Can we eradicate political influence on elections?

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

December 23, 2016 01:00
By Piyaporn Wongruang
The Nation

Trailblazer Germany offers insights into switch to ‘green’ energy

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

Sebastian Zoepp, chief executive of sustainable development network Spreeakademie, explains about Germany’s Federal Mining Act at Vattenfall’s lignite mine in Cottbus Nord, Germany.

A lignite mine is still in active in Lusatia, a mining region since the mid-19th century.

A wind turbine in Drehnow, Brandenburg.

December 20, 2016 01:00
By The Nation

Mourning for our beloved King is not a contest

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation


October 18, 2016 07:53

Farmers shouldn’t have to sacrifice their land to save Bangkok from floods

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation


A resident in Ayutthaya's Bang Ban district whose house is flooded by the overflow of the Chao Phraya rushes to move his family's belongings up to the second floor to avoid damage.

A resident in Ayutthaya’s Bang Ban district whose house is flooded by the overflow of the Chao Phraya rushes to move his family’s belongings up to the second floor to avoid damage.

Fears of more flooding in the Chao Phraya Basin have subsided for now after the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) announced that water levels in the river had fallen since the beginning of the week.

Pressure has eased on the Chao Phraya Dam in Chai Nat province, which regulates the flow of the channel as it sweeps across the plains to Bangkok and into the sea in Samut Prakan province.

However, the RID added that, since a depression was forecast, it would not be lowering its guard by cutting the rate of discharge from the dam. That rate stands at nearly 2,300 cubic metres of water per second, which gives the RID drainage capacity to handle increased upstream flow in the coming days. However, it also means that people living in low-lying areas downstream will continue to endure flooding that has inundated their communities for nearly a month now.

These include at least seven districts in Chai Nat running south to Ayutthaya, where thousands of residents are living amid floods.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha revealed the Cabinet had approved a proposal from the Agricultural and Cooperatives Ministry to compensate flood-affected farmers at a rate of Bt3,000 per household.

More interesting was his mention of consideration of aid for residents living in areas of “sacrifice” – low-lying places surrendered up to the rising waters so that downstream areas could be saved.

Prayut pleaded for understanding over the government’s flood-compensation scheme, pointing out it could not cover every victim everywhere.

He went on to explain the need for “sacrifice”:

“If [low-lying area] need to be sacrificed, then sacrifice. … We need to have an understanding about this, otherwise how can we get enough money to compensate [victims] as wished?”

Prayut‘s words were blunt, but the message was in keeping with the public’s general view of flood-susceptible lowlands and their residents. However, that perception is too static and fails to take into account how changes in land use and lifestyle – many of them a result of government policy – have increased the risk of flooding for many Thais.

The low-lying plains that sweep from Chai Nat down to Rangsit, above Bangkok, have long been the country’s rice bowl and enjoy the most sophisticated irrigation system. As a result, farmers here have invested heavily in growing huge volumes of rice for export, which means that water is trapped in fields and no longer flows freely through the province as it did in the past. Meanwhile their villages have turned into towns of concrete and modern housing, making them as prone to flood damage as Bangkok.

The idea that these areas are low-lying and so should naturally suffer the brunt of flooding is apparently a false discourse invented as a false justification to continue such unfair treatment for the self-preservation of those living downstream. It allows us to explain away the tears and suffering of low-income farmers as inevitable.

If some people have to sacrifice in the name of others’ interests, they really deserve much better treatment than what offered with such indifference and fault justification like it is now.

A leader must be held accountable for the actions of his team

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Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seems to be enjoying a brief respite from headaches over controversies involving people close to him.

For the past few weeks has faced criticism over the actions of his younger brother General Preecha Chan-o-cha and of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

As Defence Ministry permanent secretary, Preecha was linked with the appointment of his son as an Army officer and also the use of an Air Force plane to transport his wife and entourage to the opening ceremony for a dyke in Chiang Mai that had been named after her.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) concluded that no wrongdoing had occurred in either case. Meanwhile investigations into the Defence Ministry’s funding of the dyke and the Third Army Area’s awarding of construction contracts to Preecha’s other son are still ongoing.

Prawit has been dogged by criticism over the Bt21-million bill for his chartered flight to Hawaii for an unofficial meeting between US Defence Secretary Ash Carter and his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). The OAG is among several government agencies that have declared there were no irregularities in chartering a THAI Boeing 747 for a delegation of just 38 people.

However, despite assurances from officialdom and even some independent organisations, widespread suspicion lingers that power has been abused in these cases. The critics are reluctant to place their trust in people who destroyed the normal scrutinising mechanisms when they seized power.

Supporters of the post-coup government seem to place Prayut above the controversies, insisting he remains untainted by association.

