinet line-up.

Thaksin was in Singapore yesterday. He was seen on a video clip at his daughter's wedding in Bangkok last night. Then, this morning, reports suggested that he was flying to Cambodia. Why? Press reports quoting sources in Pheu Thai Party say Thaksin was "overwhelmed" with all the MPs seeking meetings with him in Singapore asking for new Cabinet posts. He was, to put it mildly, fed up, perhaps. So, he decided to run away from all those currying favour with him. He is expected to be in Cambodia to avoid his own people. But then, he doesn't seem to be able to get away from them. In fact, it could get worse. Cambodia is much closer to Bangkok than Singapore. So, the rush will even bigger and rougher.

The press reports could be wrong though. Thaksin may have decided to move close to Bangkok so that he can meet more people talking to him about new Cabinet posts. He needs to be closer to where the action is.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cabinet reshuffle? What reshuffle? The PM isn't aware of any.

Someone snapped this picture in front of Singapore's Marina Bay Sands Hotel Friday amidst rumours in Bangkok that some members of Pheu Thai Party had flown there to discuss with Thaksin Shinawatra the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle.

The woman on the left does look like Yaowapa Wongsawasdi, Thaksin's sister, and the man on the right bears some resemblance of Varathep Rattanakorn, a former Cabinet member and a close aide to Thaksin. Whether they were there to meet the former premier or not wasn't confirmed although the speculation went so far as to pin down five Cabinet seats that were to be replaced in the new line-up that was supposed to be put into effect after the New Year.

I am not sure who the "sources" were. But it is clear that the rumours had been spread from with the Pheu Thai Party, most likely from those who would like to see changes made in the current Cabinet composition. Those Cabinet members "targetted" for changes have publicly said they aren't aware of any forthcoming changes.

Most significantly, perhaps, was Premier Yingluck's statement in response to questions from reporters about the rumoured Cabinet reshuffle. She said she wasn't aware of any upcoming changes -- and she insisted that no changes were being contemplated.

So, what were they doing in Singapore?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The total eclipse tonight

Tonight's total eclipse took place on Dec 10 --- Constitution Day, also known as Democracy Day. Some political doomsayers were suggesting that this might be a bad omen since the "rahoo" which was "swallowing" the moon might be "eating up" the country's constitution as well.

Of course, I think they were simply over-dramatising the whole thing. Or perhaps, they were simply reading from the undercurrents in the political scene. One can never be too optimistic in analysing Thai politics.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Please change your mind, Madame PM

The Thai Chamber of Commerce was hoping that Premier Yingluck Shinawatra would attend the annual conference to be held in Rayong province over the weekend. She has disappointed them by delegating Deputy PM Kittirat na Ranong to be there instead.

TCC's Deputy Chairman Pornsilp Patcharintanakul did not hide his feelings when he publicly told reporters yesterday that he was "deeply disappointed."

"I am not sure why the prime minister has decided not to come despite the fact that this is a very important forum for the country's leader to instill confidence among the business leaders, both local and foreign," he said.

He said the annual gathering of the country's business leaders was basically a non-political event. "It's important that the government and private sector work together to move forward together after the big flood. There are still many problems to be thrashed out. I hope she changes her mind," he said.

Who knows, if someone briefs the premier on the TCC's leadership's grumbling about her non-appearance, she might still change her mind. After all, she was a businesswoman before she became prime minister and what she lacks in political skill could be compensated by her business management experience. In fact, she should feel more at home among business leaders than politicians.

Keep prodding, Pornsilp.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The return of Arisman

Check out my discussion with Nation Editor Tulsathit Taptim on the circumstances surrounding the return and surrender of red-shirt firebrand Arisman Pongruangrong who was denied bail yesterday. His lawyers are presenting a two-million-baht bond to seek an appeal for the bail again probably today.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Which way, Madame PM?

This picture (Page One, Matichon, this morning) says a lot about what's happening in the country's political scene these days.

Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Yongyudh Vichaidit rides the tricycle while Premier Yingluck Shinawatra takes the backseat.

I could almost hear the imaginery conversation:

He asks: "Which way, Madame Prime Minister?"
She responds: "Keep going."

The actual scene took place yesterday at the "Beautiful Thailand" festival at Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya to celebration His Majesty the King's Birthday Anniversary today.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Political art: Protest versus satire?

I am not sure whether it's a case of protest versus satire -- or protest versus protest or satire versus satire. But the two gestures represent highly interesting political interpretations of the prevailing moods.

The left picture is supposed to be that of a female writer baring herself for a painting to show her reaction to the verdict of 20-year imprisonment term against 61-year-old Ampon Tangnoppskul (Ah Kong) for violating the lese majeste law. He was supposed to have sent text messages disparaging Her Majesty to the personal secretary of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in May last year as the government was confronted with the red-shirt protests.

