Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bringing Money into Thailand

When foreigners come to live in Thailand they bring money to buy homes, invest in businesses and pay their expenses. If they leave, or if they have expenses elsewhere, they may want to send the money out. We are often consulted about various aspects of currency transactions in and out of Thailand. This series covers some of the important things you should know about money flows to help you avoid costly mistakes.

Any amount of foreign currency may be transferred from a foreign country and deposited in a bank in Thailand. If the amount deposited exceeds US$20,000 the Notice of the Competent Officer Rules and Practices regarding Currency Exchange dated March 31, BE 2547 requires this be reported by filing a foreign exchange transaction form with the Bank of Thailand. In practice, when it receives the money, your bank will prepare the form for you and ask you to sign it and submit it for you to the Bank of Thailand. Until you sign the form, your bank won’t release the funds to you.

Of course, you can do what we lawyers call “structuring”, which means bring in the funds in pieces so that no piece is greater than $20,000 and you don’t have to bother with the form. If you do want to structure a transaction you should know two things, however. First, neglecting to fill out the form is a violation of Thai law. You would theoretically be exposed to a fine or imprisonment if the Thai authorities link up your transfers and they exceeded $20,000. Second, because you will be making more than a single transfer, your transaction costs to structure it will be higher than if you declare the funds all at once.

What about physically bringing currency into Thailand? Again, there is no limit, but under Ministerial regulation No. 25 (BE 2550) you have to declare at customs any amount you bring that is more than the equivalent of $20,000. You must then deposit these funds in a bank or convert them to baht at a bank or other licensed financial institution within a maximum of 360 days of when you brought them in or received them from someone who did. The published exceptions to this rule are foreigners in the country for less than three months and foreign missions or international organisations with diplomatic privileges.

For non-resident foreigners, the law allows you to open foreign currency accounts with banks in Thailand. You can also open two types of baht accounts:

Non-resident baht accounts, which are used for services, trade, lending and direct investment in Thailand.

Non-resident baht accounts for securities, which are used to fund and receive money from financial instruments and securities in Thailand.

These activities must be kept separate. You can open more than one of each type of account. The total daily outstanding balances for all of these accounts for any one non-resident individual, however, can’t exceed 300 million baht.

The documentation for opening accounts is different among the banks, so you should check with the bank with which you are considering opening an account. As a general proposition residents have to provide the bank with passports and work permits, residence permits or certificates of residence. For non-residents, in lieu of work permits, residence permits or certificates of residence, the banks generally require a letter of recommendation from something like one of the following:

A person acceptable to the bank and certified copies of that person’s identification or an embassy or international organisation or your bank abroad, sent by Swift.

Opening accounts for foreigners, especially non-residents, is very much a matter of discretion with the banks, so don’t be surprised if they are picky with your recommendations or won’t do it at all. They are responsible to the Bank of Thailand to screen out money laundering and may face punishment if they are not effective in doing this.

In addition to the transactions mentioned above involving $20,000 or more, if you are selling, withdrawing, depositing or purchasing foreign currency in the amount of $20,000 or more for any transaction you will have to fill out a foreign exchange transaction form. The form, by the way, is a one-pager giving information about the person executing the transaction, the person receiving the funds, the account and the payment method. If a loan is involved, the basic information about it must be included. The person executing the transaction and the bank must sign it.

Next time we’ll explain and compare the requirements and rates of Thai banks for depositing funds.

By James Finch of Chavalit Finch and Partners and Nilobon Tangprasit of Siam City Law Offices Ltd

Monday, March 30, 2009

Migrant Thai sex workers often face greater problems abroad


Published: 30/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Outlook

After constantly being beaten up by her husband, Pat* decided she had to break free financially, at any cost.

Seeing her neighbour who worked as a sex worker wearing a lot of gold accessories and building a beautiful bungalow for her parents was enough to convince Pat to gamble for the same fortune through prostitution.

Jan's* father was up to his ears in debt and she could not stand to see him suffer. "I only thought about my family. I wanted money to pay off the debts for my father," said Jan about her decision to work in Japan's flesh trade.

Ask any sex worker, and they will similarly say money pressures are the main reason why they do what they are doing, said researcher Pataya Ruenkaew and founder of Thais Articulate Their Rights Abroad (Thara), a group in Germany that helps Thais handle legal matters.

Pataya was a graduate student in Germany when she first developed an interest in the problem of migrant sex workers. It was a time when Germany faced an influx of illegal Thai women. As a Thai student there, she helped as a volunteer translator for them when they had legal problems. Her interests later led her to study about the same problem in Japan, another popular destination for Thai sex workers.

Almost 30 years on since her first encounter with Thai sex workers abroad, the situation has changed minimally, she said.

As of 2007, there were 53,952 legal Thai residents in Germany. The number does not include illegal residents and Thai people who have changed their nationality. It is estimated that there are some 100,000 Thais in Germany at present, as opposed to 2,000 in 1975, when the male to female ratio was more or less 1:1.

"There is hardly any change in this industry. Many women still seek sex-related jobs overseas for financial reasons, and increasingly so," said Pataya, citing the spiralling number of Thai women migrating to European countries and, surprisingly, the higher level of their education.

The "gold rush" began in the 1970s, she said, when many sex workers married their customers and became success stories in their home villages. The number of Thai women in Germany leaped to 3,298 in 1980, and 46,438 in 2007.

According to Pataya's research titled "Thai Women's Rights in Transnational Migration", there are three major reasons that prompt the decision to migrate: Educational opportunities, job opportunities and family problems. The last two are the most influential.

In the past, trafficked women were viewed as innocent victims who were deceived into prostitution. Today, Pataya said, the situation has changed. It is not so much deception as false advertising. Many of them know beforehand what sort of job they are getting themselves into. What they do not know is how difficult it will be to make a living and to come back. The problem, therefore, lies less in deception to make a choice and more in the exploitation of the women's choice, she explained.

Jai*, one of Pataya's interviewees, said she had wanted a better life and to get away from the living conditions in Thailand. Despite the risks, migration was "better than starving in Thailand, where I worked my hands to the bone trying to provide for my Thai ex-husband."

As with Pat and Jan, Jai believed the opportunities in other countries were plentiful. The perception of working abroad seems illustrious, because most women in this business send home a lot of money.

"These women would usually come home wearing beautiful clothes and expensive accessories, carrying with them toys for the children in their village and money to build a new, bigger house. This creates a false promise, especially for children, that working abroad is easy money, and a farang husband is a ticket out of poverty."

The glorious image and the mostly boastful word of mouth, however, can be misleading and even deceptive. While they might be told they can make 5,000 baht a day, it is neglected to say how much food and accommodation will cost. After all is deducted, the worker will have next to nothing left.

"The migrant sex workers send home a lot of money, but usually the money is not spent constructively. Many of the women I have helped complained that the money they'd sent to their family to build a house was spent on something less useful, such as drinking and buying a big television."