The controversies include the scandal over alleged kickbacks in the construction of the military’s Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin, for which then-Army chief Udomdej Sitabutr took all the blame.

Meanwhile Prawit was also caught up in alleged irregularities in the War Veterans Organisation when his name was cited by people demanding rake-offs from contractors. The controversies involving Preecha focused exclusively on him and his family members.

All have denied committing any wrongdoing. And Prayut has made it clear that he is not keen in finding fault with any of them.

Supporters have called on Prayut, in his capacity as prime minister and head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), to be decisive and remove problematic figures from his government. The PM’s admirers suggest he should “replace players in order to protect the team”. They seem to remain convinced that Prayut himself is an honest leader with integrity.

They need to be reminded that the PM requires the help of those around him. A large group of people, both civilians and military, aided him in seizing power in 2014. And he still needs those people to help run the government. As such, he cannot afford to take action that risks upsetting this group and undermining his regime’s stability. We cannot expect him to punish the very people he relies on for power.

The leader cannot be viewed separately from his team. The truth is they are all in this together.

Jack Ma arrives bearing lessons for Thailand’s digital economy

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation



Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and China’s richest businessman, imparted valuable lessons to Thai policymakers and entrepreneurs on how to develop the digital economy during his visit to Bangkok to attend Monday’s Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) conference.

Ma says small and medium-sized enterprises have the potential to dominate the global economy in the 21st century. Over the past decades, globalisation and new technology have mainly benefited big companies.

Now it’s time to harness these tools for the benefit of a younger generation that has the potential to create new and innovative businesses to drive the global economy.

Ma also cited the revival of the ancient Silk Road trade route as the equivalent of forging a new “E-Road” for small businesses.

Over the next three decades, digital and other technologies will be further mobilised to create new trading, manufacturing, financial and other ventures capitalising on the availability of so-called Big Data, which Ma identifies as an invaluable resource for nations.

Over the past 15 years, China’s e-commerce has grown by leaps and bounds, surpassing the combined value of business handled by major e-commerce sites in the United States, where traditional retail outlets still take up considerable market space. In contrast Chinese consumption growth is more and more being driven by online transactions.

To follow China’s example in this evolution, Ma said that other countries must lay down a competitive infrastructure for the digital economy as well as an effective funding ecosystem for entrepreneurs.

In the case of China, Ma’s Alibaba has played a leading role as a facilitator of banking and funding services for SMEs. To date, the financial and lending units of Alibaba have served more than three million small Chinese firms with business loans worth a combined US$60 billion.

Internet technology is a great enabler in this case, allowing each online loan transaction to be completed within three minutes.

As the Thai government has launched its digital economy and society initiative, Ma suggests that citizens under 30 years of age and companies with fewer than 30 employees need to embrace the technology in a big way while national education needs to highlight creativity as well as innovation to stay relevant in the new global economy.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who hosted a meeting with Ma, asked the Chinese billionaire to consider Thailand as a global trading centre for its vast e-commerce and online business empire.

The Prayut government is also launching the Prompt Pay service to kick-start Thailand’s electronic payment system, which will initially support the government’s payment of welfare and other funds.

The Prompt Pay infrastructure, which works along with commercial banks’ e-payment and mobile banking services, will serve as a springboard to support the country’s emerging e-commerce and online transactions as businesses move towards a combination of offline and online channels.

According to the Bank of Thailand, the numbers of Internet and mobile banking accounts have grown rapidly in the past years and today total nearly 30 million nationwide, thanks to Thailand’s high adoption rate of smartphones.

Overall, our nation has much to learn from other countries’ experience, with that of China’s Alibaba among the most notable.

Thai auto industry not ready for EV revolution

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation


Thai authorities have put the cart before the horse when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs). Excited by the huge potential of the new technology, they have neglected the structural economic changes necessary to its realisation here.

The Thailand Development Research Institute recently cautioned against the policy of support “pure” rather than hybrid EVs, saying the country is not yet ready.

The Finance Ministry is set to waive customs tax on imported Evs, for which excise tax could also be cut to 5-10 per cent of the vehicle’s price.

Meanwhile, the Board of Investment on Monday responded to the government policy to promote EVs with a plan to hand EV-related businesses an eight-year tax exemption.

The government aims to stimulate the demand side first before turning its focus to boosting supply.

The EV sector has been hailed as a potential new “S-curve” industry for Thailand, featuring innovation and high technology that help boost the economy and replace traditional sectors that are now flagging.

Following the government’s lead on EV, firms have flocked to jump into a likely “blue ocean” of new market space.

