Friday, April 5, 2013

Prem the Flimflam Man

On Sunday, Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda gave the opening speech at an international seminar held to mark the Office of the Ombudsman’s 13th anniversary yesterday.  Of course, who better to open the inauspicious anniversary (13) of an inauspicious group (Ombudsman) then one of the most inauspicious humans on earth. 

But even calling Prem human is somewhat questionable. Does anyone else remember Exeter, the leader of the aliens from the planet Metaluna in the 1955 movie “This Island Earth”?

I’m just kidding. Prem is probably not extraterrestrial but he actually may be Thailand’s biggest flimflam man.  

Prem definitely comes with an agenda. Without the King, Prem would be insignificant.  And the more the King is revered, the more significant Prem is.  So he is going to glorify the King whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself – even if it means fudging the truth.

For instance one item in particular the Bangkok Post reported was Prem said in his speech that “Thais are blessed because His Majesty the King has dedicated himself to fighting poverty.”

Really? Whose poverty has the King dedicated himself to fighting? His own?

A Forbes article reports that King Bhumibol Adulyadej is worth over $30 billion dollars, making him, by far, the richest monarch on the planet (Earth, not Metaluna).

One depressing aspect of Thai politics is the susceptibility to charlatans which is partly why an Office of the Ombudsman is needed in the first place.  And when someone speaks glowingly of Thailand’s King, they are hailed as a great person. And nobody checks the facts.

So has Thailand’s King “dedicated” himself to fighting his subjects’ poverty as Prem stated? And how is that “fight” going?

One way to address that last question, is to look at the professional measure of a country's income distribution inequality called its "GINI Coefficient".  Basically, the GINI Coefficient describes an income distribution for the entire population. A value of 0 indicates that the income is divided equally among the citizens, while a value of 100 means total inequality.

Thailand's Gini Coefficient in 2009 (the last reported value) was at 40.02 according to the World Bank.  Other ASEAN countries have the following Gini Coefficients: Malaysia 46.21 (2009); Philippines 42.98 (2009); Laos 36.74 (2008); Vietnam 37.57 (2008); Cambodia 37.25 (2008); Indonesia 36.76 (2009); and Singapore 42.48 (1998).

The graph of Thailand’s Gini Coefficients over time shows that fighting poverty has only been mildly effective at best with little improvement to show and certainly no startling differences between the other ASEAN countries GINI Coefficients (where the Thai King hasn’t “dedicated” himself to fighting poverty).
So why have so many in Thailand, especially in the news media, been taken in by Prem’s flimflam? It’s not just inability or willingness to do the research, although that’s part of it.  There’s also deference to power — make no mistake about it, Royalism is a powerful political force, so one mustn’t point out that its heroes have no clothes.

But they don’t. Prem is just a fraud who makes no useful contribution to the debate over Thailand’s future.

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