Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tesco Lotus lets consumers try out electronic gadgets

A great story on how Tesco is finally bringing an international level of customer service to Thailand. So why again is the Thai Commerce Ministry demanding that Tesco sign a memo prohibiting it from opening more stores? Is it better that Thai consumers buy electronics from sketchy retailers in rented stalls at the local market?

Test drive your gadgets

Tesco Lotus store lets users play around with the technology before buying


A customer tests a mobile phone at Tesco Lotus recently. — PHOTOS BY SASIWIMON BOONRUANG

IT product displays that offer customers a chance to "look but not feel" are a thing of the past at Tesco Lotus Rama IV branch, which is revamping its IT section and introducing "try before you buy" counters where customers can test any product before deciding to purchase.

The IT section has a new look and has also increased the number of IT and consumer electronics items that it offers.

The Rama IV branch will pilot the try-before-you-buy concept with a range of brands and products, including phones, digital cameras, MP3 players and camcorders.

In the mobile phone area, for example, once a customer picks up an N70 Nokia, an LCD monitor on the counter will automatically show the features of that phone, with no need for assistance from counter staff. They could also test the sound quality of the MP3 players in the same way they listen to music through headphones at CD shops.

Sales staff are on-hand when needed though, explained Tesco Lotus CEO Jeff Adams. "The customer will get a neutral sales staff who won't be cheering for a particular brand because all the 30 sales staff are Tesco Lotus employees, not from the suppliers," he said.

Tesco Lotus CEO Jeff Adams says customers can see how the products actually work, touch them and check out the various features.

Once the customer decides on a product, they pick up a tag nearby the stand of that demo model to show at the counter, which will then provide a competely new item.

Adams said customers want to be able to check a product thoroughly before making a significant purchase, but often sales representatives simply show them the price and leave the product locked in the display cabinet.

"We know how frustrating this can be so we decided to give the customers what they told us they want," the CEO explained. "So here is the display where they can see the products actually working, they can touch them, check out functions and get a feel from them," he added, noting that this was the first service of its kind offered in Thailand today.

In line with the new display approach, Tesco Lotus has increased the number of products available, although Adams said pricing would remain competitive.

"We still position ourselves on competitive pricing plus value add because customers today are not concerned on price only," the CEO said.

The super store also plans to expand the IT shopping concept to a further 20 branches around Bangkok by early 2007.

Competition Meanwhile IT City, the pioneering IT retailer that today has the largest coverage area nationwide, will open four new branches. This will give it 30 branches by the end of this year - 13 in Bangkok and 17 upcountry.

IT City president Ekachai Sirijirapatana predicted that Thais would follow the US when it comes to consumer behaviour, although he noted that the market here was 10 years behind the US. [ed. IT City tends to focus on lower end products at very uncompetitive prices, and in terms of staff training and after sale support they are much more than 10 years behind the US]

"American people mostly buy IT products from modern trade or specialty stores such as Com[p]USA, BestBuy, Circuit City, WalMart, Costco, while such IT stores in Thailand account for around 15 percent of the overall market," he said.

Citing a report by IDC and the Association of Thai Computer Industry (ATCI), Mr Ekachai pointed out that home-use and small office and home office (SOHO) users was the fastest growing sector here. He said this group was more likely to buy IT and electronics products at a shopping centre.

He also noted that with a PC penetration rate of just 7-8 percent, there was still a lot of room for growth.

"IT City today concentrates on IT and IT-related products and our strategy is to be close to customers," Mr Ekachai said. [ed. IT City is one of the worst options for buying electronics in Thailand. It caters to totally clueless consumers, who just can't be bothered to figure out that shops next door sell the same product with better warranty for 40% less.]

Other competitors such as electonics specialist Power Buy claimed the new Tesco Lotus strategy would have little effect on its business. "We are now monitoring them to see how long it takes to work because Tesco Lotus has had to change an entire buying system," said Sa-angthip Amornchat, Power Buy vice president of marketing. [ed. no, they had to change an entrenched Thai mentality regarding the sale of consumer electronics, which is inherently more difficult but can be done (like other Tesco innovations) with appropriate and direct leadership. Good luck to Power Buy]

Founded in 1997, Power Buy started with home appliances and diversified into IT products several years ago.

Mrs Sa-angthip agreed that the IT market had big potential for growth and said Power Buy shops were also broadening. "We are not a hardcore IT store like IT City, we do not speak a technical language, but we talk to end-users generally," she said. The marketing VP noted that Power Buy had conducted in-house training for its personal consultants for over four years now. Consultants at all 72 branches nationwide have to pass training at its headquarters.

Among Power Buy's three major sectors - audio visual (AV), home appliances and digital IT - the vice president said that digital IT accounted for 45 percent of the total business and was the highest growth division. Notebook computers grew at 100 percent in the last year, while digital cameras grew at 20 percent and mobile phones 40 percent.

Mrs Sa-angthip said the digital revolution was still in the early stages, while consumers also have more purchasing power than in the past. "Unless the economic situation turns bad, the technology market will grow far beyond what it is today," she concluded.

Tesco, Carrefour, 7-11 and others hang tough in the face of Thai Commerce Department thuggery

It's really really simple. Retail law should benefit the consumer, and Commerce Department regulations should be written to reflect the interests of the consumer, not some loud-mouth mom and pop lobby that's trying to stick it to the chain stores. Most consumers prefer to shop at a brightly lit, well stocked shop with fixed fair prices and convenient locale like 7-11 than hike several kilometers to some indifferent Thai shop run out of someone's dingy living room where you have to haggle with some cretin over a carton of stale milk.

Big retailers refuse to sign store freeze

Commerce Ministry threatens more rules


Operators of 15 modern retail businesses refused to sign an agreement to freeze their store expansion at a meeting with Commerce Ministry officials yesterday. Some executives told officials they had no authorisation to make such commitments and would need to consult with their offices, adding that they needed more details of the proposal.

The response displeased Preecha Laohapongchana, the caretaker deputy commerce minister. Mr Preecha said retailers would have to stop store expansion voluntarily or would face tougher regulations that could make growth even more difficult.

The ministry gave the retailers a week to think about their position and rescheduled the signing of a memorandum of understanding for next Wednesday. The agreement would call for them to freeze expansion until a new retail law or regulations are passed.

The Commerce Ministry has been under pressure from small local retailers and suppliers, who for the past few weeks have been staging protests demanding the government do more to deal with big foreign retail chains.

The small operators claim they cannot compete in terms of price, selection or amenities with the chains, from convenience stores to discount hypermarkets. Including nearly 3,000 7-Eleven stores, the big chains have a total of about 3,700 outlets and are expected to have 4,700 within two years.

Mr Preecha has threatened ministerial announcements to control the business if big retailers do not sign an agreement.

He did not specify how long expansion should be frozen. ''It would not take a long time and would depend on how much co-operation retailers give us,'' Mr Preecha said.