PTT, the largest oil and gas conglomerate, has set a target of 20 charging stations for electric vehicles by next year, adding to the foru already open. Another Thai company representing a group of auto-part producers recently joined hands with a leading EV maker in China to import electric buses. And a high-rise condominium developer will open a charging station at its new condo project by the end of the year.

Besides the private firms, Bangkok Mass Transit Authority plans to introduce 200 EV buses into its fleet as a pilot project.

Electric cars tower over their petrol and diesel counterparts when it comes to eco-friendliness, efficiency and savings on oil imports.

More importantly, recent technological advances have made them affordable and convenient to use, with batteries that last 300-400 kilometres per charge.

Recently, the market was stunned by Volkswagen’s launch of an EV concept called “ID” that will produce a car capable of running 600km on one charge and costing around US$30,000.

This follows news that US electric-car-maker Tesla has orders for more than 400,000 vehicles at $35,000 each.

The industry could be a major weapon in the battle against global warming. It could also reduce Thailand’s dependence on fossil fuels, translating into impressive savings.

The government, however, appears to be neglecting the research and development that must be our first priority if EV is to become a pillar of the Thai economy.

One crucial challenge to be addressed is identifying the electric vehicles best suited to Thai users and producers.

The battery is the heart of an electric vehicle, but it would replace more than 200 auto parts that need to be produced for conventional cars. As such we must study the impact of EV production on small-to-medium suppliers in the auto-parts industry. Does the government have a contingency plan in place?

Without such preparations, the government risks missing its target of 1.2 million EVs on the road by 2036, or else the target could be met but the economic returns could be meagre.

More turbulence, but junta on autopilot

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation




Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has been mired in a series of controversies involving people close to him.

Two weeks ago, critics queried possible conflicts of interest involving his younger brother, General Preecha Chan-o-cha, after his nephew’s construction company won lucrative contracts from the Army, and Preecha’s wife stirred controversy by riding an Air Force plane to the opening ceremony of a publicly funded dyke named after her. Preecha has since announced his retirement as Defence Ministry permanent secretary.

Critics have asked whether the PM is applying the same standards in these cases as are being used to curb offences by his political opponents.

Yet another headache for Prayut came this week with news that a delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan had spent Bt20.9 million chartering a plane to attend an informal meeting in Hawaii.

The Defence Ministry scrambled to explain the size of the bill, claiming that the itemised details published by the Comptroller General’s Department were “average prices” and did not reflect the actual cost of the trip, which was lower.

Chartering a Thai Airways International Boeing 747 was necessary because there was no direct flight to Hawaii available, while using an Air Force plane would have meant extra time needed for refuelling. With a busy schedule, the defence minister needed to keep his trip as short as possible, said the Defence Ministry spokesman.

The explanation for the food bill of more than Bt15,000 per head was that Thai Airways charged the same rate for the 38-member delegation as they would for a Boeing 747 fully loaded with 416 passengers.

General Prawit added that the trip was for work, not pleasure.

The explanations failed to dispel widespread suspicion that Prawit and his entourage had indulged in the kind of lavish spending of taxpayers’ money by politicians that the junta had vowed to clamp down on.

The Hawaii forum was informal, with no deals or agreements on the table. In the past such meetings have drawn Thai delegations of fewer than 10 members. Suspicions rose further when the agencies involved refused to identify those on the plane with Prawit, citing reasons of security.

In contrast, Prime Minister Prayut led a much smaller delegation to the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York, an official meeting where much was achieved.

Questions are also being asked over whether the Prawit delegation needed to fly direct to Hawaii. If his group had been smaller, there would have been no need to charter a flight in the first place.

Prayut‘s Cabinet had earlier ordered government officials to book economy-class seats for their official trips, a move which earned widespread praise.

However, the case involving Prawit suggests that members of the government’s inner circle are exempt from the drive to save taxpayers’ money.

The storm looks set to blow over, judging from the stands being taken by Prayut and Prawit. The PM has said that those who remain dissatisfied with the official explanations may take the case to court. The defence minister said he had nothing further to add on the matter.

But the controversy adds to a growing current of public dissatisfaction and frustration against Prayutand the National Council for Peace and Order. Faith in their authority is being undermined by actions within the government, which could have serious repercussions for the road ahead.

‘Lao are lazy’: The problem with ‘Thai superiority’

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation


It happens on a daily basis all across Thailand. The casual insults come from a sense of superiority ingrained since school days: “Thais are better than their neighbours, the Lao.”

The insults usually don’t reach Lao ears and so are rarely challenged.

Last week, however, a Thai photographer was forced to apologise for a defamatory remark he made while covering the Vientiane Moto Expo.

“Damn, they’re so Lao”, he posted on Facebook, referring to pictures taken at the event by his Lao colleagues.