The next day (today), this picture of a man baring himself for painting of words that asks former prime minsiter Thaksin Shinawatra to return to serve his jail term.

How these two pieces of protest art are related isn't quite clear. But the two pictures have certainly found their way into lots of social media sites in the past few hours.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Big One...hopefully the Last Big one

"The Big One" is out. It's a comprehensive record of Thailand's worst flood in 60 years. The publication, which has just hit newsstands, is a collection of all the pictures and stories about one of Thailand's worst natural disasters. It is worth keeping for posterity to stress the desperate effort to prevent the next Big One.

This special collection is published by Kom Chad Luek.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can't the PM even get sick without any political implications?

Can't the PM even get ill in peace? That's the comment from one tweet soon after news broke this morning taht Premier Yingluck was resting at Rama 9 Hospital after she went there last night with a bad stomach, probably as a result of food poisoning, according to Government Spokesperson Thitima Chaisaeng.

Thai politics is under a pall of suspicion. Two weeks ago when the premier failed to chair the weekly Cabinet meeting, a royal pardon decree draft was discussed, sparking a controversial debate.

This time, as soon as she let it be known that she wouldn't be at the weekly Cabinet session, Twitter and Facebook were immediately flooded with questions such as: "Any suspicious bill again?"

Of course, the premier is entitled to falling ill at times, especially in the wake of the severe flooding. She has been quite stressed, working hard on flood fighting measures etc...

So, let us all give her a break. She should be able to have a running stomach without a public uproar!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pracha wins the battle but may lose the war

The outcome of the censure vote at around 10.00 am today didnt' surprise anyone. The 273-188 vote was in favour of the target of the no-confidence debate, Police Gen Pracha Promnok, justice minister and director of Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC).

But opposition Democrat Party had, in submitting the motion, a more general objective: to underscore the Yingluck government's overall poor performance over the flood relief efforts. Revelations of political interference, misuse of donations, lack of coordination among official agencies concerned during yesterday's 14-hour debate (marred by protests by both sides) were damaging politically to the three-month-old government to a significant extent.

Pracha's an-eye-for-an-eye strategy by blaming the previous government under Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva for "conspiring" to hit the new government with an unusually huge volume of water from the two big dams didn't draw much support. In fact, Abhisit's counter-attacks were somehow more credible.

Pracha charged that Abhisit had deliberately left a huge amount of water in the two big dams, going into the general election with the plot to hit the new government under Pheu Thai Party with unprecedented inundation. "The Abhisit government knew that there would be a few big storms on the way. It also hatched a plan to store so much water that the new government would face a serious problem," Pracha said during the debate.

Abhisit wasted no time in hitting back. "That's a very ridiculous accusation. Is the government suggesting that we knew that there would be huge storms ahead. Is the government saying that the Democrat Party had planned to lose the election?"

The debate will put a dent in the government's credibility. The flood is still with us in many outlying provinces and parts of Bangkok. The recovery effort is still not well understood. Frustrated people are still tearing down Big Bags wall. Businessmen are still waiting for clear measures to help them rebuild their businesses.

A Cabinet reshuffle may be in the works to improve upon the government's image. Yesterday's censure debate may not have ousted the justice minister. But the prime minister certainly have been felt the growing pressure to do something about the performance issue.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lots of hot air at today's censure debate

Democrat MP Sathit Wongnontheuy shows a huge board of timeline of newspaper headlines on the flood situations to back up his onslaught against the government during the censure debate...

The no-confidence debate against Justice Minister Pracha Promnok, who is also director of FROC (Flood Relief Operations Center), that is still going on as I write this has all the trappings of a Sunday matinee.

The opposition Democrats were trying to find fault with Pracha's flood relief performance. Jurin Laksakavisit, who took party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva's place in taking the lead in launching the verbal attack,attempted to add another volley: Pracha the justice minister's role in the Cabinet's confidential session over the royal pardon bill.

That drew strong reaction from the government's Pheu Thai Party leaders, spearheaded by Deputy PM Chalerm Yoonbamrung who denied that there were any ulterior motives in the consideration of the bill. Pracha stood up to declare that he had done nothing wrong and appealed to the House Speaker to consider whether such a sensitive issue that involves His Majesty the King's discretion should be raised in the House.

The government and opposition MPs then plunged into attacks and counter-attacks over the flood issue. Both sides had their MPs interrupt the speakers by presenting their versions of the facts.

At one point, controversial Pheu Thai MP Karun Hosakul stood up to challenge Democrat MP Sirichoke Sobha: "I challenge Sirichoke to quit as MP if he tells lies. I would step down if I am found to have lied."