He said the agreement would contain provisions for big retailers and government officials to study how to help small shops survive in a more competitive market.

Mr Preecha blamed modern retailers for lacking the intention to solve environmental problems such as traffic and pollution, caused directly by aggressive store expansion.

Gwyn Sundhagul, customer marketing director of Tesco Lotus, said his company was ready to comply with the state rules whether they were fair or not.

''But,we want the government to carefully consider any new regulations. Besides, we want to know which is the real party that has been affected by the problem,'' Mr Gwyn said.

He said that if consumers were affected by Lotus's business, they would not be visiting its stores.

Mr Preecha acknowledged that Tesco Lotus was popular because it offered good prices, but said the rapid expansion of its smaller Express outlets in subdistricts and tambons had worried local retailers.

But Mr Gwyn argued that only 100 Tesco Express outlets were available in Bangkok, compared with around 380,000 shophouses.

Currently, four Tesco Lotus outlets are being constructed in addition to 18 Tesco Express stores and one Talad Lotus.

Praphan Eamrungroj, senior vice-president for properties at Big C Supercenter Plc, said halting store expansion would not only affect retailers but also contractors and new job opportunities.

Currently, Big C has three new outlets under construction in Chiang Mai, Samui and Chon Buri.

According to Jariya Chirathivat, vice-president for marketing and communication at Big C, she believed both traditional and modern retailers could co-exist as consumers still patronised both types of businesses.

Mr Gwyn cited figures by the market research firm ACNielsen, which found that the frequency of visits to small shops had increased to 19 times per month as of March, from 17 a year earlier. In the same period, it said, hypermarket visits declined to twice a month from four times.

As well, the survey reported, 87% of respondents still patronised small grocery stores and 78% went to wet markets.

Suchada Ithijarukul, the president of Siam Makro Plc, said her company had 470,000 members. Of the total, 323,000 are small grocery stores, which rose by 5,400 from the same period last year.

She added that 65% of total sales at Makro were to small grocery stores and shops, and were up 15% year-on-year in the first eight months of 2006.

After almost 7 years, Thai court still deliberating murder vs suicide in Hangthong Thammawattana case

Personally, I would go with the detailed scientific findings of the only impartial investigator whose integrity has never been successfully impuned : Dr. Pornthip. Dr. Pornthip ruled this case a murder many years ago, and carefully articulated the evidence-based reasons why. Her findings have never been rebutted or even addressed, only her integrity attacked, though no one has been able to come up with a reason why this superstar forensic scientist would lie.

The latest autopsy on the body of Hangthong Thammawattana concluded the billionaire MP shot himself, switching the theory back to suicide.

Sawet Kanluan, head of the third autopsy team, testified in court yesterday there were no bruises on Hangthong's body which suggested he may have been beaten before he was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in the family mansion in 1999.

Dr Sawet was testifying in the trial in which Noppadol Thammawattana is accused of killing Hangthong, his own brother.

The body was discovered in Mr Noppadol's room.

Dr Sawet is a forensic pathologist based in Chicago. His testimony is at odds with the result of an earlier, second autopsy carried out by Porntip Rojanasunan, acting director-general of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, which concluded Hangthong was murdered. The first autopsy was conducted by the police who ruled the former Prachakorn Thai MP committed suicide.

More perjury suits filed against Thaksin despite Bangkok courts bizarre ruling on statute of limitations

Apparently in 2006 the Thai judicial system is still trying to iron out how it intends to apply a basic legal concept like statute of limitations. I can't imagine that there isn't some case history on this, though Thai courts don't seem overly concerned with judicial precedence or consistency of process. We saw this in the first landmark Shinawatra tax case where a massive share transfer to the Prime Minister's son was ruled exempt from personal income tax. This contradicted many other cases where income tax liability was held to attach to such transfers, as it would in any system in the world. You can't gift a billion dollars to your son tax free.

Again, contrary to international standard, the Criminal Court did not supply any legal support for its strange and results-oriented interpretation of 'tolling periods' in the preceding Monson perjury case against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. At the minimum this shows a real lack of transparency in the Thai judicial system, one of the tests of a legitimate democracy.

New perjury charge

JUSTICE :US businessman William Monson is expected to file another perjury charge in the South Bangkok Criminal Court against caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra today after the court earlier rejected a similar charge due to the statute of limitations having lapsed.

Paramet Sutabutr, Mr Monson's lawyer, said the charge would be lodged today alleging Mr Thaksin lied twice during a trial on Nov 12, 1996 and again on Jan 12, 1997.

Mr Monson took Mr Thaksin to court over his alleged violation of an agreement to jointly operate a cable television enterprise.

He claimed Mr Thaksin lied to a civil court by calling him an employee and alleging Mr Monson's company had stolen some equipment from their business deal.

On Sept 11, the Criminal Court dismissed the case in which Mr Monson accused Mr Thaksin of lying to court during a trial on July 22, 1996.

The court said the statute of limitations for that date had expired. Mr Monson is lodging an appeal, saying the statute of limitations in the case should be calculated differently.

Now he is filing the charge based on Mr Thaksin's Nov 12 and Jan 12 testimony to ensure the statute of limitations won't yet have expired.

Bangkok government switches off water all night, no advance notice to residents / tourists affected

Can you imagine this? A city of ten million people and no notice that water will be off all night until the very day it happens?

From this afternoon's Bangkok Post:

CITY :Tapwater will run dry in much of Bangkok and surrounding areas tonight until tomorrow morning to allow for the replacement of the watergate panel at the Bang Khen water plant.

The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority said the water supply would be cut for seven hours from 10pm tonight to 5am tomorrow in areas served by the waterworks offices in Samut Prakan, Sukhumvit, Phra Khanong, Taksin (only areas on Suksawasdi Road), and some areas on Ratchadapisek Road from Lat Phrao to Rama IX Road.

Inquiries can be directed to the MWA contact number at 1125 around the clock.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Criminal Court says it's too late to hear perjury charges against Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Monson case

from The Nation:

Court says it's too late for Thaksin perjury case

The Criminal Court yesterday dismissed the first of two lawsuits filed by United States businessman William Monson against caretaker premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

According to the court, the statute of limitations for the 1996 perjury charge had expired.

Thaksin, a former cable television businessman, was accused of giving false evidence in court in a related civil case against Monson, a cable television business owner.

Besides this case, another perjury lawsuit filed by Monson against Thaksin is pending in court.

The court scheduled a total of five hearings, starting on September 18, to determine if there should be a full trial.

The court will make a decision on October 16.

While yesterday's court decision was a setback for Monson, the businessman said he remained optimistic.

Monson added he would appeal the ruling on the first of his two perjury lawsuits against Thaksin.

"A boxing match has many rounds. This is only one round," Monson said after learning of yesterday's decision.