Despite state disapproval and occasional crackdowns, the transnational sex industry flourishes, broadening the crime to that of human human trafficking. It is virtually impossible for women with limited knowledge and funds to go abroad on their own, so darker powers step in and exploit them, leaving these women at the bottom of the long and dangerous food chain, she added.

Enter the "boss" who takes care of travelling documents and cooperates with a network of agents in the destination countries, the "escort" who takes the women to that country and hands them over to another local agent and the "tax mother" who buys them. The agent gets the money, and the women get the job.

And that's where slavery begins.

The women sold to the tax mother immediately owe a certain amount, from 200,000 to a million baht. The money they make will be deducted until the debt, or "tax", has been completely paid. This could take a few years, a few decades or, in some cases, a lifetime.

Jan said in the interview with Pataya that most women would not even think of cheating the system because the boss usually knows the women's families threateningly well. If they cheat, nobody knows what will happen to the families they left behind.

The government has come up with ways to stop Thai women from entering the transnational sex industry, from stricter travelling regulations to heavier punishments. The attempt, however, simply shut one door and opened several illegal windows.

"These sex trafficking agents are fast-evolving and they have good connections. There is no stopping them," Pataya said.

To get these women to their destination countries, the agents have many tricks to fool the immigration police. From the use of fake passports, overstaying a tourist visa or entering through a land border, to making excuses during flight transit in order to enter a country, it is almost impossible to anticipate the various tricks.

"In one case, the whole family travelled together on a flight that was scheduled for transit in Japan. The mother then asked the child to fake being sick to fool the airport officers that he needed to be sent to hospital immediately. Once the family was issued a transit visa, the mother never returned."

Going into a country illegally usually means the person cannot leave again. That's another thing the workers have not been told before they make the decision.

Pataya explained that these women either do not know or do not care how they will come back to Thailand, because to them today is all that matters, and the future is the future.

If a woman is arrested in the destination country for an illegal stay, she will be sent back to Thailand and her name will be on a no-entry list for several years, or sometimes for life. That is not where the cycle ends.

"In that situation, most women will not give up because they still need to make money or to pay off the tax. Consequently, they have to find a way to re-enter, and of course it has to be illegal. The choices range from changing their name to buying a deceased person's identity."

The first choice is now not very practical because even if the person changes his or her name, the 13-digit ID number cannot be changed. Buying a new identity is easier and safer.

"When someone in a rural area passes away, they will tell the family of the deceased not to apply for a death certificate. The agent or the woman will then buy the birth certificate to apply for a new ID card with her picture on it, and after that she can become a new person."

Although there are many ways to legalise their presence, many remain illegal. The legal problems not only afflict the sex workers, but they also spread to their children, who have no legal documents when they are born. These children cannot have a birth certificate because their mothers are illegal in that country. They cannot go to school, and as a result cannot get a good job. "That is a complete waste of human resources," Pataya commented.

In 2007, Thai sex workers overseas reportedly sent back home more than 30 billion baht. This statistic, coupled with the rising number of migrant sex workers, implies that something must have gone wrong with the government's plan to eradicate sex trafficking.

"The top-down approach doesn't work because the middle-class does not know poverty and the pressure it entails. It would be unfair to ban them from seeking jobs outside the country because we do not have better offers for them," Pataya commented, referring to her interview with a sex worker who had said she would not have gone abroad in the first place if Thailand offered "a well-paying job and a rich husband".

Migration, she said, is a personal and rightful choice, as stated in the United Nations' International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Sending them back home or preventing them from migrating, therefore, is against the convention.

"Because we cannot stop them, the best remedy is to prepare them for the new environment and educate them so that they will not be taken advantage of too much. This is a pressing issue and we have to act on it immediately to protect them. There has been too much of passing the blame and pointing fingers. The solution calls for collaboration of various sectors," said Pataya, who rejects the authorities' standard explanation that domestic problems are the priority, and international ones have to wait.

She said the first crucial step to tackling this chronic problem is decriminalisation of the profession. "We should not label sex workers as criminals and punish them. Denying the problem is not going to help solve the situation. The demand is there, and of course supply will follow."

Sunday, March 29, 2009


  Updated: [March 28, 2009 ] :: 16:05:22   [view 925] 

As part of the latest initiative to find foreign criminals hiding out in Thailand, Pattaya Immigration Police have informed owners of local hotels and accommodation businesses about the strict rules for the registration of foreign visitors and the penalties for non-compliance. 

500 business owners attended a meeting on 26th March 2009, at the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital, where they were addressed by the Superintendent of the Pattaya Immigration Police, Pol. Col. Arnonnat Kamonrat and his officers.

They explained methods to prevent crime and made clear how important it is that the business owners work together with the authorities. The owners will have to file a report for every guest within 24 hours. If they fail to deliver in time they will be fined. The fine starts at 2000 baht and if the person who was in charge of the registration was the manager; the fine can be up to 10.000 Baht. 

The report must contain data about the foreigner’s name, arrival-date, passport no., visa, TM-card-no, 90-day-report and departure-date. In the event of the foreigner extending his/her stay beyond 90 days the report must be updated.

For the foreigners themselves, failure to report after 90 days will result in a 5000 baht fine and 200 baht per day overstay. 

The officers made it clear that all of this data must be written correctly in capital letters. Spelling mistakes will not be tolerated. As a solution for very busy owners the immigration offered to accept the reports by mail or email. 

News Type : Community
Story : Jirawat
Photo : Jirawat
Translater : Sirithanon

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yacht Piracy: 'I had to walk through my husband's blood'

SHE didn't see her husband murdered.

Click to see larger image
CAUGHT AND CUFFED: Two of the three Burmese pirates caught by Thai marine policePICTURE: REUTERS

All she could hear was his furious yelling, then a chilling silence as three Myanmar pirates boarded her yacht off Thailand's Buntang Islands, near Malaysia.

It was then that Mrs Linda Robertson knew that Malcolm, her husband of 24 years, was dead.

And that her ordeal was just beginning.

For 10 years, the couple had sailed around the world, returning to the UK to see their families every summer.

Their blog spoke of anchoring off idyllic beaches, swimming with manta rays, enjoying champagne breakfasts and barbecues on deck, and watching sunsets with a glass of wine in hand.

On Tuesday, the adventure turned into horror as the pirates slit Mr Roberston's throat and threw him overboard. They took over the yacht and held Mrs Robertson captive for nine hours, reported the Daily Mail.

They then left as dawn broke, stealing her yacht's dinghy.

Breaking down several times as she spoke from her hospital bed in Satun, Thailand, the 57-year-old grandmother spoke of her ordeal: 'I was in the stern cabin... naked. It was a very hot night.

'Three young men came in. They were holding hammers and they pushed me and tied and gagged me.

'Then they went towards the forward cabin and I heard my husband shouting 'Get off my boat!'.

'I heard a scuffle and did not hear any more. They came back and made signs to me to start the engine.'

She said, in between sobs: 'There was no sign of my husband... this was the first time I realised he might be dead. I waited and listened and heard nothing.'