The marathon censure debate is to end before midnight so that a vote could be taken tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Flood panels should incorporate reconciliation process

This inundation “crisis” hasn’t created the reconciliation “opportunity.” On the other hand, the flooding may have in more ways than one deepened the conflict between the political factions in the country.
And for a day or two, the proposed pardon decree considered in a confidential session by the Cabinet last Tuesday in which Premier Yingluck Shinawatra was conspicuously absent threatened to neutralize all previous efforts at reconciliation. It wasn’t until former Premier Thaksin delivered a hand-written note from Dubai declaring his intention “to sacrifice my personal happiness in favour of national reconciliation” on Sunday that a looming new political confrontation was averted.
This state of thinly veiled showdown between those for and against Thaksin can’t be allowed to continue indefinitely if we were to return to any normalcy – and can really make post-crisis Thailand work as any civilized nation should.
The Truth Commission for National Reconciliation under Dr Kanit na Nakhon has been working quietly behind the scenes to bring about better understanding among the various factions within Thai society. It has so far laid the foundation of trust. It needs to get the facts of the violent incidents in the past years to the surface and, without pointing accusing fingers at any particular party, ensure that justice is done. It is also crucial that “transitional justice” is effectively implemented for the next step of reconciliation to be taken.
I see flickers of hope in the two flood-related committees appointed by Premier Yingluck to turn the natural disaster into a national recovery and reconciliation.
The two committees are: Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development (SCRF) headed by Dr Virabongsa Ramangkura and Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management (SCWRM) led by Dr Sumet Tantivejkul. The two panels comprise people of influence and reputation. They are supposed to be working on both the business of recovery and the tough task of planning for the future that would prevent this year’s major disaster from recurring.
But how could national reconstruction and future water resource management be taken seriously as “national strategies” that involve all segments of society if the country continues to be plagued by political divisiveness?
This could well be another rare window of opportunity for the two “wise men” to turn their non-political roles into some significant social contributions by reaching out to all groups of divergent political shades to get them to join in the nation-rebuilding effort.
There is little doubt that Yingluck was hoping that the appointments of the two reputable figures would strengthen the government’s anti-flood campaign but, more significantly, would also offer a major boost in political goodwill. Dr Virabongsa and Dr Sumet belong to no political factions and , as “experienced technocrats,” could enhance the premier’s credibility at a critical juncture.
The two can thus make a highly significant contribution to national reconciliation by appointing subcommittees that comprise people from all walks of life representing not only experts, business leaders but also the flood victims from various provinces whose views towards the powers-that-be are as diverse as the red-yellow divide that has plagued the country for the past several years.
The two panels have been promised non-interference by the political authorities and they are in a good position to bargain with a government that badly needs good, strong political props from non-political technocrats ready to risk their personal reputation by answering the “Help-Me-Please” calls from the premier.
If their mission isn’t confined to just helping the government tide over the flood, the two technocrats should seize this opportunity to assume the badly-needed role of “national reconciliator” by setting up broad-based working groups to brainstorm for ideas to cement efforts to rebuild Thai society in the post-crisis era.
It is sad but true. Without a real natural crisis, the political divide may never be bridged. Left to the politicians, one political crisis has only led to another without any hope of a real reconciliation in sight

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't leak this. It's confidential.

Premier Yingluck told her Cabinet yesterday to make sure that confidential discussions in the conference room must remain confidential. She regretted the fact that last Tuesday's Cabinet meeting's dicussion on the proposed Royal Pardon Bill which was supposed to be a secret had been leaked to the press.

How do I know that the premier told the Cabinet members not to reveal confidential topics in the Cabinet?

I read it in the newspapers this morning,of course.

Now, if the premier was absent from last week's Cabinet meeting, how did she know about the confidential discussion?

And how do you explain the fact that even when the prime minister told her Cabinet members not to disclose confidential remarks, it was still a well-known non-secret?

In other words, even the PM's instruction to her ministers not to leak confidential discussions was leaked!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thaksin's hand-written 'Forgive and Forget' note from Dubai

Thaksin Shinawatra wrote the letter from Dubai urging his supporters to "forgive and forget" for the sake of the country and posterity.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thaksin: I don't want to be on the list

Thaksin Shinawatra probably realizes that the prompt and strong reactions against his possible pardon being considred by his sister's government could boomrang badly. He despatched this letter this morning which was released by Pheau Thai Party's public relations department. The English-language text here is provided by the party's PR release.

20 November 2011

Dear Fellow Thai People,

As our country has been going through a crisis from the big flood, I am concerned and want our country and all Thai people to pass through this crisis quickly and that requires harmony and reconciliation in our country in order to overcome this natural disaster. I support all measures that will lead to national reconciliation and do not want to see any attempt that will sour the atmosphere and I am prepared to sacrifice my personal happiness even though I have not received justice during the last five years. I will be patient for the sake of the people.

As the Royal Decree which will provide for annual royal pardon is being proposed and as H.M. the King will become 84 years old this year, and as there has been rumor that my name will be included in the list of individuals to be proposed for royal pardon, I trust in the principle that the government will not do anything that will benefit me or any individual specifically. Moreover, any action to be taken during this period of time must be merely taken so as to bring national reconciliation to our country and to overcome the crisis due to national disaster from big flood.