Monson is currently the proprietor of Clearview cable television in Seattle.

He was a former business partner of Thaksin at cable broadcaster IBC.

Monson said karma would eventually catch up with Thaksin. "You call it karma. We say 'what goes around comes around'. This is just a second case."

Monson and Thaksin fell out and Thaksin accused Monson of embezzlement in 1989. He was acquitted.

Yesterday's lawsuit was filed on July 20 - three days ahead of the expiration of the statute of limitations.

But, the court ruled yesterday counting could not stop at the filing of charges. It said the defendant had yet to report to the court and could not be considered to be under its authority.
[ed. That's ridiculous. In every legal system the statute of limitations period always stops at the time of filing of suit. This is the only logical outcome, as otherwise defendants could delay proceedings until they are outside of the limitations period. Furthermore, it is not necessary for a defendant to submit to a court's jurisdiction in order for that court to properly hear the case. Just imagine that any time a criminal charge is filed against someone, all they have to do is hide in the open, refusing to show up at court, and the court will not have jurisdiction. Of course this is not the law in Thailand and it is preposterous for these judges to pretend it is so.]

Monson's lawyer Poramet Sutabut said it was impossible for Monson to get the caretaker prime minister to appear in court. [ed. why should this matter? He should be compelled to appear or some reason, such as executive privilege, formally given so that it can be either accepted or rejected by the court. Otherwise Thaksin should be treated as any other criminal suspect in Thailand and arrested by the local police if he refuses to turn himself in voluntarily]

He believed evidence in the hearing commencing next week was overwhelming and proved Thaksin offered false testimony to the court. The chances of the court agreeing to hear the argument were high.

He said Thaksin lied "on numerous occasions" during Monson's embezzlement trial "because he thought he could get away with it".

"That's his habit. What can I say? He's not stupid but he thought he could get away with it," Poramet said.

Thaksin's representative Sombat Chao-wanapreecha played down any political impact.

"I don't know if it will have an impact or not," he said.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thailand decides to kick out most foreigners who stay by doing 'visa runs'

from the Bangkok Post:

Visa rules will be tightened

Maximum stay of 90 days for foreigners

By Chatrudee Theparat

Visa-on-arrival (VOA) regulations will be tightened for nationals of 41 countries to prevent abuse of the privilege and curb the rising number of illegal entries, according to the Immigration Police Bureau (IPB). Foreign nationals from those countries, including the US, China and India, will be able to stay longer but with fewer chances of renewing the VOA. [ed. this is inaccurate. US nationals and the nationals of 40 other countries get 30-day 'entry stamps' which are not visas and not treated the same way in terms of renewal etc by Thai immigration. One can only assume that both VOA (for various 3rd world countries) and 'entry stamp' (for various 1st world countries) will *both* be restricted]

IPB commissioner Suwat Tumrongsiskul [ed. who was last seen 'clowning' for the foreign press during the Ramsey-Karr episode] said nationals from those specific countries are currently allowed to remain in Thailand for 15 days maximum after the VOA is granted. The VOA is normally renewable once. [ed. this applies to the VOA, not the 41 countries which receive 30 day entry stamps on arrival, as noted above. Somehow I'm not surprised that Suwat doesn't know the actual regulations of the department he oversees, or that the Bangkok Post reporters/editors are similarly ignorant].

However, some foreigners including tourists ''tiptoe around the law'' by resorting to so-called visa runs to extend their stay. Most take a bus to a border, check out of the country and then return the same day to have the VOA renewed. [ed. for entry stamps, this is actually the official procedure promoted in writing by staff at Bangkok immigration, since there is no alternative. It is not 'tiptoeing around the law', it is the law.]

They repeat the practice as many times as they wish, affording them almost unlimited stay in the country. The policy is largely intended to serve tourism. [ed. no, the policy is half-assed and exists because nobody in the administation will sit down and craft an equitable long stay law, although the gov has set up a dept to do this]

Pol Lt-Gen Suwat said the change of the VOA rules is in order. [ed. why? and why in this way? is it good for the country? aren't these questions professional reporters and editors would ask?]

In future, foreigners from those 41 countries will be able to stay in the country for 30 days from the first VOA stamp, which will be renewable twice at most, each time for a maximum of 30 days. In other words, a foreigner will be permitted to remain in Thailand for no longer than 90 days in total after three VOA stamps. [ed. again, it's not a VOA stamp, it's an entry stamp w/o visa. The lack of visa is important for many reasons, including making it more difficult to open up a bank account, get a phone line installed, or pretty much do anything other than stay in a hotel while in Thailand on the entry stamp. Funny that even the Thais can't get a handle on the serpentine intricacies of their ridiculous regulations]

The commissioner said the current system is prone to abuse as many foreign nationals make numerous visa runs so they can stay on long term to do business. In some cases, they have gone unregulated, causing social problems. [ed. like what exactly? They are spending their foreign earned income in Thailand, in some cases paying taxes, supporting, and employing Thai people. Even Prime Minster Thaksin has said that the crime rate among foreigners is quite low, especially in comparison to the rate among Thai people. Suwat can change the visa regulations if he wants but he does not and never will have the right to defame foreign residents of Thailand. He should either put up the evidence to back what he's saying or shut the fuck up]

Official figures showed that about 400,000 Chinese nationals were granted a VOA last year, and 18,000 of them have stayed behind. [ed. 4.5%? and what harm have they done? in many cases they have family and businesses here but no rational visa process to address their situation and become legal]

Around 200,000 Indians made VOA visits last year and it was found that 16,000 of them have not left. [ed. again, this does not seem to address the people who are making visa runs and trying to stay within the law. Prohibiting visa runs (a sad recourse in an absurd immigration system) will only force more people to overstay as they have no choice]

Pol Lt-Gen Suwat said the new VOA rules will be put into effect once approved by the Royal Thai Police Office. [ed. the police? Shouldn't these kinds of decisions be handled at the departmental or ministerial level, say by the Ministry of Tourism etc?]

He said more information technology will be employed in the blacklisting system. The IT-operated immigration clearance system is now in use at 15 out of 55 checkpoints nationwide to check in tourists and screen out undesirable individuals. The technology lets the bureau enlarge its database of foreign visitors to identify those on the blacklist and expel them.

Pol Col Ittipol Ittisarnronnachai, head of the Pattaya immigration centre, said its IT-operated database is shared by many hotels and resorts in Pattaya to help track down blacklisted people. The technology has been credited with weakening the local mafia network. [ed. ah, that must be why Pattaya remains such a cesspit of Thai criminals who prey on tourists]

The Betong immigration centre in Yala is also using the system to trace people of dual nationality, some of whom are believed to be behind the southern strife.

Pol Lt-Gen Suwat said more authority to issue visas will be delegated to regional IPB offices.