Police believe that Irish-born Mr Robertson, 64, who runs a chain of coffee shops in Sussex, England, may have also had his throat cut due to the quantity of blood found on the boat.

It was a grisly reality Mrs Robertson had to endure.

She said: 'As I walked through the boat, I realised I was walking through the blood of my husband.

'From that moment I knew I was fending for my life.'

The frightened woman made signs to ask if the pirates were going to kill her, but the pirates gestured to her that they would not and would leave once they were done.

She said: 'One, the youngest, was trying to be kind, even though he was guarding me with a machete.

'He kept saying 'I am sorry'... one of the few English phrases he knew and he brought me food and drink.

Five hours later, around 6am, Mrs Roberton's feet and hands started swelling badly from her bindings.

Then the boat stopped.

She recalled: 'One of the men asked me how to put down the anchor... started to ransack the boat.

'Earlier there had been sounds as if something was being moved to another boat. I realised later it was my husband being put into the sea.'

She tried to dive off the yacht, but failed and was tied up more severely. The pirates then started up the engine, only slowing down three hours later.

At this time, the pirates tried to leave the yacht.

They put Mrs Robertson in the cabin and took the rubber dinghy attached to the yacht.

This time, the plucky woman managed to free herself and immediately switched on the distress call.

In a ironic twist, the pirates were out less than 30m away from when their dinghy's engine spluttered out.

They turned around to return to the yacht but Mrs Robertson was already speeding towards some fishing boats nearby.

The pirates gave up paddling after her and headed towards the shore.

Not over

But her ordeal was not over.

She tried to get help from the fishermen, waving her blue-and-white sarong and shouting 'Mayday' but was ignored as they did not understand English.

So she had to pull up along one of the fishing vessel and jump on it.

She said: 'I would not go back to my boat. I did not want to feel Malcolm's blood on my feet.'

Even though the fishermen could not understand her, they called the police after seeing her distress.

When the police arrived, they went on the hunt for the pirates and caught them shortly after.

Said Mrs Robertson: 'I recognised them immediately. Some of them were even wearing Malcolm's clothes.'

While Mrs Robertson is traumatised by the experience, she isn't blaming the Thai people for the attack.

She said: 'The Thai people have been very kind. They are lovely people. We do not blame them for all this.

'Nurses have given me pills to help me sleep. But they do not stop me having nightmares.

'I hope they find Malcolm's body, but I have no idea... where he was thrown overboard.'

As of last night, rescuers have yet to locate him.

Police Captain Suparak Pongkarnjana told AP: 'The victim shouted for help and they slit his throat with a knife and hit him before throwing his body overboard.'

Thai police said today they would ask the prosecutor to call for the death penalty for the pirates.

In their defence, the Myanmar pirates claimed they had run away from a Thai fishing boat where the captain had treated them as slaves.

A police spokesman said: 'They told us they saw the yacht and... boarded it intending to take the dinghy. Mr Robertson was killed when he resisted them.

'They tried to get as far away as possible from the fishing fleet they were with. They decided to rob the boat because they had not been paid.'

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office said: 'Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time. We are urgently pursuing this case with local police who are investigating the incident.'

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yacht murder: how to avoid a pirate attack

The brutal murder of yachtsman Malcolm Robertson (pictured left with his wife Linda), who is believed to have been bludgeoned to death in Thailand when robbers broke into their 44ft boat is another terrible reminder of the vulnerability of a boat at anchor in many places of the world.

How can you minimise the risks of an attack at anchor?

This is a subject we've often covered in Yachting World and here are some suggestions to improve on board security that have been put forward by long-term cruisers:

1. Lift your dinghy alongside the toerail or on board at night, and if possible rig up a strop and halyard to make that easy. One of the easiest and highest value things to steal is a dinghy and outboard, and it will draw robbers to and possibly on board your boat. On the first reports, that's what appeared to happen on the Robertson's boat

2. Lift up the transom boarding ladder. This simple precaution will make it much more difficult to board your boat

3. Fit bunk fans and keep the companionway hatch and other cabin hatches shut in areas you feel could be a problem (eg, some parts of the Caribbean). Ideally, all internal hatches should open toward the companion, and jamb toward the cabin

4. If you are worried about being boarded, fit an inexpensive infrared alarm in the cockpit that will emit a loud shriek.

5. Always stow knives and any other items that might be used as a weapon 

6. Fit a concealed safe for valuable possessions. Some cruisers also keep out of date credit cards, other fake valuables and some cash ready to give up if attacked. In my view this is risky - if a robber wants valuables, give him the real thing and don't rely on fooling them; cash and items are replaceable but you and your crew are not. 

7. Keep a hand-held VHF beside your bunk if you are in a suspect area

8. If you're in a dodgy area, set up an anchor and VHF watch between nearby yachts

9. When you anchor, do pre-start-checks so that you can make way at a moment's notice and keep a safe course to steer out written down by the wheel

10. Keep a red parachute flare handy so that it can be fired out of a hatch to raise the alarm

For more about piracy risk areas round the world, and where the hotspots currently are, please read my blog. I am also interested in any other suggestions or comments on this subject, so please feel free to email me via the link at the end of the blog.

Thai troops 'cross into Cambodia'

Thai soldiers have reportedly entered Cambodia near a disputed temple where the two sides briefly exchanged fire last year.

A spokesman for Cambodia's government said that about 100 troops had crossed the border.

A Thai border commander denied there had been any troop movements and said there had been no increase in tension.

Thailand and Cambodia both lay claim to the temple area. Despite several rounds of talks, a settlement remains elusive.

Soldiers from the two countries have been stationed in the area since the clashes in July last year.

Temple tensions

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan told reporters that Thai troops had gone about a kilometre into Cambodian territory.

"We are negotiating with their commanders to ask them to leave the area now because it is Cambodian territory," he said.

Col Pichit Nakarun, a Thai army commander at the border, denied any Thai troops had crossed the border.

"The situation is not more tense than usual," he told the Associated Press.

An international court awarded the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia in 1962 but land surrounding it remains the subject of rival territorial claims.

Last year Unesco decided to list it as a World Heritage Site, reigniting lingering tensions over unresolved border disputes.

Thai troops moved into an area both sides claim after Cambodian guards arrested three Thai protesters there.

Both sides then rapidly increased their military presence at the site, and in October two Cambodian soldiers were killed in an exchange of gunfire.

-- BBC 2009-03-25

Murdered sailor's wife tells of pirate hammer attack

Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson was locked away while pirates bludgeoned her husband Malcolm to death with hammers

Image :1 of 2

A British woman told yesterday how she was tied up naked in the cabin of her yacht by pirates who slit her husband’s throat and threw him overboard.

Linda Robertson also recalled the moment she stood in her husband’s blood as she tried to start the engine and make her escape after the pirates fled the boat.

Three men boarded the yacht sailed by Mrs Robertson and her husband Malcolm in the Andaman Sea near the Thai-Malaysian border.