As H.M. the King has been ill, we must certainly not make H.M. the King worried and I am confident that our Prime Minister shares my belief and intention.

With respect to Thai people who have supported and cared for me, please don't be disappointed as when the light of justice emerges, all will be settled as the country will not be under the state of conflict forever.

Finally,I call upon all parties who truly love Thailand to know the words forgive and forget by forgiving each other and forget the past in order to face new dimensions of tomorrow for the sake of our country and younger generations.

With Best Regards

Police Lt. Col. Thaksin Shinawatra

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is Thaksin in or out of the list?

Thaksin Shinawatra told foreign news agencies that he had no knowledge of a bid for a royal pardon for convicts that may apply to him.

Reuters asked him whether he thought he would be included, Thaksin was quoted as saying: "I don't know. I don't think so. No one knows, because it was a confidential meeeting. It's at the full discretion of His Majesty the King."

And Matichon daily this morning said Premier Yingluck plans to announce that Thaksin, her brother, would not be included in the list of about 30,000 convicts expected to be on the list of those who may be given royal pardon.

Opponents, of course, would wait until it's final before they lend any credence to the reports. Rumours remain rumours and no one believes anyone else under the atmosphere of high mutual suspicion.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time: Thailand on edge....again

This will probably be one of the many articles in foreign news magazines on the new controversy over the possible pardon for Thaksin. The various analyses appear to reach a similar conclusion: Thailand's politics will hit another low point of confrontation yet again. We can certainly do without that especially in the midst of a devastating inundation. But then, politicians can't seem to stop stirring the pot at the wrong time for the wrong purpose.

How a Cabinet Secretary General answers unanswerable questions

Cabinet Secretary-General Ampon Kitti-ampon was supposed to keep it all confidential about the amnesty royal decree draft raised in the "secret session" of the Council of Ministers on Tuesday. And he did a great job at answering all the questions from reporters without revealing anything.

Q: Was the amnesty decree draft discussed in the secret Cabinet meeting?

Ampon: I don't know.

Q: Is it a custom to announce amnesty for prisoners every Dec 5?

Ampon: Probably.

Q: Was it just a discussion or was there an approval of the proposed decree?

Ampon: I don't know.

Q: Will there be a press conference to explain the issue?

Ampon: I don't know.

Q: Shouldn't this matter be made public?

Ampon: I don't know.

Of course, he did know the answers to all the questions. He should probably have said: "I know but I can't talk."

But he insisted he didn't know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why did the PM stay overnight in Singburi?

Did she deliberately stay the night in Singburi just to avoid yesterday's Cabinet meeting in Bangkok?

Premier Yingluck's aides said she had gone on a helicopter to Singburi with the intention of flying back to Bangkok Monday night for yesterday's weekly Cabinet's meeting.But she cancelled the flight back on grounds that the helicopter didn't have a night radar. But the army later said that the chopper was fine. It could have flown at night.

What was intriguing was that the premier had assigned Chalerm Yoobamrung, a deputy premier, to preside over the Cabinet meeting that, according to reports in most newspapers this morning, held a confidential session to pass a royal decree to hand down amnesty to convicts.

The amnesty decree draft stipulates that convicts who are at least 60 years old and have been sentenced to under three years in jail would be eligible.

More interesting than that, the draft does not bar convicts prosecuted for corruption from being granted the pardon. Neither does it require the convicts to at least partially serve a jail term before being eligible for the amnesty.

It was immediately clear to a lot of people that former premier Thaksin Shinawatra would be eligible. And that, naturally, created an immediate controversy all over the social media last night and the local newspapers this morning.

Reporters say all Cabinet members approached by newspeople this morning, including Chalerm, kept tight-lipped when asked about the hot story. Premier Yingluck was asked about that last evening. She would only say that she wasn't familiar witht the story. "Please ask Deputy Premier Chalerm about it." That's all she was willing to say.

Perhaps, the ongoing flood stories may be submerged by the amnesty decree report.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The flood blame game: Just kids' stuff