At present, IPB chief inspectors are authorised to grant visas, and in future their deputies will also be able to approve visa requests. [ed. so does that mean it is back to the 'good old days' of being able to bribe a rural immigration office into giving you a visa? That will surely achieve the purported objectives, yes.]

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thai government: more of the yearly big talk and no action re: protecting Asian elephant

We don't need any new laws to protect Thai elephants. Simply enforce the ones that already exist, such as the one that prohibits elephants from walking the streets of Bangkok so their dirtball 'keepers' can sponge whiskey money off tourists by reselling the same food to the elephant again and again. Two years ago an elephant crushed one of these village boys to death, after said village boy snatched food out of the elephant's mouth. I think that pachyderm should have received a medal.

Elephants may get IDs, more protection

Public opinion will be sought on a proposed new law relating to elephants before a final revision of the draft bill is submitted for parliamentary consideration, the vice minister of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said yesterday [ed. no public opinion is needed, this is a clear cut issue of moral and governmental responsibility. Public opinion is needed for the proposed FTAs and other governmental policies, where it has been disallowed, but not for this]

Noppadol Pattama said the bill, which the ministry has recently drafted, complies with and consolidates about 10 existing elephant-related acts and contains 17 key provisions to protect both wild and domestic elephants. These include controversial new regulations regarding the issue of elephant identification documents and the establishment of a DNA database of the animals.

Under the new law, the birth of a domestic elephant must be reported to the ministry within seven days for an elephant ID card to be issued. If an elephant dies, the owner must report the death to officials within 24 hours. The draft bill also states that a DNA database will be set up when such technology is available in the country.

It has been more than a decade since the government and conservationists first tried to revise all elephant-related laws.

Soraida Salwala, secretary-general of the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation, was happy with the draft bill, saying it closes loopholes in the existing law that only requires elephant owners to register newborn animals within eight years and does not require them to report a death.

She said eight years was long enough for anyone to hunt a wild elephant or falsify information, since it was difficult to check in many cases whether elephants were born in captivity or in the wild.

The bill also covers the process of importing and exporting elephants, as well as measures to provide welfare for the animals.

Noppadol said the ministry was seeking comment from all parties, especially people who had businesses that utilise elephants.

Thai press announces election postponement by running a wire service article

Weird that the official announcement regarding the postponement of the elections would be an Agence-France Presse wire story, not a locally written article. Well, Thai press, what can you expect.

from The Nation:

Elections to be postponed: PM

The elections slated for next month will be postponed, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Saturday, confirming a delay in polls intended to end months of political deadlock.

"It's very likely the election must be postponed. (A delay) is expected because it will take time before the king endorses the new Election Commission," he said.

Senators late Friday selected five new commissioners in the first step towards a new vote.

But officials warned that the election body will not be ready in time and that the polls slated for October 15 will more likely take place at the end of the year.

Any pushback could tip Thailand into a political crisis threatened since last April's elections were invalidated.

Those polls were called three years early by Thaksin to quell demands that he quit.

Thaksin refused Saturday to say for how long the elections would be delayed, saying the government had to meet with the Election Commission before a date could be set.

He also side-stepped questions about the commission selection, which saw three reportedly anti-Thaksin candidates passed over.

A block of 67 senators out of 187 voted for the same five candidates, all of whom are aligned with the government.

"It is not our duty to comment on such matters. It is our duty to comply with the rules and regulations," he told reporters.

One new commissioner, Prapun Naigowit, told Thai television late Friday that he also thought October elections should be postponed to avoid legal problems.

Agence France-Presse

Five more people die as a result of illegal logging in Thailand

A record season of floods caused by illegal logging has been followed by disease in what were once some of Thailand's most beautiful places to live.

This has been going on for a long time, with known consequences. Those behind the illegal logging in the north should be charged with murder.

Swamp fever kills five in Nan

Five people have already died as a result of leptospirosis in the aftermath of the major floods in Nan province.

Dr Pisit Sriprasert, the province's chief health officer, said villagers had become tense and a team of counsellors had been dispatched to alleviate the situation.

Some 43 people are still hospitalised for various reasons.

Pisit urged all rescue volunteers to take anti-bacterial pills, especially people with open wounds. Although some people's wounds have healed, they still need to have injections, especially if exposed to floodwater. The Ministry of Public Health has been deployed to disinfect the area.

Meanwhile, two female students in Phitsanulok province drowned when they fell into a deep canal, which they were unaware of due to nearby flooding.

Water in the area reached heights of 30-50 centimetres and it took one hour for a search team to recover the bodies.

Thai government refuses to address residential noise issues around new airport

Proving that social development is proceeding much more slowly than every other kind of development in Thailand, the TRT government refuses to acknowledge even the most basic standard of living issues such as relentless noise, air, and water pollution faced by its citizens.

from The Nation:

Residents up in arms over noise

Many want AOT help in relocating, or soundproofing their homes

Residents around the new Suvarnabhumi Airport yesterday said they wanted to move away from the unbearable noise and urged Airports of Thailand (AOT) to negotiate with them regarding payments to relocate or Bt1-million compensation for each home to be made soundproof.

The residents - together with the King Mongkut's University of Technology Lat Krabang - appealed for the company to solve the noise and environmental problems before the airport's opening on September 28, and vowed to set up a movement to pressure the company.

Living just one kilometre away from the runway, residents already know from trial flights that they will be affected by the roar of jet engines as aircraft take off and land, resident Suradech Benjakul said. The sound of a jet engine often reaches 120 decibels while the generally acceptable maximum level for human health is 70 decibels.

Suradech said residents needed the company to discuss with them the problems following the airport's opening, when they will have to endure an aircraft arrival or departure every two minutes.

At this stage AOT apparently lacked clear solutions and had no interest in talking with them, he said.

"We want the expropriation payment to be the current market price, or compensation - possibly Bt1 million to each home - for ceiling and wall renovations as well as air-conditioner installation to reduce the impact of the noise," Suradech said.

They also want the government to solve the regular flooding, he said, and with no clear answers for both issues, residents would join the university in a protest on Friday.

Residents may also file complaints with international airlines and media, such as the Far Eastern Economic Review and Times, so that the world would know that Thailand, while boasting of being the aviation hub of Asia, did not care about the effects on the neighbourhood, said resident Jutharat Janthorn.

AOT had earlier said it would pay the university Bt214 million, something that would be discussed by the airport development panel on Wednesday, said the president of the university's lecturer council Pongthip Intakaew.

The university has insisted all along that if it received such compensation, the affected communities should get compensation too, he said.

Thai food exports improve as international quality standards finally recognized

Hmmm, so there are direct economic benefits to doing things to international standards rather than whining and insisting on 'the Thai way'. Who would have thought? And before some ass says that there are more important things than economics, tell that to the 9 yr old girl who was run over at Asoke intersection selling garlands so her brothers could go to school.

from The Nation:

Thai food exports to rise thanks to stepped-up attention to quality

The National Food Institute (NFI) has predicted that the country's export earnings from food will grow by 10.3 per cent next year as a result of improved product quality.

