Thursday, April 20, 2006

Thailand to re-nationalize telecom sector; tells foreign shareholders to fuck off

Investing in Thailand is a fool's game, and always has been. Most foreign investors have the same naive aura as the love struck punters being led around downtown Bangkok by their rural prostitute 'girlfriends'.

Foreign participation in the Thai telecoms market led to drastically reduced fees and dramatically improved services. Frankly, they kicked the shit out of the Thai run companies and all telecom subscribers benefitted.

But the Thais who sold out have spent the share money on frivilous Siam Paragon purchases by now and are getting antsy and itchy to take back what they sold through typical abuse of the legal system, 'Thai law' on the matter notwithstanding.

Foreign-domination regulations spark international outcry

The Norwegian government is concerned with draft regulations preventing foreign domination of Thai telecom operators and says rules being drawn up by the Thai National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) could interfere with the rights and interests of foreign shareholders of Thai telecom firms.

Its concern follows similar protests made by the European Commission delegation to Thailand.

"The government of Norway is seriously concerned about both procedural and substantives issues raised by this draft notification," said a letter from the Norwegian Embassy in Thailand to the NTC earlier this month.

The Norwegian government is the major shareholder of Telenor.

Telenor Asia Pte Ltd, an indirect, a wholly owned subsidiary of Telenor, currently holds a 32.9-per-cent stake in Total Access Communication (DTAC) and a 25-per-cent stake in DTAC's parent, United Communication Industry (Ucom).

Telenor Asia also owns 49 per cent of Thai Telco Holdings, which controls about 61 per cent of Ucom.

"We are concerned that the proposed provisions of the draft notification infringe the laws of Thailand and unfairly prejudice the rights and interests of foreign shareholders of Thai companies as well as foreign companies," said the letter.

The NTC drafted the regulations as required by the amended Section 8 of the Telecommunications Business Act of 2001.

The commission's board approved the first draft on March 23 and posted it on its website,, for interested parties to send comments via e-mail, with no deadline. It recently posted an amended draft on the website and invited interested parties to send comments by May 12.

The Norwegian Embassy's letter said the NTC should provide sufficient time for interested parties to review "such crucial issues" and for those issues to be openly debated.

"We are therefore concerned about the lack of transparency of the current process, as nowhere on the website is there any indication about when comments should be submitted," it said.

The European Commission delegation to Thailand expressed similar concerns about the draft regulations in another letter sent to the NTC early this month.

"We believe that the draft notification is unduly restrictive and discriminatory," said that letter. "It is clearly a step backwards in efforts to open and liberalise Thailand's telecom markets, and it sends the wrong signal to investors all over the world."

Besides DTAC, Shin Corp Plc is likely to be affected by the new NTC regulations governing foreign dominance. Currently, Cedar Holdings and Aspen Holdings, subsidiaries of Singapore's Temasek Holdings, own 51.98 per cent and 44.14 per cent, respectively, of Shin.

Aspen is wholly owned by Anderton Investments Ltd, which is in turn indirectly wholly owned by Temasek.

Cedar's shareholders include Cypress Holdings (46.55 per cent), Kularb Kaew (43.16 per cent), and Siam Commercial Bank (5.2 per cent). Cypress, which is indirectly wholly owned by Temasek, also owns 29.9 per cent of Kularb Kaew.

Shin is the parent of Thailand's largest cellular operator, Advanced Info Service Plc (AIS).

An analytical report by UBS Investment Research said that if read literally, the NTC regulations appeared to prevent any form of foreign control over a Thai telecom operator. However, the report suggests the real intent is to ensure that foreign involvement does not affect the local competitive landscape, and this may be reflected in the final version.

Under current Thai law, the multi-tiered shareholding structures that give Telenor control of DTAC and Temasek control of Shin are legal. Neither DTAC nor Shin is considered "owned" by foreigners, although both are mainly "controlled" by foreigners.

Although the law does allow foreign control, it is conceivable the NTC could use its regulatory power to disallow it, or at least make it more difficult in the case of the telecom industry.