The fiery confrontation last Friday between the Bangkok governor and the Irrigation Department chief at the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) perhaps sums up all the reasons why the anti-flood exercise has been in a mess we are in today all the way from the top down.
In a national crisis, they were arguing heatedly over where a written request for more water pumps had been misplaced – and who was to be blamed for that.
With Premier Yingluck Shinawatra at the head of the conference table, Irrigation Chief Chalit Damrongsak addressed Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra who was sitting across him. He said the governor had one day earlier told the press that the Irrigation Dept had not responded positively to the BMA’s request for water pumps.
“I have checked and haven’t been able to locate the official letter from BMA to the Irrigation Department. The governor’s statement could therefore be damaging to my department,” he said, in a matter-of-fact manner.
Governor Sukhumbhand immediately turned stern. He said he hadn’t said the Irrigation Department hadn’t responded. “I am still waiting, still waiting, though,” he repeated.
Premier Yingluck looked puzzled, embarrassed and confused. She said, without addressing anyone in particular, that all parties concerned should work together.
Director of Flood Relief Operations Centre (FROC), Police Gen Pracha Promnok, then chimed in to say that his office had not received any official written request from the governor’s office either.
The next day, Agriculture Minister Thira Wongsamut was quoted as saying that he had also looked into the matter and discovered that the BMA’s letter had in fact been delivered to the Interior Ministry, and not the Irrigation Department (which comes under the jurisdiction of his ministry).
“So, how can the Bangkok governor accuse the Irrigation Department of being uncooperative when he had sent the letter to the wrong place. Besides, even if the letter had got to the right place, we wouldn’t have enough water pumps to spare for BMA anyway. We are also short of pumps,” the minister said.
The arguments back and forth between the central government and Bangkok’s administration have at best been petty and irrelevant. The scene underscores the deplorable lack of cooperation despite the repeated assurances by both sides that they are “working closely together.”
After Friday’s incident, PM Yingluck admitted publicly for the first time: “We do have problems collaborating on technical operation and exchange of data.” Bangkok Governor, in a rare expression of agreement, confirmed: “We don’t have problems with long-term planning but we do have problems with short-term implementation.”
Conflicts aren’t confined to areas of anti-flood activity between the central government and Bangkok administration though. Within FROC, politicians of various shades clash over priorities and areas that should get aid first. There are also questions on whether Governor Sukhumbhand works in close tandem with his Democrat colleagues or not. He doesn’t seem to have worked out a coordination system with his own party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, either.
The irony is glaring. The premier has invoked emergency powers under the Public Disaster Act that so that she could act decisively – and the first order was to get the governor to open up some sluice gates. The governor hit back by exercising his rights under the same law to instruct police to man the dike to prevent residents from tearing it down. Working at cross purposes seems to be the order of the day.
That’s why in the social media, people have been issuing warnings among themselves: “If the PM says it’s all safe, start packing. If the governor issues an alert, just flee!”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Girl on the bus can't quit

Premier Yingluck rides the bus today on her way to distribute relief materials to flood victims after insisting that she won't resign despite calls from certain quarters that she should quit to accept responsiblity for the way the flood relief effort is being handled.

"I won't quit. The people have elected me to do the job. I can't abandon them," she declared, adding that crying isn't a sign of weakness. "Crying is about sharing the feeling of suffering with the flood victims," she said.

Strange though it may sound, a group of senators have come out against the premier's resigning "because she has to say on to take responsibility for what is happening."

So, whether you want her to stay on or not, she just can't call it a day...just yet.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Superman Virabongsa is back!

Virabongsa Ramangkura, the man for all seasons, is back. This time he has been named chairman of the Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development (SCRF) to help the government devise plans to rebuild the country after the floods.

How did he get lured back into an active role such as this one?

"I had no hesitation at all. Once the prime minister asked me, I accepted immediately because not accepting would mean I am without a heart and I wouldn't be able to sleep at night," he says.

Virabongsa had earlier been tipped to be a Cabinet member under Premier Yingluck. The deal didn't go through for some unknown reasons. But he was always waiting in the wings, ready for an advisory role such as this one.

"I am going to meet the Japanese ambassador to ask him to arrange for me to visit Japan so that I can ask Japanese business leaders on what they want us to do. Japan has been a good friend all along. During the tomyamkung financial crisis, Japan was the only big country that didn't hammer us," the former finance minister said.

Interestingly enough, Virabongsa will have two deputy premiers and finance minister under him in the committee.

Isn't that a big unconventional? "Well, the premier told me tradition is there to be broken anyway," he responded.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pray, let the water levels subside

Budhist monks are out in full force these days to help fight the rising floods. A few thousand temples have been submerged and monks in remote areas have suffered from the lack of daily food because local residents haven't been able to do their
daily rounds o alms-giving to monks after floods have hit many provinces.

Here, a group of monks from Dhammakaya Temple are performing their non-religious duty in relieving floods on Klong Luang Road.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Flood brings tears to PM, more than once

With tears in her eyes, Premier Yingluck Shinawatra met Nakhon Sawan residents yesterday to declare that she won't give up fighting floods, no matter how challenging the mission.

This, of course, wasn't the first time that the prime minister showed the soft side of Thailand's first lady premier. Her supporters say it's a sign of her passion and devotion to the people. Critics say tears don't solve problems, only well-planned execution does.

She confessed on her weekly radio programme yesterday: "I admit it's a very tough job. But I won't give up."

(Picture by Thai Rath)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thaksin tells his daughter: Dad won't be home for the wedding

Former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra has apparently told his daugher "Aim" Pingtongta
that he won't be able to come back to Thailand to join her wedding scheduled for
Nov 10.