Speaking at the NFI's annual roundtable titled "How the Thai Food Industry Will Survive and Sustain", Yuthasak Supasorn, deputy executive director of the institute, said another factor supporting the growth of overseas sales was the economic recovery of the Kingdom's major markets, including Japan and Europe.

In addition, he said, as a result of disasters in some the country's major trading competitors - China, Taiwan and Vietnam - Thai agricultural products such as rice, tapioca, and vegetable had been exported at good prices.

Yuthasak, however, said there were risk factors that exporters should take into consideration, such as fluctuations in oil prices and the domestic political turmoil.

He added that the costs of international trade, especially transportation, had risen due to high interest rates and rising oil prices.

To handle these risk factors, Yuthasak said the government would set up a

traceability system to control the quality of agricultural products from farmers,

logistics operators and processed-food product manufacturers, through to


Yuthasak added that the main strategy was to emphasise the safety of the manufacturing process and good after-sales service, rather than competing solely on the basis of cheaper prices.

The NFI predicts the volume of food exports in 2007 will reach 25.82 million tonnes, up 9.8 per cent from this year's target of 23.52 million tonnes.

The value of food exports is expected to be Bt607.06 billion next year - a 10.3-per-cent rise over the Bt550.49 billion targeted for this year. For the first half of the year, Thai food exports were worth Bt259 billion, an increase of 5.9 per cent over the same period last year.

Thailand's top five food export markets in the first half were Japan (Bt45.743 billion), the United States (Bt44.984 billion), Europe (Bt37.393 billion), Malaysia (Bt9.874 billion) and Australia (Bt6.817 billion).

Oct 15 Thai election pushed back to early November, supposedly

from The Nation:

EC eyes earliest possible new date

Opposition calls on commissioners to overhaul system to ensure free and fair national poll

Prapan Naikowit, a newly elected member of the Election Commission (EC), said yesterday that he and his colleagues would try to organise the next general election as soon as possible because a free and fair poll will help to solve the protracted political crisis.

However, Prapan - who received the highest number of confirmation votes from the Senate (124) - added that the scheduled poll date of October 15 would have to be delayed because there was not enough preparatory time for the new EC.

"I will consult with the four other commissioners as well as political parties and other related officials on a new date," said Prapan, a former public prosecutor.

"I think we will have to postpone the poll because the legislation for the new election on October 15 came into effect on August 24. According to law, we need to have MP candidates registered for the election within 20 days after August 24.

"That means we will have to complete this by September 12 or else we could face legal problems afterwards."

According to Prapan, all five new EC members will hold their first meeting on September 14 to select a chairman and to outline their tasks and responsibilities.

Besides Prapan, the four other new commissioners are all former Supreme or lower-court judges, namely Apichat Sukhakkanon, Somchai Jungprasert, Sumet Oupanisakorn and Sodsri Satayathum.

The Senate picked these candidates from the final 10 nominees to fill all five vacant seats.

After reorganising the EC, the immediate task is to hold the next election in a free and fair manner, Prapan said.

Earlier, the People's Alliance for Democracy and other anti-Thaksin networks urged the new EC to reorganise the whole agency before holding the next poll.

They said the new election would not be transparent if most of the local EC officials in each of the 400 constituencies nationwide remained unchanged, since they were appointed by the previous chairman and commissioners, who were accused of being "part of the Thaksin regime".

These critics urged the new EC to replace pro-Thaksin election officials with those who are politically impartial.

However, Prapan said such a reorganisation will take several months and was not yet practical because the new EC needed to hold the election first.

Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra believed the new election would be held by the end of November.

He said the new election decree could be royally endorsed and become effective by October 1. As the law requires that an election be held within 60 days of the decree becoming effective, the new election should take place by the end of November, he added.

Chuan Leekpai, chairman of the opposition Democrat Party, said the new EC would have to do their utmost to ensure a fair election.

"I hope the new commissioners will be able to prevent election fraud and irregularities because the last poll was said to be dishonest," he said.

"I guess the Thaksin regime and its political influence is still evident, as seen in the Senate votes for the new EC members.

"Still, all five new commissioners are good guys, but they will have to work hard. They need to understand new fraudulent techniques and introduce preventative measures."

the criminal politician class in Thailand and its complaints about unfair press coverage

snippet of a nice editorial from The Nation:

Considering the vast sums that politicians can make, luxuriating in wealth that might make a sultan blush, it might be churlish to suggest that the government is only getting the press it deserves, but let's allow it anyway. One can imagine Cabinet ministers sitting in the backs of high priced Mercs on gridlocked roads, reading The Nation and the Bangkok Post and shuddering at the indignity of it all.

It's a reality that these days emotions and feelings count for more than even a passing nod to any objectivity. In more confident times this wouldn't be a problem. After all, many of us our ignorant of our own ignorance and it doesn't disturb us a bit. But indifference is no longer a defence.

The fact is, a shade over five years have turned Thai politics into a train crash. A looted one at that. It is vulnerable to derision. That's why the pro-Thaksin radio shows doctor the truth for their supporters' consumption. Your opinion matters, as long as you agree. If you don't, the delivery is spittle flecked, venomous, scary. It's like watching two winos fight: bloody and not much skill involved.

And if the elections aren't held within a month a fellow called Noppruj Worachitwuthikil has promised to set fire to himself in front of the Election Commission's office. One can only admire his restraint. And our need for entertainment.

Thailand needs better-educated citizens, kids need better-educated parents and we all deserve a better calibre of leadership. As the old Italian proverb has it: Governments are like underwear. They need to changed often and for the same


Thai chains surprised that anti-big store legislation will apply to them too, not just foreigners

from The Nation:

Central surprised local retail giants are also restricted

A senior department store executive yesterday spoke out against the government's clampdown on big retail operators, calling it "bizarre", rushed and unfair.

"It's kind of strange to include shopping mall operators like us [Central, The Mall Group, and Robinson] on the list of retailers that are required to limit their expansion," said Likit Fahpyochon, executive vice president of Central Retail Corp Ltd.

The Commerce Ministry should focus instead on those retailers that really disturb local, traditional shops, rather than label all "modern" trade as troublemakers, he said.

The three shopping-centre chains always gave more serious consideration than other types of retailers to planning the opening of an outlet in any area to ensure that it did not stir up trouble with long-standing community businesses, he said.

Each branch is also usually large, so it's not easy to add new stores lightly.

Likit said he was still not clear on which type of retailers the ministry really wants to control.

Late last month the ministry set temporary measures to rein in modern retailers' expansion moves nationwide in an effort to help mom-and-pop stores survive.

The ministry has asked for cooperation from 15 retailers to sign a memorandum of understanding tomorrow that imposes two main requirements.