They overpowered the couple, locking Mrs Robertson away while they bludgeoned her husband to death with hammers, slit his throat and dumped his body in the sea. The body had not been recovered last night.

Mrs Robertson, 57, described how she spent up to ten hours tied up naked in the cabin of the 13.5m (44ft) yacht, named Mr Bean, while a man with a machete stood guard over her.

Speaking from her hospital bed in Satun in southern Thailand, Mrs Robertson said: “I heard the sound of people clambering aboard. I was naked. It was a very hot night.

“Three young men came in. They were holding hammers and they pushed me back and tied and gagged me. Then they went towards the forward cabin and I heard my husband shouting, ‘Get off my boat’.

“I heard a scuffle and did not hear any more. They came back to me and made signs to me to start the engine, which I did.

“There was no sign of my husband. I waited and listened and I think this was the first time I realised he might be dead. The night was pitch black and the boat headed north. They put me back in my cabin all trussed up.”

She added: “My hands and feet were swelling because I was trussed up naked like a chicken.

“It was all very degrading. I could not cover anything up. But if you think you are going to die all such matters become secondary.”

It was only at daybreak that the three men tried to make their getaway on a motorised dinghy with their haul of computers, mobile phones and electronic equipment from the yacht.

As they fled, the dinghy’s engine cut out, but before the pirates could make their way back to the boat Mrs Robertson was able to pull up the anchor, start the yacht’s engine and escape.From the amount of blood on the deck, police believe that Mr Robertson had his throat cut, as well as being attacked with hammers.

“I knew because I was walking in his blood,” Mrs Robertson said. “I cannot believe I survived.”

Police in Thailand have arrested three Burmese migrant workers who have allegedly confessed to killing Mr Robertson.

John Clee, Mrs Robertson’s brother, said yesterday: “They haven’t found a body yet. That is our greatest fear — that they do not find his body. We have our fingers crossed.”

He said he had heard from his sister. “They’ve asked her to go back to the boat,” he said. “She’s going to do that today as she’d rather get it out the way before her children arrive.”

Three of Mrs Robertson’s four children are to fly to Thailand to join their mother, who was discharged from hospital yesterday after being treated for minor injuries.

Mr Robertson owned a chain of coffee shops near Hastings in East Sussex, but was semi-retired after passing the business on to his children. The couple had been married for 25 years, and each had two children from previous relationships.

Mr and Mrs Robertson were both qualified yacht masters, and were spending the winter months sailing around warmer waters when their boat was seized by pirates near the island of Koh Dong, 45 miles off the Thai coast.

Police Captain Suparak Pongkarnjana said the pirates, identified as Ek, 18, Ao, 19 and Ko, 20, had been working on a trawler moored near the Robertsons’ yacht off Koh Dong, and they were desperate to get ashore after months of being forced to work at sea. They tried to flee when they saw a Thai national park boat pass near by.

The three young men were mobbed by angry Thai tourist operators when they were taken to La-Ngu police station, and Thai police said yesterday that they would ask the prosecutor to call for the death penalty for all three.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “A British couple were attacked while sailing off the coast of Satun, southern Thailand.

“Our consular team in Bangkok are in touch with the next of kin and are providing consular assistance to those involved. We are urgently pursuing this case with local police, who are investigating the incident. We understand that the Thai police have arrested three suspects.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Burma key to war on drugs

Published: 25/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is to kick off a new campaign against illegal drugs next week. And there is good reason for the new impetus on the "war on drugs".

In announcing the new campaign, Mr Abhisit cited frightening new evidence that the rate of addiction is rising once again. His figures appear to confirm the general feeling throughout the country that neither drug suppression nor treatment have been adequate. The government must lead the fresh campaign against illicit drugs while keeping in mind that the public will not accept either legal abuses or official violence of the past.

The serious drug problem in today's world has several faces. One of the most important is that the drugs which debase and imperil the country come almost exclusively from outside. Thailand of the past was a drug producer, home to traffickers selling out their country and exporting their illegal products. Today, the country imports virtually all illegal drugs. Chiefly, they come from Burma, where the government appears to do little against one of the world's richest and most prolific trafficking rings. So-called recreational drugs also come from South America and Europe, frequently carried through neighbouring countries along the way.

Mr Abhisit has promised to increase border security as part of the six-month anti-drug programme he will kick off on April 1. Of all the ways to fight drug trafficking, this may be the most difficult and prone to failure. The long and difficult Burmese and Lao borders in particular are virtually impossible to seal. Smugglers detect an effort to guard one portion of border and move to another.

The premier and his anti-drug security forces of the military and police should put more emphasis on gaining information about the drug gangs. Last week, a joint US-Thai operation dealt a significant blow to the narcotics trade when agents arrested some top traffickers and hit them where it really hurts - in their pocketbooks.

Authorities seized more than 117 million baht in cash and goods. The three arrested men, former associates of the late heroin warlord Khun Sa, admitted to having sold 750kg of heroin and methamphetamines in the past year.

The arrested men pinpointed a large drugs laboratory. Close to the Thai border of Tak province, it is reportedly owned by the United Wa State Army, Southeast Asia's biggest and most influential drug cartel. The UWSA thrives in what seems to be the absence of any action against the group by the generals in Burma.

The public backs increased government action against drugs. Weekly surveys by Abac Poll show that drugs have been the top overall concern of viewers of the premier's weekly talk on TV. Mr Abhisit was correct to equate drugs with terrorism and international crime as the chief threats to the country. The prime minister correctly ordered that the war on drugs must adhere to civil and human rights.

Two additional steps are vital to defeat the drug traffickers. The first is to make good on Mr Abhisit's pledge to redirect some anti-drug resources to help addicts and victims. It is as necessary to reduce the demand for drugs as the supply. But the key to reducing supply rests with the military dictators of Burma. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was in Burma and agreed to talk about the Burmese concern over the Karen resistance, but without gaining any concessions from the junta on the UWSA. So long as Burma allows drug trafficking to flourish, Thailand and other neighbours will remain at a disadvantage.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Karen leadership is losing the support of neighbouring Thailand

Most serious of all, the Karen leadership is losing the support of neighbouring Thailand, where it was formerly able to organise, arm and – when necessary – retreat

2009 March 24

Burma: world’s longest war nears its end

It began with British betrayal after the Second World War and has stubbornly outlived every other conflict. But now, as it marks it diamond jubilee, the world’s longest-running war is nearing its endgame.

The guerrilla army of the Karen ethnic group, which has been fighting since 1949 for independence from Burma, is facing the greatest crisis in its history. If Karen resistance collapses, as some believe is likely, it will be a triumph for the Burmese junta as it consolidates its hold on power.

After a three-year offensive by the junta, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) has been forced into increasingly small pockets of resistance, according to Burma experts.