In her latest tweet today, Pintongta wrote: "Although I hadn't expected Dad to come
to my wedding, hearing from him: "Aim, Dad won't be able to come to your weddin" was
nevertheless very disheartening."

She had on Nov 1 tweeted: "Ten days from now will be my Thai-style wedding ceremony. But my house is under 1.5 metres of water. Don't know where to hold the ceremony...yet..."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Please don't feed the animals but...

This bold sign says a lot about the mood of people, especially those whose houses have been submerged under water.

Politicians have been putting their name tags on donations from the publid for the flood victims and pictures of those ugly acts have been posted all over the social media. None of the politicians mentioned has come out to apologize for their shameful acts so far.

In various zoos, signs go up asking people "Please don't feed the animals." But this
sign urges people to treat politicians in a different way.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

FROC: How not to run a crisis management center

Premier Yingluck has insisted that her approach to the ongoing severe flood disaster is “politics-free.” But there are no genuine signs of any real non-partisan efforts to overcome the country’s worst natural disaster so far.
Besides, the government’s style of crisis (mis)management has alienated most flood victims who couldn’t rely on timely information and guidance from the Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) from Day One of the inundation.
FROC has failed miserably in crisis communications. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. The central government represented by FROC and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) have been at loggerheads despite their repeated public statements to the contrary.
Politicians have been rubbing shoulders and shouting orders at the FROC headquarters. They all had their underlings (mostly bureaucrats) lobbying for their own priorities which were to do everything possible to prevent their constituencies from getting wet.
FROC’s director, Police Gen Pracha Promnok, is justice minister who belongs to a small political party in the coalition. Most of the Pheu Thai Cabinet members, MPs and their advisers do not feel obliged to follow his instructions. Pracha himself isn’t known to have managed any crisis, big or small, before. And he could hardly expect Premier Yingluck Shinawatra to be by his side, making sure everybody follow the director’s orders. She has her own problems exercising control over her own party.
If things get messy at times, an efficient PR operations that communicate with the public on a timely and convincing manner might have saved the day. That wasn’t to be the case. Two spokesmen – also totally unprepared for such a critical campaign where credibility is the key – were put in charge of the telling the people what was happening.
They could have managed to muddle through had the decision-makers been clear and professional about what they wanted to tell an anxious, skeptical and scared public. That again was sorely missing. Nobody was sure who was in charge of FROC but it was clear from accounts leaked by insiders that the management structure was, to say the least, chaotic.
To be sure, there was no lack of experts on floods and water at the operations center. But their analyses and proposals sidelined by politicians who couldn’t agree on the course of action and were shouting conflicting instructions to the officials who were supposed to be responding to a rapidly worsening flooding situation in provinces north of Bangkok.
There was little doubt therefore that the two spokesmen, whose junior ranks carried no weight whatsoever in the government’s hierarchy, were making fools of themselves on television many times a day. They were saying the situation “is well under control” when in fact they didn’t really know what was happening behind the scenes.
One day, FROC’s Director Pracha read out a long report, ending by declaring that the flood situation was under full control of the government, adding somewhat wistfully: “But we do need lots of large-sized water pumps and I hereby ask the private sector to donate them to help in draining water.”
Things should have been the other way round, of course. One would have thought that if you were short of flood-fighting equipment, the first place to seek help would be the government. Now, the seniormost guy in the country’s top flood-relief agency was asking you to help provide them with water pump. And we were supposed to be in a real crisis.
The gravest failure in crisis communications was probably in the inability to help residents on different sides of the embankments to avoid clashes resulting in barriers to be torn down by angry people who felt they were at the wrong end of the problem. FROC was supposed to be the agency to mediate among the conflicting parties. Instead, some of the government MPs were engineering the confrontations themselves.
FROC has replaced the spokesman. Premier Yingluck says she is inviting Opposition leader Abhisit to join her in the flood fight. Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand is still giving his press conference in parallel with FROC’s. Confusion grows.
As I write this, the FROC’s spokesman was saying that government officials are to return to work on Tuesday after a five-day holiday to cope with the rising floods. But the Bangkok governor just announced that Bangkoks’s Talingchan and Laksi were now designated danger zones and everybody had to be evacuated.
One university lecturer just tweeted: “The central government wants us to go back to work. The Bangkok governor tells us to evacuate. Can’t they discuss it and agree on something and tell us what it is all about?”
Situation normal, all fouled up?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bangkok Governor declares war on the capital's police to fight flood

It's war for Bangkok Governor M.R.Sukhumbhand who last night invoked his special powers under the Disaster Mitigation Act to order the Bangkok's Metropolitan Police Chief to move in to stop local residents from destroying the water sluice at Klong Samwa.