First, the retailers have to stop all their current expansion plans, including projects that are already under construction.

Second, the retailers have to hold public hearings and get the agreement of all concerned organisations and people in all regions where they want to locate new branches.

Likit said Central hadn't received any form of request from the ministry yet for

the memorandum. If the ministry really sends the request to the company tomorrow, Central would want to clarify the issue before signing anything, he said.

And Central already has a plan to meet caretaker Deputy Commerce Minister Preecha Laohapongchana at 2pm

tomorrow with other members of the Thai Retailers Association to make their views known

about unfair treatment in the enforcement of "eight guidelines" on what retailers should do in running their businesses.

The ministry and other organisations - including the Consumer Protection Board, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Board of Trade of Thailand - as well as various scholars came up with the guidelines without discussing them with the association beforehand, Likit said.

Both the two main points stipulated in the memorandum and the "eight guidelines" would cause all sorts of problems for retailers who have already received government approval for their expansion plans or are in the midst of construction, he said.

The ministry should think of how the memorandum and the "eight guidelines" impact

the retailers and other businesses that work with them in the expansion plans, including construction companies, in terms of financial loss and who would take responsibility for that, he added.

Students' safety risked in rush to open airport

fresh on the heels of the school milk scandal, here's another example of Thai style caring. Gosh, it's good to keep the foreigners out by passing racist anti-foreigner legistlation, they'd be so much worse to Thai people than Thais are, right?

from The Nation:

Students' safety 'risked in rush to open airport'

College claims government ignored plea for Bt1.02 bn to address noise impact

The safety and welfare of thousands of students at Thailand's leading college is being ignored in the rush to open nearby Suvarnabhumi Airport, claim college executives.

Siriwat Bhothivejjakul, deputy rector of King Mongkut Institute of Technology, Lad Krabang, said the government had rushed the opening of the airport, even though environmental and security problems facing the college and its students have yet to be solved.

The institute's 12-storey building has not been fitted with an obstruction light to warn aircraft, while another 22 buildings that would be severely affected by high-level noise from aircraft landing and taking off have not been sound-proofed.

"About 100 of our buildings need to be modified to prevent noise and quake problems from the airport, which is located only 3-4 kilometres from us," Siriwat said.

The institute had asked Airports of Thailand (AOT) to set a budget of Bt1.02 billion to solve the problems, but it had been ignored, Siriwat said.

In February, the government resolved to pay a first instalment of Bt214 million, but the academy has not received the money, although the airport is going to open on September 28.

Siriwat said each time the institute consulted the government about other possible effects, it would simply set up a committee which failed to take any action. He said the formation of more than 100 committees had failed to solve the problems.

"If the airport is opened without these problems being solved, the opening would go against the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation," Siriwat said.

"The institute plans to gather students and residents in the affected area to protest about the airport opening and to petition the Administrative Court."

Somchai Sawasdeepon, general manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport, said the Bt214 million payment to the college was being processed.

He pledged the airport would look after all organisations, institutes and people affected by the airport during construction and after its opening.

But Siriwat said even if the money was paid today, it would be impossible to modify the college buildings before the airport opened. The institute would have to spend at least two or three months on the work.

An institute source studying the airport's environmental effects said the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning had called on the AOT to clarify the reasons for its delay in taking action to prevent environmental effects following the environmental impact assessment.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Thai companies resort to 3rd world thuggery when cash and accountability don't mix

Thailand has pulled off an amazing public relations coup for many years, portraying itself as an 'attractive' market for foreign investment. The reality is that this is far from the truth, as many expat employees of international companies find out.

some snippets from from a Business Week article that appeared during the same period as the Michael Wansley sugar mill murder:

Desperate Thai companies will stop at almost nothing to thwart foreign intervention

It's 8 p.m., and Anthony Norman has called it quits for the day. A bodyguard concealing a handgun beneath his pinstripe suit escorts him to the elevator, where a second man waits. The three descend 23 floors to the basement garage. The guards make sure no assassin is lurking behind a pillar. One bundles Norman, 50, into the back of a maroon Mercedes 300E, then climbs in front to ride shotgun. The other, in a second car, brings up the rear as they pull onto Bangkok's busy Sathorn Road.

The man at the wheel of Norman's car is a Thai cop trained by the Australian Special Air Services commando unit. He keeps a wary eye out for suspicious-looking motorcycles that might be carrying gunmen. If one pulls alongside, Norman is trained to grab a bulletproof vest and use it to block the flying lead. Mindful that a Thai hit man will take a life for $800, he flashes a small smile: ''I protect myself.'' [ed. can you imagine living like this? Doing business in Thailand is a joke]

Anthony Norman is an accountant. He works for Ferrier Hodgson, an Australian firm that specializes in restructuring the debt of profligate companies. It's easy to see why Norman wants someone to watch his back. His firm is wielding the hatchet in Thailand's biggest financial restructuring, the $3.7 billion debt workout of Thai Petrochemical Industries. In December, Norman replaced TPI's founder, Prachai Leophairatana, as acting chief executive. While Norman has not received any death threats, one can't be too careful. Two years ago, an Australian auditor was murdered while looking into creative accounting at a Thai sugar mill.

Welcome to Thailand's Debt Wars. On one side are the foreign accounting firms, of which Norman's is by far the most active: To date, Ferrier Hodgson has handled more than $10 billion worth of debt restructurings at Thai companies (table, page 22). Competitors at the Big Five accountancies are catching up fast. Last month, PricewaterhouseCoopers clinched the $1 billion debt-workout plan for the Bangkok Skytrain.

Pitted against the foreign number-crunchers are companies like TPI, whose founder, Prachai, has tried just about everything to thwart his creditors--from accusing the Finance Minister of conspiring with the International Monetary Fund against him to suing Ferrier Hodgson for embezzlement on the grounds that it is billing TPI for Norman's bodyguards. (Prachai did not respond to requests for an interview and did not answer faxed questions.)

COZY AGREEMENTS. The Invasion of the Accountants is a slap in the face for Thailand Inc. Until the crisis, few Thai companies had to endure outside scrutiny. The concept of bankruptcy didn't exist. Bank loans were sealed with a handshake, and cozy relationships between bankers and their blue-chip clients ensured that loans would be automatically rolled over if the debtor couldn't service them for some reason.

The 1997-98 financial meltdown changed all that. And no one was harder hit than Prachai. He founded TPI in 1978, and by 1994 had plans to build it into Southeast Asia's first fully integrated petrochemical company. This involved spending billions on a sophisticated plant that breaks down semi-crude oil into compounds used to produce plastic, rubber, and lubricants. To bring in raw materials, he invested in wharf and handling facilities on Thailand's eastern seaboard. And to provide a steady supply of electricity, Prachai built a 100-megawatt power plant. TPI even opened its own gas stations.