The report said that if that happened, DTAC would probably the most at risk, because it was quite clear in terms of management structure that Telenor ultimately controls the company. AIS would also be at risk, but less so, given its existing shareholding and management structures.

The NTC will also require that TOT Plc and CAT Telecom Plc make sure their private concessionaires comply with regulations for preventing foreign dominance.

Actions deemed to be foreign dominance of local telecom operators include foreigners' shareholdings (as well as those of their nominees) exceeding the legal ceiling of 49 per cent, and foreign shareholders or their representatives having voting rights exceeding the entitlement of their actual shareholding.

Dominance also means foreign shareholders or their representatives appointing or removing key policy-makers of a Thai operator, the use of nominees to dominate them or the appointment of foreigners linked to foreign shareholders to key policy-making posts.

If dominance is exerted by a foreign government or foreign state enterprise, and the NTC believes that the dominance poses a threat to national security, it will consult with certain local agencies, such as the National Security Council.

If any of the local agencies agree that a threat to national security does exist, the NTC will order the licensee involved to end the foreign dominance.

Telecom Reporters

The Nation

Thai Election Commission ruled "inefficient" and "incompetent" by regional org

from The Nation re: the recent Senate election in Thailand:

EC's conduct panned as 'inefficient, incompetent'

Asian Network for Free Elections slams small, nameless ballots; campaign ban

Inefficient and "incompetent" is how the coordinator of the Asian Network for Free Elections des-cribed the conduct of the Election Commission (EC) during yesterday's Senate election.

Network coordinator Somsri Harn-ananthasuk said many technical problems were apparent, ranging from ballots lacking names and pictures of candidates to not enough space between the horizontal rows of boxes for marking. The ballots confused voters and even election officers, Somsri said.

The network will seek a meeting with EC secretary-general Ekkachai Warunprapha today to file complaints. An earlier complaint about the ballots went nowhere.

"Such [inefficient and incompetent] work is detrimental to all candidates," Somsri, who observed the election in Nakhon Ratchasima province, told The Nation.

She said the rule preventing candidates from doing anything more than introducing themselves to the electorate meant rich and well-connected candidates emerged as winners, especially in rural provinces.
[ed. how the hell can people vote when the candidates haven't outlined a single policy position?]

The law should be changed to allow some limited campaigning within certain budgetary limits, she said. "Well-known figures or people with senior positions are not necessarily good people." [ed. fucking excellent quote]

Pongsak Chanon, a member of the network who observed the election in Surin, said many voters could not recall the number of the candidate they wanted to vote for while others said they mistakenly marked the extra boxes on the ballot papers, which were meant for no one.

Many voters did not realise that the ballot papers had marking spaces at the back as well, and election officials did not remind voters of this, Pongsak said.
[ed. Thai bureaucracy and form-making at its finest again]

"People also have very little interest or participation in the counting process," said Pongsak, adding that reports of vote-buying were also made. "Many ballot papers were nullified."

The problem in Samut Songkhram was the lack of independent candidates, said Chatchawan Rakchart, another election observer from the network.

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

more top level corruption in a Thai 'election' that is neither free nor fair

Democracy requires more than pantomime.

And brickbats to the dolts at the Economist for their totally wrong read of the Thai political situation this week. Spend less time at the Foreign Correspondents' Club or your hotel rooms at the Sheraton, and maybe your analysis would be a little better.

Songkhla's election chiefs boycott new MP candidates

The chairmen of local election offices in Songkhla's seven constituencies on Wednesday boycotted the registration of additional MP candidates for the repeat vote in defiance of the Election Commission's (EC) ruling on the matter.

The two-day registration is expected to be completed today in spite of the boycott. The repeat vote is scheduled for Sunday.

"The EC instructed us to hold the additional candidacy registration at short notice, making it impossible to implement," Kitnan Phetudom, chairman of Constituency 7 Election Office, said.

The EC relayed its instructions late on Tuesday night and expected local election offices to comply the next morning without any preparation, Kitnan said, adding that he and his colleagues were tied up with the supervision of the senatorial race.