He declared: "I can't trust the police unit that has been guarding the spot anymore. I need to exercise my legal power to order the capital's police chief to send his people to make sure nobody will damage the embankment because if it comes down heavy floods will hit Ramkhamhaeng and Ram-indra areas."

It was the toughest statement made so far by the governor who has obviously been at loggerheads with the central government over how to cope with the rising flood water levels in Bangkok.

"I don't have to seek the prime minister's prior approval. I have the rights to order police to do the job. I am not seeking cooperation. I am giving orders legitimately," he declared, after having ordered the evacuation of yet another area in the city, this time it's Bangkhen.

Obviously, for him, there was no pointing in hiding the fact that he and the government don't see eye to eye -- and that he had to resort to his own power to show the Bangkokians that he can take tough action that the premier has refused to do so far.

Will matters get worse for the inundated capital. We shall know in a couple of days. But I am sure it will get worse before it could get any better.

New Thailand: Don't take us seriously

I thought Thailand was ready for a huge remake when Energy Minister Pichai Narittapan told reporters two days ago that a meeting chaired by Premier Yingluck Shinawatra had agreed to spend about Bt900,000m to rebuild the country. The mega project was to be entitled: "New Thailand."

Wow, I told myself, this will fix every problem we can ever have in five years.

But both the PM and the minister disappointed be tremendously when they came out yesterday to pour cold water on their own scheme.

Premier Yingluck said: "The term New Thailand was just a play on words. Nothing serious."

Minister Pichai further killed my enthusiasm by saying: "New Thailand was just a gimmick."

Get real, please, my dear leaders.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Is this a scene from Thailand?

This isn't the kind of scenes you usually see in Thailand. But pictures of flood victims scrambling for food and supplies are becoming a common sight. It's not only depressing. It underscores how the crisis isn't being handled the way it should. Donations from the public from around the country have been pouring in. The serious problem is the distribution system is far from adequate.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

FROC is no frog. So, be prepared to relocate again!

So, finally, the government's Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) decided yesterday to relocate from besieged Don Muang Airport to the Energy Complex where the Energy Ministry and Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT)are based after it was threatened by rising flood waters.

It came after lots of face-saving talk about not giving up to the inundation by Premier Yingluck and FROC's director, Justice Minister Police Gen Pracha Promnok, though. Energy Minister Pichai came to the government's rescue by "revealing" that the prime minister had in fact planned to make the Energy Complex an alternative headquarters for FROC in the first place although that "Plan B" was never disclosed to anybody until after the fact.

It was embarrassing, of course, for FORC's leaders to remain at Don Muang while its news spokesman, Thongthong Chandransu, had already urged everybody else in Bangkok to move out of their houses in the wake of the deteriorating flooding situation.

How, in other words, can FROC remain where it was while telling Bangkokians: Get out before it's too late!

Well, better late than never.

But then, I hope FROC has mapped out its "Plan C" because being on Vibhavadhi Rangsit Road isn't all that safe from the rising flood water either. Since no one in Bangkok can be sure of anything about the water levels in the next few days, FROC's leadership had better not making firm statement about "not moving anywhere anymore."

That could be the ultimate embarrassment.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The many moods of a stressed PM

Top brass get their feet wet

The top brass got their feet wet now that they have ordered soldiers to come all out to help flood victims. Latest news says the army has ordered 50,000 troops, 1,000 boats and 1,000 trucks to help in the evacuation of flood victims now that the Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) has announced a major evacuation plan to move people to evacuation shelters in nine provinces.

This picture, tweeted by Post defence reporter Wassana Nanuan, shows Defence Minister Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapa and Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in a boat this morning to distribute necessities to affected residents in Bangyai, Nonthaburi province.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

They don't seem to want to work together, despite the worsening flooding

The central government and Bangkok administration continue to show they have yet to work in close consultation over the deteriorating flood situation.

Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra called a press conference just now -- and almost at the same time, FROC spokesman Thongthong Chandrangsu went on the air to announce preparations for a "worst-case scenario."

Sukhumbhand's warning was equally grim. He said water levels are expected to rise again tomrorow and Bangkok residents must remain vigilant. Thongthong delivered a dramatic scenario when he said people of Bangkok must organize themselves into communities and decide on "meeting points" where they can gather in case the inundation gets critical. They were told that they will be picked up by military trucks from the "meeting points" after which the Communications Ministry would deliver them to 9 provinces where evacuation centers are being set up.

When the two talked to the public at the same time but not from the same location, they obviously couldn't expect the people to be getting their messages simultaneously. I thought things were getting better between the central and Bangkok governments when earlier today representatives from FROC, Bangkok Administration and the Irrigation Department gave a joint press conference.

But a few hours later, things appeared to have come apart again.

And as long as they keep doing things their own ways, the public will stand to suffer.