By 1996, the company was poised to take advantage of economies of scale for both products and sources of supplies. ''There were fundamental reasons behind what they did; it made a lot of sense,'' says Maria Lapiz, a senior analyst with SG Securities in Bangkok. ''But they borrowed too much. That's the prime reason the whole thing failed. Had there been no crisis, this wouldn't have happened.''

After the crash, Prachai tried to appease his creditors by putting a cement company on the block. But he was asking far more than what the plant was worth, and it became clear that his notion of debt restructuring was not going to fly with his creditors. Prachai's strategy seems to have been to halt loan payments, drag out the process, and hope that the loans would be forgiven. In all of this, his main aim was to keep control of TPI. Many Thai companies did the same.

When the Asian economic boom was at its peak, foreign lenders arrived by the planeload offering Thai companies loans, often doing only cursory due diligence. Later, Prachai and other Thai industrialists, with some justification, held outsiders responsible for their plight. But as Prachai and his ilk played the blame game, the debt mess worsened, putting pressure on the banks and the rest of the economy. Fearing further economic damage, the government amended the bankruptcy law in 1998. This was a major breakthrough, but it had limitations. Before they can force a debtor company to accept a planner, creditors must prove insolvency in the courts--a process that can take years, especially when the debtor refuses to cooperate.

COERCION. As a result, indebted companies often must be coerced by the new bankruptcy court into restructuring. ''The bank doesn't want to take a haircut, and the owner doesn't want to lose the company,'' says the Thai director of a U.S.-owned venture-capital firm who says he has received death threats for his role in a debt workout. ''And these are politically connected people, so it's difficult to get things moving.''

The need to get things moving has become even more pressing since the Jan. 6 election of telecom tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra as Prime Minister. He has proposed setting up a national asset-management corporation to take over bad loans and revising investment laws to make it harder for foreigners to buy distressed assets. ''If they do this, people will say, 'let's invest somewhere else,''' says outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi, who in September will become chief of the World Trade Organization. ''This won't bring us more credibility in the international community.''

Given the unwillingness of Thai executives to move aggressively, the burden has fallen on foreign lenders to play bad cop. That's where auditors like Anthony Norman come into the picture. His success at sorting out TPI could determine whether or not Thailand stays the course in cleaning up its mess. It's a dangerous job, but someone has to do it.

Needing 24-hour protection was the last thing Norman expected when he flew to Thailand in September, 1997. Bangkok Bank had hired Ferrier Hodgson to help it recover more than $600 million in loans from TPI. Back then, Thailand's biggest lender didn't even have a debt-recovery department; Ferrier Hodgson sent Norman to help it set one up. He promised his wife he would be home by Christmas.

''A LOT OF SOCIAL STRAIN.'' By the spring of 1998, Norman's wife and son had joined him in Bangkok. Ferrier Hodgson had opened a permanent office and was fast becoming a leading player in Thailand's burgeoning debt-workout business. Founded in Sydney in 1977, the firm made its name working with deadbeat borrowers during Australia's early-'90s recession.

Part of Norman's job was to get basic data on TPI's assets and liabilities. He quickly realized there was no point trying to bully the company's founder, Prachai. In the U.S. and Europe, creditors play hardball, but the Thais have no such tradition. ''If you gave creditors the same bargaining power as in the West,'' explains Thai Farmers Bank President Banthoon Lamsam, ''there would be a lot of social strain.''

The strain was clearly showing in March, 1999, when Michael Wansley, an Australian accountant who worked for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, was gunned down near Nakhon Sawan, a town 240 km north of Bangkok. Wansley had been on his way to inspect bookkeeping irregularities at a sugar mill owned by Kaset Thai Co. His murder sent shudders through the accounting industry. Later, as Norman tangled with Prachai, he wondered if a TPI factory worker might think he was ''doing his boss a favor by getting me out of the way.''

After Wansley's murder, many foreign firms introduced sensitivity training to ensure that staff treated the Thais with respect. Norman, a burly but soft-spoken man, knew better than to be confrontational as he set about persuading Prachai to open the books. Norman says Prachai was never hostile, but he was obstructionist, keeping Norman hanging around, for example, in the anteroom to his office. One day, after he got tired of waiting for a scheduled meeting, Norman left. Downstairs, he saw Prachai's Mercedes 500E in the parking lot. ''A few minutes later [Prachai] called to say he was stuck in traffic,'' says Norman. ''We used to have these kinds of games.''

On another occasion, Norman sent a subordinate to check TPI's books. First, TPI wouldn't hand over the keys to the secure document room, and when it finally did, the auditor received keys for the filing cabinets--but not for the door. Such stalling happened elsewhere, too. Deloitte partner Hugh Mosley was hired to work on the books of a cash-strapped auto-parts maker. ''We'd be locked in a windowless room with no access to staff and be handed papers one at a time,'' he recalls. ''It was impossible to make a link between them and the factory itself.''

Throughout the TPI saga, Prachai fretted about his reputation. His creditors urged him to publicly declare TPI insolvent, but pride stopped him. Finally, on Mar. 15, 2000, the Central Bankruptcy Court ordered a debt workout to begin, and five weeks later, TPI's 150 creditors chose Ferrier Hodgson's subsidiary, Effective Planners, to oversee it.

Norman's first task was to get the creditors to agree on a debt-workout strategy, a process that is always arduous because each lender has its own agenda. Ferrier Hodgson's staff spent half their time flying to meet with TPI's far-flung creditors. These included not only Thai lenders such as Bangkok Bank and state-owned Thai Krung Bank but also global giants such as International Finance Corp. (the World Bank's investment arm), Citibank, and Bank of America. While foreign lenders were less concerned about stepping on toes, Thai creditors were leery of shaming one of their own in a society where bankruptcy isn't mentioned in polite circles.

Under Norman's workout proposal, the creditors would convert about $756 million in unpaid interest into a 75% stake in TPI, reducing the Leophairatana family holdings from 60% to 15%. The idea must have horrified Prachai. Norman recalls him saying things like ''If you make me eat poison, I'll make you eat it, too.'' While Prachai continued publicly to express optimism, Norman says he wasn't so sanguine in private, and recalls Prachai asking him: ''If you get control of the company, you're going to get rid of me, aren't you?'' Norman says he replied: ''Of course.''

DRIPPING FANGS. On Nov. 15, the day before creditors were to vote on Norman's rehabilitation plan, he met with 3,000 TPI employees to explain things. It didn't go well. When Norman got up to talk, the mike was turned off, and when he did speak the crowd heckled him. The next day, he pulled his staff out of TPI facilities. Meanwhile, thousands of TPI employees converged on the convention center where the creditors were set to vote, brandishing banners depicting Norman as a vampire with dripping fangs. ''Norman the bloodsucker,'' the signs declared. The vote was postponed for 10 days, but in the end the creditors approved Effective Planners' four-year blueprint.