Deprived of funds and equipment, it is able to do little more than slow the advance of the Burmese Army as it lays waste to hundreds of villages, driving thousands of terrified civilians before it.Most serious of all, the Karen leadership is losing the support of neighbouring Thailand, where it was formerly able to organise, arm and – when necessary – retreat. Trapped between the Burmese Army to the west and an increasingly unfriendly Thailand to the east, with hundreds of thousands of their people in wretched refugee camps, the Karen are experiencing a humanitarian and military catastrophe.
The military situation is as bad as it’s been at any time in the past 60 years,” said David Mathieson, a Burma researcher with Human Rights Watch. “The Karen have less territory, fewer soldiers and fewer resources to sustain resistance. The Burmese have them more and more surrounded, and their backs are up against the wall.”

A Karen leader on the Thai border said that the KNLA and Burmese Army were fighting near the town of Kawkareik, close to the Thai border. All year there have been reports of Karen villagers being driven into the jungle by marauding soldiers.

“It’s a cat-and-mouse kind of struggle,” David Tharckabaw, vice-president of the political organisation the Karen National Union (KNU), told The Times by phone from the Thai border town of Mae Sot. “The Burmese burn down villages and relocate the people close to their own camps.”

The Karen conflict has its origins in the Second World War, when many Karen fought alongside the British Army against the invading Japanese. The seven million Karen were promised their own state by the British but when independence came in 1948 the promise was forgotten. A year later, in January 1949, the Karen began the armed struggle that has continued ever since.

In the early decades of the war, the KNU dominated the Irrawaddy Delta, close to the former Burmese capital Rangoon, as well as areas north of the city and all of Kayin State. But in the 1990s an increasingly well-armed Burmese Army made steady gains and in 1995 the KNU was driven out of its capital, Manerplaw.

At this time, Buddhists in the Christian-dominated KNU broke away to form the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which now fights alongside the Burmese Army. Formerly, the KNU had operated as a quasi-government, providing schools and clinics and receiving income from tax, as well as from a profitable trade through Thailand in timber, gold, zinc and antimony.

The loss of territory brought a loss of funds, which made it harder to arm and equip itself. The KNU claims to have 10,000 soldiers, including village militia men, but according to Mr Mathieson the number of active fighters is probably between 3,000 and 5,000.

Last year the KNU suffered another blow when its respected and charismatic leader, Pado Mahn Shar, was assassinated at his home in Thailand by unidentified gunmen. Among many Karen there was a suspicion that the ease with which the killers escaped, and the failure to apprehend them, reflected a cooling of the welcome afforded by Thailand. Last month Karen military commanders were ordered out of Thailand and back across the border.

This probably reflects the Thai Government’s increasing dependence on Burma for raw materials and energy – the two governments are jointly planning ambitious hydroelectric dams along the Salween River which forms part of their border.

The border is a valuable conduit not only for the Karen but for Burmese struggling to overthrow the military dictatorship. After the junta cracked down on large pro-democracy demonstrations of monks and activists in 2007, many of them escaped into Thailand.

“It’s a crucial route for information,” said Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK. “If that’s closed down the whole country will become much more isolated.” - The United Nations has ruled that the continued detention by Burma of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi violates domestic and international laws. The latest one-year detention period of Ms Suu Kyi, who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest, expires in May.

British man on round-the-world sailing trip with wife battered to death by Burmese pirates

By Rebecca Camber and Claire Ellicott

Last updated at 12:45 AM on 25th March 2009

A Briton who set sail with his wife on a dream round-the-world voyage has been battered to death by pirates off the coast of Thailand.

Malcolm and Linda Robertson had anchored their £300,000 yacht - named Mr Bean after the chain of cafes they owned in Sussex - when it was stormed in the early hours.

Mr Robertson went to fend off the gang but they launched a frenzied attack on the 64-year-old, beating him with a hammer before barging into his wife's cabin.

Malcolm robertson

Dream voyage: Malcolm Robertson, seen with his wife Linda on board their yacht the Mr Bean, is believed to have been killed by pirates

She was taken out of her cabin and saw 'blood everywhere' but no sign of her husband before she was tied up below deck.

It is thought that the gang may have slit Mr Robertson's throat before throwing his bloodied body overboard.

The pirates sailed the 44ft yacht through the night. After 12 hours, they abandoned the luxury craft, making off in a small dinghy tied alongside after loading it up with electrical goods including laptops and video players.

When Mrs Robertson, 58, heard them leave she managed to wriggle free of the ropes, but was spotted by the pirates who turned back.

 Linda Robertson

Police officers help Linda Robertson back on to dry land after her boat was attacked by pirates who murdered her husband

Blood can be seen spattered on the inside of the cabin of the Mr Bean after the horrifying attack

Blood can be seen spattered on the inside of the cabin of the Mr Bean after the horrifying attack

The brave grandmother then took control of the boat and managed to outrun them, sailing to a nearby fishing vessel for help. Local fishermen contacted police who picked up the pirates, said to be three teenagers from Burma.

Police say the trio have already confessed to killing Mr Robertson, from St Leonardson-Sea, East Sussex. By last night his body had still not been found.

Colonel Virat Ohn-song, of the La-ngoo district police station, said: 'They tried to steal the dinghy and beat Mr Robertson with their fists and hammers until he died. We believe he was dead before he was thrown into the water.'

The couple, who have four children, had been sailing around the world for the last decade - returning to the UK to see their family every summer.

Enlarge Re: Malcolm Robertson Murder

The incident happened off the coast of Satun in southern Thailand

They had sailed up the Amazon, the Panama Canal, through the Galapagos Islands and around New Zealand and Australia.

Their internet blog told of anchoring off idyllic beaches, sunbathing, swimming with manta rays, enjoying champagne breakfasts and barbecues on deck, and watching sunsets with a glass of wine in hand.

Last night Mrs Robertson was being treated in hospital in Thailand but her injuries were not thought to be serious.

Malcolm Robertson

Mr Robertson enjoys a swim in the sea off Phuket with his grandchildren Issy and Mina

The Mr Bean, the boat on which the Robertsons were sailing when the shocking attack occurred

The Mr Bean, the boat on which the Robertsons were sailing when the shocking attack occurred

Her brother John Clee, 63, from St Leonards-on-Sea, said: 'Malcolm and Linda led a life that would make everybody else envious. The children ran the business when they were away and they took over again when they returned. The children are distraught.'

He added: 'I spoke to Linda on the phone. She kept saying, "They've murdered Malcolm."

'It happened about 1am Thai time. Malcolm was sleeping in the cabin at the front while she was in the larger cabin at the back. She heard someone climbing on to the deck and called out to Malcolm. She then heard a commotion and heard him say "Get off the boat, get off the boat."

'Then three young boys aged about 16 came into her cabin. At that point she came out of her cabin and saw blood everywhere. She thought she was going to die.'

'She thinks Malcolm was thrown overboard after he was hit with a hammer. She's traumatised. She's got swollen legs and arms from being tied up, and a few bruises.

'She can't understand why he was killed and she wasn't.'