Deluge can't cover up government's press clampdown

Almost surreptitiously, the Cabinet on Oct 18 approved a proposed amendment to a piece of legislation that is unquestionably aimed at imposing new control on press freedom. Earlier suspicions of a clampdown on the media performing their checks and balances against the new government have been confirmed, much sooner than expected.
The Pheu Thai Party had campaigned in the election on the platform of “genuine democracy.” It has decried “double standards and injustice.” The rallying cry was for the “grass-roots” people to have a real say in running the country. The “elite” and “privileged” people who were controlling the channels of communications were to be replaced by the “real voice of the people.”
If that theme was based on genuine intention and political conviction, the new government should have made it a top priority to demolish all the rules and regulations that stood in the way of the common people expressing their opinion in such a way that they could do away with controls and interference in the people’s freedom of expression.
The proposed amendment to the Printing Act of B.E. 2550 by the Cabinet sends signals in the opposite direction. If passed by parliament into law, the new law will give the National Police Chief the power to censor, close down and threaten the constitutional rights of a newspaper with impunity.

The proposed change will put Thailand back many decades in terms of promoting the rights of the people to scrutinize the work of the powerful and to unravel the corrupt practices of politicians and bureaucrats.
In some respects, it is even worse than the original notorious Printing Act of B.E. 2484 which was the hallmark of press restrictions under military dictatorships. No periodical renewal of a newspaper publishing license was mentioned. Under the new amendment, every publisher must apply for permission to have his license renewed every five years.
In other words, the media will have to operate under the frightening threat of non-renewal – in addition to the constant possibility of being censored, suspended or closed down for publishing a story that could be interpreted by the “press officer” as “undermining the Monarchy, national security and law and order or the good moral of the country.”
In other words, we are in the process of being returning to the time when the government could use the police chief to control and threaten any publication that doesn’t toe the official line, pure and simple.
The Thai media organizations had fought long and hard to shake off the shackles of political interference and press censorship. It was a hard-fought victory when a democratically elected government and parliament agree to end the dark history of censorship by replacing the 1941 (B.E. 2484) Printing Act with the 2007 (B.E. 2550) Printing Act.
The significance of that legislative change in 2007 was that for the first time, the need to seek permit from the government to publish opinion was abolished. In its place, publishers only have to register with the Fine Arts Department (instead of the Police Bureau) to pursue their profession. Permission was automatic and since the law came into force, there has been a flourishing of publications of a great diversity that has helped lay the foundation of democracy.
Now, the new government seems bent on reversing that trend, despite all the public statements made by the powers-that-be on promoting the “poor people’s rights” to cultivate what they have termed “real democracy.”
Any move to restrict, control and subvert the role of the press to serve as the people’s watchdog and gate-keeper runs counter to the Constitution, of course.
That much-feared “tyranny of the majority” may materialize sooner than we thought it was possible. But if history is any indication, the fight for press freedom, especially in this digital media landscape, will be extremely robust. Politicians can try to control people’s dissident voice only at their own peril.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

If you ask me, the governor wants us to get the hell out of Bangkok now!

If it's any consolation, Premier Yingluck has just come out to say that there is a 50:50 chance of the whole of inner Bangkok being flooded although Suvarnbhumi International Airport will be protected at all cost.

Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand's statements aren't all that different. He said he approved of the Cabinet's decision to make Oct 27-31 public holidays because Bangkok's population is around 10 million and this weekend will be quite "problematic."

"So, my advice is that Bangkokians should take advantage of the holidays to leave Bangkok for the provinces," he said last night.

In everyday language, if friends ask you what the governor meant, you could say:
"He wants us to get the hell out of Bangkok..."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Now you see him, now you don't

If you have been wondering why you haven't heard about Thaksin Shinawatra since the flood started a few weeks ago, stop worrying. He is present in a lot of ways...such as the "Hero" slogan in the T-shirt and signs saying: "With love and concern from Thaksin Shinawatra" mounted on trucks carrying public donations to flood victims.

Strange, though, that we haven't heard any call for him to come to the rescue of PM Yingluck.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Yingluck, Sukhumbandh together but are they on the same page?

PM Yingluck and Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand were out together today to inspect flooded areas in the capital. Does that mean they have patched up and will be on the same page in fighting the rising water levels? Don't bet on it.

The Bangkok governor late last night called a press conference to issue a warning to residents in six areas in northern Bangkok about rising waters that could become "critical." He should have appeared on one of the TV channels to deliver that important message. He didn't go on Channel 11 which has been used by the government's Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) on a 24-hour basis. The channel at that particular time was airing a normal, taped feature that had nothing to do with the floods. Governor Sukhumbhand later made a "phone-in" on Thai PBS to get his message to a wider audience.

FROC did come up with a later announcement supporting the governor's concern but that was about it. So, when the PM and Governor went out together today, it was mostly for a photo-op exercise. They have yet to give a joint press conference to show the Thai people in general that they are really working together with a common strategy.

So far, not so good.