Norman suffered Prachai's increasingly frantic maneuvers with his customary stoicism. ''I'm rather fortunate that I've always been able to switch on and off,'' he says, ''though in this job it's more difficult than any other.'' After work, Norman unwound by spending time with his six-year-old son, tossing around a rugby ball and stargazing. ''I get lost in parentalism,'' he says. ''I indulge in simple, worthwhile things.''

On Dec. 14, Prachai tried and failed to have the bankruptcy judges disqualified, paving the way for Norman to become TPI's acting CEO. His job has really only just begun. TPI still must be rehabilitated, after all. The company needs to borrow money so it can boost crude-oil consumption at its refinery from 60,000 to 110,000 barrels a day. Norman plans to raise up to $200 million this year by selling off the power plant, water-treatment facility, and part of the cement factory. He says that TPI will be able to retire another $900 million in debt over the next four years thanks to cash flow that, he expects, will hit $640 million in 2003.

And he still has Prachai to contend with. The dogged Thai continues to show up at his old office and has been posting notices in the elevators telling staff he's still in charge. In mid-January, Prachai made a last-ditch attempt to regain control of the company, filing an appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the bankruptcy decision. A ruling isn't expected until later this month. That's a hassle because it's preventing Norman from getting the loans that TPI needs. Norman compares Prachai to a man who doesn't realize the battle is over. ''He still hears guns and thinks he's winning the war.''

Of course, not all Thai executives are so hard to deal with. Consider Ferrier Hodgson's client SVOA PLC, Thailand's largest PC retailer. An exclusive distributor for Epson and Acer Inc., SVOA sank under $190 million in debt when the baht collapsed in 1997. Management voluntarily met with creditors and admitted a diversification into real estate had been unwise. The creditors got 90% of the equity, but at least the company kept operating. ''Now, we make sure every single penny is [spent] on core business,'' says Vira Intanete, chief operating officer of IT distribution. ''Ferrier Hodgson enhanced the discipline in our organization.''

Unfortunately, SVOA is the exception. Few of the thousands of troubled Thai corporations have been able to reorganize and start over with clean balance sheets. True, nonperforming loans on corporate and bank ledgers have declined from 44% of all loans in 1998 to 22% today. But that's mostly because so much debt has been shifted into government-run asset management corporations, where it is sold for a fraction of its value or written off.

Even successful restructurings cause long-term problems. Banks end up holding most of the equity in companies that lack the management expertise to save them. ''The tradition of owners and management being the same makes the transition difficult,'' says Chumpol NaLamlieng, president of Siam Cement Public Co. ''And because of language and cultural barriers, it's not easy to bring expats in.''

More troubling is the fact that some companies are again not servicing their debts: They cling to the belief that they can grow their way out of trouble and pay their creditors off later. ''I don't know if it's reckless optimism or denial,'' says Norman. Either way, it seems he and his firm will have work for years to come.

Triggermen in Michael Wansley murder case finally sentenced after 7 years of constant pressure from Australian government

No explanation as to why they did it leaves the question open as to who was really behind the murder.

from The Nation:

Death penalty for Michael Wansley's murderers

Criminal Court delivered death penalties on two men on Tuesday for murdering an Australian auditor, Michael Wansley in Nakhon Sawan province in 1999.

The Court found that Somchoke Suthiviriwan and Sompong Buasakoon guilty of planned murder Wansley in March 1999.

Wansley, 58 at the time of his death, was travelling to a sugar mill in Nakhon Sawan when two men on a motorcycle pulled alongside his van and shot him dead.

Wansley, an employee of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, had been hired by the banking creditors of the Kaset Thai Sugar Co to help address the firm's Bt17.1-billion debt.

The Court acquitted the mill's owner, Pradit Siriviriyakul, who was initially charged with masterminding the murder, because of lack of evidence.

Australia had complained in 2003 of what it called tardiness in the slow investigations and trial into the murder. At that time, police was still only at the stage of interrogating state witness.

Thai government responds to teacher shortage by offering minimum wage salaries

The minimum wage is actually 6,000 baht a month (USD 150). The current proposal is to pay new teachers about USD 175 a month, which is a very low wage, even for Thailand, and about what totally unskilled labor makes.

Another interesting fact is that if you crunch the numbers, there's some slack in the proposed budget to the tune of approx. 36 million baht, which is almost one million US dollars. Since that only comes out to about 4,500 per teacher, you could say that's earmarked for recruitment or overtime pay, but this being Thailand, I don't think so.

Also begs the question of why this new budget allocation is needed, simply to replace current teachers who are retiring.

Finally, I suppose the purpose of the scheme is to encourage senior teachers to retire, making way for new teachers who can be paid an embarassingly low wage.

Note no discussion of checking police records or qualifications, despite a recent pedophile scandal involving Thai teachers. I suppose that sort of thing is only directed at foreigners.

Cabinet approves Bt786 million for hiring teachers

The caretaker Cabinet Tuesday approved Bt786.4 million for hiring 8,180 temporary teachers for 12 months, Deputy Government Spokeswoman Sansanee Nakpong said.

She said the 8,180 teaches would be hired on temporary basis at the salary of Bt7,630 per month for 12 months.

The teachers would be hired by the Office of the Basic Education Commission.

The temporary teachers will be hired to tackle the teacher shortage following early retirement programme.

and here's a good letter from today's The Nation, which just happens to address the same issue:

Education undermined by class sizes, low pay for teachers

Two fundamental factors that undermine education in Thai schools are student-teacher ratios and teacher compensation. Implementing the following two policies would improve the quality of education drastically and quickly. First, limit the student-teacher ratio to a maximum of 25 students per teacher per class, which would thus not require a teaching assistant. Increase starting salaries of teachers to at least Bt12,000 per month up to a maximum of Bt35,000, based on seniority and performance, plus health and retirement benefits and regular professional enrichment activities, such as seminars, training, observation visits, etc.

Of all the investments any government at any level can make that will yield the greatest possible return to society as a whole and increase tax revenues, education ranks first. "Free" public education should mean exactly that: all costs covered. The current government claims public education is free, but it is not. Parents must pay all kinds of charges and costs.

Teachers have huge classes, probably averaging nationwide - especially in cities - for both public and private Thai schools from 40-60 students per teacher per class. How can a teacher get to know each student, give each student an opportunity to ask and answer questions or permit students to engage in classroom exchanges among themselves? The only choice a teacher has with such huge classes is to lecture as fast as they can go, trying to cover all the material in the course syllabus. How fatigued and demoralised the teachers must be. A ratio of 25 students to one teacher, while still high, does dramatically change the educational experience for both the teacher and the student.

Many teachers must work outside the school to make enough money just to survive, because their salaries are so low. Paid properly, they could be available after class hours to help students and guide extracurricular activities. This would virtually eliminate the need for tutorial schools and give Thai children a chance for a real childhood.