Three Burmese migrant workers, pictured, have been arrested on suspicion of murdering Mr Robertson

Three Burmese migrant workers, pictured, have been arrested on suspicion of murdering Mr Robertson

The couple, married for 24 years, were moored off the coast of Satun, in southern Thailand. The area is close to where refugees from Burma try to seek land after fleeing the Burmese military junta.

The Robertsons had been heading for Malaysia where they planned to moor their yacht and fly home on April 9.

Pirates had boarded their yacht before, but Mr Robertson used to carry cigarettes and brandy to give to thieves.

Last night their four children were flying out to Thailand.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thailand's increasing shortage of water

What a world it would be without water

Many of Thailand's exports are heavily dependent on water, a commodity increasingly in short supply.

Published: 21/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

Unesco's "Water in a Changing World" report points to the likelihood of water shortages worldwide in the near future, said Varakorn Samkoses, writing for Matichon.

A water buffalo drinks from a dried-up irrigation canal in Ayutthaya’s Bang Ban district. There is a growing urgency to use our water resources more wisely.

About 97.5% of global water is sea water. The remaining 2.5% is fresh water, and two thirds of this is solid ice. The liquid water is mostly underground. Water on the surface in streams, rivers and canals is very little in comparison.

Since fresh supplies are limited, fighting for access to water has a history dating back to ancient times. The word "river" comes from the Greek word "ribalis", meaning "rival". Today, water is a subject of contention in many regions including Darfur in Sudan and in the Middle East, between Israel and its neighbours.

The Unesco report says about 1.3 billion people lack potable water. About 27 million people die from water-borne diseases every year or almost one person every second.

The report points out that by 2030, or about 21 years from now, if there are no drastic changes to tackle water shortages, about half of the world's population will live in a perpetual need of clean water.

The main factors contributing to acute water shortages are:

1. The rising population. It is expected the world's population will rise from 6.7 billion today to 9.1 billion in 2050, especially in developing countries in Africa and the Middle East, which already face water shortages. The population rise means a need for more water. It is estimated fresh water needs will rise by about 64 million cubic metres every year.

2. Rural migration to cities. Urban people consume more meat products, which means more water to raise cattle and poultry in comparison with farm products.

3. The increasing use of biofuels as alternative energy means that more water is needed because maize and sugarcane, used as raw material to produce ethanol, need a lot of water for cultivation. It is estimated that for every litre of ethanol, there is a need for 2,500 litres of water.

4. No political commitment. No small or large countries or international organisations have concrete plans to tackle water shortages.

5. Lack of effective water management. There is inadequate investment in finding and maintaining water resources.

The lack of water resources in poor, developing countries is intensifying the already chronic problems of poor health, toxic environment and political conflicts. People in poor countries face increasing risks daily from water-borne diseases.

Varakorn pointed out the concept of virtual water, which is lost through exporting farm products, since farm products need a lot of water to grow. Those who buy farm products from producing countries also benefit from "virtual water" from those countries.

Japan imports a lot of farm products and meat each year. It is estimated it consumes about 64,000 tonnes of "virtual water" a year. If Japan were to produce all farm products and raise cattle itself for domestic consumption, the country would surely face water shortages.

Thailand is a leading exporter of farm products to the world. It needs a lot of water each year in its effort to become the "Kitchen to the World". The country faces water shortages every year. If Thailand did not produce so much for export, it should have enough water for its present and future needs.

There is one bright aspect to this issue. There are increasing efforts to distil fresh water from sea water using modern filtering technology. Several countries are distilling fresh water from sea water including Israel, Singapore, Australia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, China and India.

No matter how many new fresh water sources can be obtained, they can never be enough for all the world's population. The best practice is to use water economically for the most benefit. One must realise that fresh water comes at a cost. It is not or never will be free.

Tourism comes to the rescue

There are three ways to bring in precious foreign exchange in the era of globalisation - exports, investment and tourism - noted a Thai Rath writer.

The three pillars help support a country's economy. If one leg is impaired, the other two must shoulder a heavier burden.

Now that the world faces a great recession and Thailand's major trading partners such as the United States and Europe are tightening their belts and reducing their imports, Thailand cannot hope that exports will lift the country out of the economic recession.

Looking at the country itself, the writer noted that Thai people are friendly and there are many beautiful places that can attract foreign tourists. So the country can still rely on inbound tourism to help fight against the economic slowdown.

However, inbound tourism suffered great damage late last year when the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) seized and occupied both Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports for a week, stranding a lot of tourists and business travellers.

The adverse effects are still being felt as some tourists are suspicious of Thailand's political stability.

In the eyes of the world community, a country's international gateway should be secure and not an easy target for terrorists to inflict damage. But Thailand allowed the relatively docile PAD mob to seize Suvarnabhumi airport for a week. For this reason, several countries have issued warnings to their citizens to avoid travelling to Thailand unless necessary

Even though the political divisions in Thailand have lessened considerably, the world community remembers the picture of stranded tourists and visitors lying in the airport terminal waiting to leave the country, not knowing when that would be possible.

Such pictures will not fade from the memory easily, noted Thai Rath.

Tourism Minister Chumphol Silpa-archa, together with the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and Thai ambassadors in Europe, decided to adopt a proactive strategy to court European tourists to again visit Thailand in large numbers. They are leading Thai tourism operators on road shows in Europe to promote understanding among European tour group operators. The main targets are Barcelona in Spain and Milan in Italy.

The two cities are targetted because for the past few years tourist numbers from these two countries have grown considerably.

Spain has about 46.15 million people with an average income of $30,504 in 2008. Two years ago, the Spanish government initiated a stimulus budget by reducing income and investment taxes. This restored the people's confidence in the economy, which grew 1.2% last year.

About 11.19 million Spaniards travelled abroad and 84,714 visited Thailand last year. The number may be modest when compared with the million Britons and Germans who visited Thailand last year. But the Spanish visitors were mostly high-class tourists who preferred to stay in 5-star hotels and spend a lot of money. They usually come in July and August, their summer holiday period and stay for about 14 days, spending about 3,758 baht a person a day, accounting for about 4.4 billion baht in revenue for the country.

This was good news as the July-August period is the low tourist season in Thailand when rainfalls are heavy. Other Europeans prefer to visit Thailand during the high season or winter time in the northern hemisphere.

However several negative factors last year, including political instability and oil prices peaking at $147 a barrel in July, which resulted in high ticket prices and package tour costs, depressed the number of Spanish arrivals.

This year, the TAT has set a target of 90,000 Spanish tourists, an increase of about 6,000 from 2008. The tourism authority has cooperated with hotels and Thai Airways International to offer "Value for Money" package tours.

Italy has 58.14 million people, 14 million of whom travelled outside the country last year. The average Italian income is $30,400 with GDP growth of -0.5% last year.

Italian tourists spent an average of 3,635 baht a day and altogether spent about 7.99 billion baht in Thailand last year.

Even though last year the economic situation in Italy was not so bright, Italian tourists came in fifth among European tourists, or 16th place among all nationalities.