Typical of Thais of all professions, he thought his work was far superior to anything his neighbours could produce.

By using “Lao” as a synonym for inferior, he was insulting not just the people of that country but also the millions in Thailand’s Northeast, who share the same cultural roots.

Shortly after the post went up, the Lao social media erupted in protest.

“This is not the first time. The insults have been coming for a long time. Thais always look down on Lao,” wrote popular news website “Why do ethnic Lao, particularly those living in Isaan, have to tolerate this behaviour from some Thai people.”

The strong reaction prompted that show’s organiser to cancel the Thai photographer’s contract and advise him to return home quickly. He took refuge in the Thai Embassy in Vientiane for the night, making a short video of apology to Lao nationals.

The story ends there, but the saga of chauvinism by Thais towards their Lao cousins will last long as Thai people old and young are indoctrinated with a national history that values patriotism above plain fact.

The ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang encompassed the entirety of what is now Thailand’s Northeast, where most still share a language and culture with people on the opposite bank of the Mekong. While it is historically correct to say that Lao became a tributary of Siam during the early Rattanakosin Era, its people never became Thai, not even those in Isaan.

Thai nationalism since the 1950s, bolstered by anti-communist sentiment during the Cold War, spread a doctrine of “Thainess” that emphasised Siamese historical conquest over almost all of Southeast Asia. The fact is that Siamese territory never encompassed anything close to that size, and Siam suffered many defeats by other kingdoms. Yet the story of Siamese armies burning down Vientiane has been passed down the generations. Thai authorities have been similarly selective in proudly recalling how Field Marshall Plaek Phibunsongkhram occupied parts of Laos and Cambodia during World War II. Such episodes are used to justify their claims of superiority.

Economic success over the decades has spurred Thai chauvinism. The Lao economy has lagged since the 1970s when communists took over, and faced an economic blockade during the Cold War. Since then, much economic assistance has come from Thailand.

Surveys in Laos indicate that the public feels no country shows more animosity towards them than Thailand. Statements like the one made by the Thai photographer reinforce that belief.

Things are changing, however. Laos’ economy has been growing faster than Thailand’s over the past few years. Vientiane has developed to the point where it can rival large Thai cities for sophistication. Tourists increasingly see unspoilt Laos as a more attractive proposition than Thailand. Thai scholars have said the Lao elite are smarter than their Thai counterparts when dealing with China.

Our neighbours have even adopted a phrase to mock Thai exceptionalism: “Don’t be Thai to me.”

Military, govt must stop branding critics ‘political enemies’

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation




Hit by multiple controversies, the military is placing itself beyond the reach of public inspection by branding anyone who dares challenge its practices, a public enemy or slapping them with a lawsuit.

One notable example is the case of Narissarawan Kaewnopparat, who is seeking justice for her uncle, who was beaten death while serving as an Army conscript in 2011. Narissarawan is being sued for defamation over the accusation that an Army Captain, who is reportedly the son of a general, ordered the fatal beating.

The actions against Narissarawan suggest that Army brass intervened to prevent a high-ranking officer’s son being called to account for deadly violence within the ranks.

In a case less well known to the public, Cross Cultural Foundation director Pornpen Kongkachornkiat and fellow human rights activists Somchai Homla-or and Anchana Heemina have been hit with charges of defamation and violating the Computer Crime Act. Their alleged crime was to report that 54 suspects were subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of the military in the deep South.

These and other recent cases show that anyone who seeks to expose ugly practices within the military is viewed by the junta as undermining national stability and harbouring a political agenda. In taking that attitude it dodges the need for public accountability that is the very foundation of social justice and democracy. The same dodge was used over revelations that a construction company run by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s nephew had won contracts worth more than Bt155 million from the Army. Government officials were quick to brand questions asked about the deals as political attacks by those who oppose the government.

The prime minister has emphasised time and again that his 2014 power seizure was justified because corrupt politicians were threatening national security and had to face justice.

However, it is now clear that no one is permitted to scrutinise the military and the government under its control, or to call them to account for the same corrupt practices once indulged in by politicians.

The country has reached a very dangerous situation, since Thai history has taught us that uncontrolled and unchecked use of power results in devastating tyranny.

The scenario before us will only darken further if the military and the government continue to deny legitimacy to public and independent bodies who scrutinise their operations. In this period of transition back to civilian rule, members of the armed forces cannot use their influence with the military government to evade the rule of law and remain unaccountable to the public.

Right now, however, we are at the mercy of a government that wields absolute power. We can only hope it does the right thing, and avoids repeating the mistakes of past authoritarian regimes whose violence against their opponents has left such deep scars in Thai history.