Instead of doing a halfbaked job, all seven chairmen decided not to get involved with the additional candidacy registration, he said.

Songkhla Election Office director Paitoon Jehae said the seven chairmen had notified him of their boycott.

"I decided to take over the seven chairmen's responsibilities in order to facilitate the registration process for additional candidates in Songkhla," Paitoon said.

Three of the seven chairmen have tendered their resignations in a gesture of protest over Paitoon's intervention, while the other four said they will resign after the comāļŒpletion of the repeat vote.

Democrat Party deputy secretary general Thaworn Senniam said the EC had no mandate to accept additional candidacy appliāļŒcations.

The bottom line was the EC had conspired with two small parties, Prachakorn Thai and Khon Kho Plod Nee, to help lone Thai Rak Thai Party candidates to overcome the 20 per cent rule, Thaworn said.

Under election law, candidates who run unopposed must achieve 20 per cent of eligible votes to validate the election outcome.

Thaworn said the EC had erred in allowing constituency hopping in the repeat vote for defeated candidates from the first round of balloting.

"The Supreme Court ruled against the EC and cancelled the planned repeat vote for two defeated candidates from Songkhla," he said.

Thai Rak Thai Party deputy leader Pongthep Thepkanchana said he had no opinion about the repeat vote in Songkhla. (ed. so why go on to comment about it?)

"The conflicting views on how to manage the repeat vote are internal affairs for the EC to resolve without the involvement of the ruling party," he said.

As he understood it, he said, the EC was obliged to keep repeating the vote, regardless how many rounds, until it can fill 400 House seats.

He added that his party's candidates were bound to campaign until they passed the 20percent rule.
(ed. they're not required to run again.)

A group of 1,000 Songkhla residents rallied at the candidacy registration centre, protesting against the EC for attempting to validate the ruling party's candidates although local voters rejected them on April 2.(ed. candidates may be invalidated on many discretionary and arbitrary grounds, according to EC rules, and have been in the past. Having soundly lost the last election, just 30 days before, would seem like a good ground for disqualification)

The Nation

Songkran -- another year of thoughtlessness and stupidity; most Thais wouldn't know the 'mindfulness' of Buddhism if it somehow bit them in the ass

Thailand, a Buddhist country only by affectation.

letters re: the recent recent Buddhist new year celebrations in Thailand, which in the past decade have 'evolved' into a weeklong rage of hooliganism and drunk driving.

Another Songkran has passed. Another year of questions remain.

How did a holiday that originally started out as a way to pay respect to the Lord Buddha and to one's elders descend into a wild ritual of contempt for other people? Does anyone know when the line was crossed from playfully splashing water onto one's friends and neighbours to sloshing anyone in the face with a bucket full of dirty water at any time of day, for days at a time, whether they have chosen to join the celebrations or not? And when someone has not given their consent to be hit full in the face with water, but people do it anyway, what message is passed on to the children?

I realise there is little hope of returning the holiday to its origins. But here are a few suggestions for reform that could possibly realign the ritual of Songkran with one of the first principles of Buddhism as well as all major religions: never do anything to any peaceful person without their consent.

Have designated spots in a city, town, or village where one can play with water. If you go to those spots that would imply that you have agreed to join the water fights. Restrict the water play to these spots or to throwing water among friends who have agreed to participate.

And why not limit the time to just one or two days? It's crazy that you cannot go anywhere for a full week without getting completely soaked.

Finally, throwing water at passing motorcycles, open pickup trucks, and songtaews should be strictly prohibited. Today I was splashed with a bucket full of water while driving by on my motorcycle. Not only did I nearly crash but it's quite likely I could develop an ear infection. I definitely did not give my consent for that.

Chiang Mai


A waste of nearly two weeks of productive time

Not only has my business been closed since last Tuesday, I have to give my staff an off day on Wednesday so that they can vote for the senator aspirants whose insane advertising posters have bothered us for the past two weeks.

Needless to say that none of my staff will show up on Thursday. If they do, they'll only be looking forward to yet another weekend.