For the first nine months of last year, there were 113,532 Italian tourists, a 10.97% decrease from the same period in 2007. This was due to the economic recession in Italy with up to 7.7% unemployment and over 4% inflation.

The economic situation in Italy has not improved much, especially in Rome which has a high unemployment rate. However, big northern cities such as Milan, Turin and Genoa are quite prosperous and people have high purchasing power. That's why the road show is held in Milan.

In the past, the Maldives was Thailand's main competitor for the tourist dollar from these three cities. However, the Maldives has a higher cost of living than Thailand, which made some Italian tourists shift their focus to Thailand once again.

Thai Rath wished the tourism road show in Italy and Spain success. But the Thai people must help in this regard, especially in trying to refrain from causing any more political disturbances.

Opium back with a vengeance in Thailand

Off-season crops are being introduced in the North and new strains of high-yield, drought-resistant poppy are being developed to boost output to meet the ever-increasing demand, writes Somsak Suksai in Lampang, so wiping out its cultivation in the region remains a hugely difficult task
Published: 21/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

Wiping out opium poppy cultivation in the North remain a hugely difficult task.

A large field of poppies grown on an isolated, difficult to access slope of a mountain in Lampang. SOMSAK SUKSAI

Intense crackdowns by neighbouring governments have also not helped to bring drug production levels down.

On the contrary, poppy cultivation areas have expanded in at least seven northern provinces, including Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Lampang and Tak.

Under the latest poppy growing techniques, cultivation of off-season crops is being introduced and new strains of high-yield and drought-resistant opium poppy are being developed to increase opium output to meet the ever-increasing demand.

The Third Army has tried for years to wipe out poppy fields in the northern region, but achieved little success in even keeping poppy cultivation under control.

This is partly because poppy growing is now mostly done in mountainous areas that are difficult to access.

Rising demand has pushed up prices. This, in turn, has encouraged drug dealers to invest more in opium cultivation. Each year, the crop is planted and harvested between November and March.

Lampang deputy governor Samart Lobfa says that the problem is hilltribe people have resorted to a "camouflage" technique in growing poppy alongside other kinds of crops to ensure opium cultivation escapes the notice of drug suppression officials.

"They purposely grow poppy mixed in with other kinds of plants. Off-season poppy cultivation is also under way with the use of modern watering techniques and chemical fertilisers," Mr Samart said.

He said drug production plants are still active in neighbouring countries bordering Thailand. Opium is an essential component for heroin production.

At present, the Third Army and government agencies are doing all they can to destroy the poppy fields that exist in the 104 villages in the seven northern provinces.

Around 90% of the cultivated areas are nearly impossible to access as the hilltribe people are growing poppies deeper in the forests or in treacherous mountainous areas.

Lampang alone has poppy fields extending over large areas in three districts - Chae Hom, Ngao and Wang Nua.

Salis Khampakaew, assistant district chief of Chae Hom, said drug suppression officials need to walk up steep and dangerous hills for hours to reach the opium poppy fields.

"The suppression drive has become a much more difficult job today. Climbing a steep mountain requires a skilful person to guide us," Mr Salis said.

He said if poppy plantations are widely scattered over an entire mountain, it is impossible for the authorities to destroy them within a day.

Mr Salis said this year's largest poppy growing area was somewhere between Ban Lao Su in Chae Hom district and Ban Bo Si Liam in Ngao district.

Sap is extracted from a poppy seedpod. SUBIN KHEUNKAEW

Drug suppression officials recently discovered that new breeds of poppy were being introduced for off-season growing.

The new breeds were developed to suit the coming dry season. This reflects the fact that the demand for opium is increasing.

Chalerm Singkaew, sub-district head of tambon Pongdon in Chae Hom district, said new growing and breeding techniques required a great deal of funding and specialised know-how known only to the major drug traffickers.

Initially, highlanders grew poppy not too far from their homes and then collected the opium for household consumption and for the relief of pain only.

But over the last few years, the soaring price of opium had encouraged a sudden spurt of poppy growing among hilltribe people. Drug traffickers paid the villagers to grow more poppy to feed commercial demand.

Sanpu sae Chao, a village head of Ban Mae Ta Samakkhi in Chae Hom, said the main opium markets are along the Thai-Burmese and Thai-Lao borders.

He said when raw opium is collected and delivered to drug production plants in border areas, it can sell for between 50,000-10,000 baht per kilogramme.

Data from the northern branch of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board said there are at least six drug production plants run by the ethnic Red Wa Army and the Shan State Army in Burma. These plants use precursor substances from Thailand for producing heroin and metamphetamine pills.

Last year, large amounts of painkillers and common cold medicines were bought and sent to border provinces, raising authorities' suspicions that they would also be used as drug precursors.

Third Army commander Thanongsak Apirakyothin stressed the need to enlist the support of villagers and hilltribe people in the campaign to end the illegal poppy growing.

Lt-Gen Thanongsak said a public relations drive is needed to raise awareness against the dangers of heroin and speed pill addiction.

He said as drug problems were mounting in the country, only joint efforts in society could help overcome them.

Thailand's economy to shrink 3% in 2009

Economy to shrink 3%, says Korn

More stimulus on the way to curb job losses

Published: 24/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

Thailand's economy will shrink by a sharp 3% this year, worse than previously forecast, says Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij.

Mr Korn yesterday said his ministry would put in place more fiscal policies to cope with the steeper-than-expected economic deterioration.

The government earlier forecast a contraction of up to 2% of GDP for the year.

"Without economic stimulus measures from the government, Thailand's economy could contract by 8% or 9% this year, which could cause almost 2 million workers nationwide to lose their jobs," Mr Korn said.

"The 3% shrinkage forecast has already taken into account figures that are the expected outcomes of the government's finance policies that will be implemented this year."

The finance minister said the government needed to continue its budget deficit policy next fiscal year with the deficit figure rising to 390 billion baht from 350 billion baht this fiscal year.

This fiscal year's deficit figure of 350 billion baht is equivalent to 3.5% of the country's GDP.

Mr Korn said the government would exercise its budget deficit policy cautiously because it needed to take into account the long-term stability of state's finances.

The government would also issue a royal decree to authorise the government to spend the existing 17 billion baht in revenues gained from the digit lottery programme launched in 2003 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, Mr Korn said.

The government did not dare spend the 17 billion baht after the Council of State, which looked into the legality of the lottery scheme, ruled it was not underpinned by any law. This meant the government had no authority to spend the money.

The digit lottery scheme was scrapped by the coup-appointed Surayud Chulanont government.

Economist and former deputy prime minister Olarn Chaipravat said for each 1% contraction in GDP, some 400,000 people would lose their jobs.

Based on this premise, if GDP shrinks by 3% this year, down from 2.6% growth last year, unemployment could rise to over 2 million.

Satit Rungkasiri, the Revenue Department's adviser on strategic tax administration, said the department had forecast that country's tax revenues would fall 120 billion to 130 billion baht below its 1.4-trillion-baht target.

Mr Satit also said this year's tax revenue figure was even lower than in 1997, when the so-called "Tom Yum Kung" economic crisis hit the country.

"It might be because the revenue set a lower target during the Tom Yum Kung crisis. This year, we've set quite a high target," Mr Satit said.

Amara Sripayak, the central bank's senior director for the domestic economy, supported the government's plan to seek loans from foreign banks, saying the administration's spending of the money on infrastructure projects over the next three years would help boost investors' confidence in the country's economy over the long run.

She said private investors would not invest more in the Thai economy in the near future because many did not expect the Thai economy to recover within the year.

"It's better for the government to spend on megaprojects over the next three years," she said.

Mrs Amara also supported the Finance Ministry's plan to give priority to the implementation of fiscal measures to spur growth.

The measures would help boost the country's flagging economy, while those measures could be backed up by monetary measures as well, she suggested.

Meanwhile, MPs and senators will meet today to deliberate the government's proposal to borrow 70 billion baht from foreign banks to shore up the economy.

The House Secretariat has sent a letter to MPs calling on them to take part in the special sitting.

The government plans to seek 70 billion baht in loans from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency to fight the economic slump.

The borrowing is aimed at financing investment in infrastructure projects, including logistics, water management systems, health care and education.

To be vetted by parliament are also a Thai-Japanese fiscal cooperation plan and a draft loan contract proposed by the Abhisit Vejjajiva cabinet.

The documents involve the Japanese government's initial agreement to lend 63 billion yen to Thailand to invest in the Red Line mass transit route from Bang Sue to Rangsit.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Massive Layoffs Taking Place In Thailand

By D. Arul Rajoo

BANGKOK, March 19 (Bernama) -- Severe global economic crisis has taken its toll on Thai companies, with massive layoffs, freeze in hiring and pay hike, more mutual separation programmes and cutting down benefits of the large expat work force taking place rapidly, a survey shows.

The survey among 141 companies in 19 sectors undertaken by Hewitt Associates found that 26 percent of companies indicated that they have already conducted lay-offs in the last months while another 30 percent anticipate conducting further lay- offs in the next six months.

In the last six months, the automotive and transportation services industries have seen the highest prevalence of lay-offs at a whopping 57.1 percent, the human resources consulting and outsourcing services firm said in its "Impact of Economic and Political Uncertainty/Instability on Businesses in Thailand" survey.

As they relied heavily on import and export businesses, the dwindling demand from overseas was obvious, especially with Thailand being the "Detroit of Asia" where several automotive manufacturing plants that serve a large export market are located here.

The auto industry forecasts shows that total vehicle production will drop to one million in 2009 compared to 1.4 last years.

Other industries where more than 25 percent of companies have experienced layoffs in the last six months are the energy, and banking and finance industries.

The Thai Ministry of Labour has reported that more than 100,000 people were made unemployed in Feb, 2009 alone while the Bank of Thailand has revised its GDP forecast for 2009 from previous expectations of four to five percent to between zero and two percent.

Over the last four months, there was a drastic difference in the impact of the economic and political uncertainty on businesses in the country, which went through months of political crisis due to street demonstrations, constant change of governments and closure of two major airports by anti-government protesters.

"If the economy continues to wither, these numbers may increase even further especially in those industries that face huge fixed costs as part of their business model," said Hewitt.

It said that even though there were no signs of the crisis recovering in the near future, the measures that companies in Thailand have implemented or are considering to implement are still far from drastic.

According to Hewitt, in its November 2008 pulse survey, it saw a mere 25 percent of companies "feeling some pain" from the crisis, but the number has now increased by almost two-fold to 46 percent.

"This means that almost half of the companies that participated in this survey have seen both their sales and growth forecasts drop significantly from their previous budgets," it said.

Among measures taken by companies to weather the crisis were pay freezes, pay cuts, reduce overtime or place stringent control on overtime expenses, reduction in fuel allowance, business travel and entertainment, as well as trimming company activities like office outing, sports day, annual party and extending replacement period of company car.

Besides freeze in hiring, 30 percent of the companies surveyed said they are undertaking improvement of job skills through internal job rotation to curb the need to hire outside talent to fill in any vacant positions.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thai gold exports surge

Surplus increases to 18-year high

Imports plummet 40% while exports fall 11%

Published: 19/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Business

Thailand posted its widest trade surplus in 18 years in February as demand continued to sink in face of the global recession.

The trade surplus in February widened to $3.58 billion from $1.38 billion a month earlier while imports plummeted 40.3%, the sharpest drop in 11 years. The decline follows January's 37.6% decline, according to Siripol Yodmuangcharoen, the Commerce Ministry's permanent secretary.

The steep import fall means lower demand for raw materials among manufacturers and falling oil prices which averaged US$40 per barrel compared with $100 in the same month last year.

Thailand imported 22.86 million barrels of oil in February worth $1.052 billion. The volume and value were down by 10.7% and 56.3% respectively.

Imports of capital goods fell 16.1%, with machinery down 14.1%, computers by 32.5%, and semi-finished and finished materials by 48.8%, mainly because of the shrinking demand among buyers who have been hard hit by the world economic slump.

The big fall in imports triggered by decreasing imports of raw materials and capital goods signals that manufacturing for exports is likely to decline in the coming months, said analysts.

Exports, which make up 70% of the economy, sank for the fourth consecutive month by 11.3% from a year earlier to $11.73 billion. Demand for electronics, auto parts, electrical appliances and agricultural and agro-industrial products has dried up.

Shipments of agricultural and agro-industrial products fell 10.5% to $1.81 billion, while those of industrial goods were down by 6.7% to $8.40 billion.

According to Mr Siripol, the February exports were also boosted by high gold prices which prompted Thai investors to sell the precious metal shipped to Hong Kong and other markets. Gold exports surged 1,148% last month to $1.86 billion from $781 million in January. Exports of jewellery and ornaments as a result rose 402.7% in February, earning $2.15 billion.

For the first two months, Thailand's exports fell across all sectors by 19.2% to $22.23 billion from the same period last year, mainly due to sluggish demand.

Imports for the period fell 38.9% to $17.27 billion in all categories especially energy (54.78%), capital goods (23.8%) and raw materials (45.3%). As a result, the trade surplus widened to $4.95 billion.

Aat Pisanwanich, director of the Centre for International Trade Studies of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) said he was a bit surprised to see big improvements in February's exports although the world economy was still mired in the downward spiral.

"The improvements ... could have been due in large part to re-exports of gold following a surge in gold prices and the weakness of the baht, which fell to 35-36 baht compared with 32-33 baht in the same period last year," he said.

Meanwhile, the farm sector could become the latest victim of the global crisis as its growth this year is expected to fall to 2.7% from earlier predictions of 3% to 4%.

Apichart Jongskul, secretary-general of the Office of Agricultural Economics, said the office had revised down the growth forecast after the performance in the first quarter was worse than expected, with only 1.5% expansion, compared with 1.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008.

He attributed the decline to smaller farm output, export declines and shrinking food consumption in the sluggish global economy.