Glorious! This is exactly how I make money and pay my staff. Why don't we also declare the rest of the year a holiday just to be in line with an utterly unproductive and wasted April?

Go ahead. Smile. There's nothing else you can do about it. Thailand rules!



Water-splashing is as lethal as drunk driving

It is comforting to learn from your reports that fewer people are being killed this Songkran than last and that the deaths are lower than the goal (!) set by the government. We are also relieved to know that drunk drivers, speeders and motorcyclists without helmets or driving licences are the cause of it all. But there is another story, which I call "Happy Songkran in Nong Khai".

A small family of four is riding their motorcycle along the road to Tha Bo. Father is not drunk and is wearing his helmet, the visor slightly smeared with white powder. Mother holds her lovely baby and some groceries. The second child, a sweet five-year-old excited by the Songkran festivities, hangs on behind mother. Behind them is a six-wheel truck, windows painted black top and bottom to shield the road glare and the rest covered in other advertising stickers. The large sticker in the middle of the windscreen announces that the driver likes Caribou.

The driver has only had one drink but is driving a bit close to the motorcycle, since it is going so slowly. Along the side of the road Songkran revellers, most drunk, are having a wonderful time drinking, dancing, throwing cold water and powder. A beautiful young girl throws a bucket of water at the family on the motorcycle and another dabs them with white and pink powder. The father, temporarily blinded by the water, closes his eyes. Just as mother and baby shift their weight the motorcycle's front wheel hits some gravel, skids and spills the family on the highway. The crowd roars with laughter and continues dancing and playing as the truck slams on his brakes.

There is a shriek of brakes as the driver, who couldn't quite see the motorcycle falling, steps harder on the pedal. The mother screams as the truck runs over her baby and skids to a stop on top of the father's legs. The second child lands further up the road with blood gushing from her head; she moans in pain. The motorcycle and groceries lie along the side of the road. Most of the crowd continues dancing and drinking, but some help toss the family into the truck and watch it speed away.

Songkran is such a fun time for most people - the rest are just statistics.

Nong Khai

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

the grisly side of mai pen rai; how inefficiency and the "nevermind" mentality kill in Thailand

Mai pen rai, loosely translated, means nevermind. It is used in situations where something is to be forgotten or postponed indefinitely, such as details of a work assignment that a Thai finds tedious.

Guide books often wax rhapsodically about this so-called unique element of Thai culture. In fact, the myth of mai pen rai has been building since the time of Anna Leonowens.

In reality, this mentality is common to the third world, like "manana" in Latin America, which is used to the same effect. There is nothing uniquely Thai about a slack and irresponsible 3rd world approach to every aspect of work and life. Wrapping this trait in the rhetoric of nation-state identity does everyone a disservice as Thais adopt these pasturized cultural norms of dubious authenticity and parrot them back to the West.

As the article below illustrates, mai pen rai applies in every situation, no matter how great or small. Some people say "the Thais understand when it to use and when not." No way. When something is this deeply ingrained, it does not come with an on/off switch. Anyone who has worked with Thais will know that there is no task too critical to be postponed, even if doing so will have direct negative consequences for both the company and themselves.

Below is a pretty good example of what happens on a daily basis in Bangkok when things don't get done due to mai pen rai in action. Mai pen rai also provides closure after the fact, as no one is held accountable for even the most outrageous negligence, unless of course the police see some money in it.

Noise, pollution, live wires crackling with electricity in the street-- these are all things "that just happen." Some deity must have willed it. Mai pen rai.

Boy electrocuted

One boy was electrocuted and another seriously injured in a public park in Ratchathewi district on Friday night.

Seksan Khlongkarn died after he grabbed a cable attached to a power pole to keep from slipping as he was running home in a downpour.

Two dogs had been electrocuted on Thursday night in a nearby area of Unilever Park. Local residents had requested that the district office and the local electricity authority rectify the problem but no action was taken.

A third boy who witnessed the incident said Seksan was knocked to the ground by the shock.

Ahiwat Silarat was electrocuted when he touched Seksan's body, but was able to shake his hands free, Kulphark Treepho said.