Advocates for rural poor demand land rights from Thai military regime

The People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move), a grassroots group campaigning for land rights for the rural poor, has asked the government to help 486 communities that are waiting for land title deeds.

These forest dwellers, who have been living on national park land for generations, now find their homes are classified as encroaching on protected land following policy changes over the past 30 years.

Currently, the communities are waiting to receive Chanode Choom Chon title deeds to their land as part of a government-initiated scheme to return land rights to disenfranchised groups.

However, Jumnong Nupan, a representative of P-Move from the Four Regions Slum Network, told media that the forest dwellers have been kept waiting too long and are struggling to make a living because they are not allowed to do anything with the land until they receive their deeds.

“These villagers can’t chop down a single tree, nor build bridges and roads or even dig a well to get water. Basically, they can’t do anything but live there, so what’s the point of having land if you can’t make a living out of it? It’s no different from not having any land at all,” said Mr Jumnong.

The group on Monday submitted a petition to the government asking for special land protection rights to ensure the communities can live and make use of the land while they wait for their land deeds.

Currently, they need to ask the provincial governor for a permit if they want to make use of the land.

“Everything we have to do to survive on our land must be run by the governor first. In reality, we can’t live like that, that’s why we came here, to demand a change of policy,” Mr Jumnong said during a protest depicting local people being evicted from their land and mocking government incompetence and injustice against grassroots people. P-Move will keep pressuring the cabinet for the approval of land protection rights tomorrow. “If this is still rejected, the network will meet to plan a stronger response.”

Source: Bangkok Post

Thailand: Inequality in education

A recent Credit Suisse report named Thailand the most unequal country in the world, with just one percent of the population owning 66.9 percent of the nation’s wealth. The findings prompted We Fair Network, social justice advocacy group made up of 13 organisations to call for serious reforms of Thailand’s budget and welfare system.

The group presented its proposal for the reform of the country’s welfare system based on seven aspects to key political figures at a forum earlier this week. The seven fronts were education, healthcare, housing, employment, pension and social equality.

The group said improving the welfare system, making changes to tax collection and improving budget management were essential to solving the problems of wealth disparity and social inequality. It also said that progressive policies to create an efficient universal welfare system were necessary for combating the problem of gross social inequality.

The We Fair Network also cautioned that the government’s approach to reducing poverty and social inequality by targeting social welfare at the poor only was misguided. Decharut Sukkumnoed, an economics professor at Kasetsart University, said at the root of social disparity in Thailand was insufficient and poor-quality welfare as well as unequal access to state welfare among citizens.

“Many poor people are unable to pursue their goals and improve their livelihoods because they do not get enough assistance from authorities to get good education, which is an important foundation in life,” he said.

“Meanwhile, many middle-class people are also facing financial problems as they have to rely on expensive education and healthcare services from the private sector, because the quality of state welfare is poor.”

Continue reading The Asean Post: Inequality in education

Pro-democracy Pheu Thai party sees high applicant turnout in Thailand’s northeastern provinces

The Pheu Thai Party saw a high turnout of membership applicants on Saturday in this northeastern province, where a party leader urged people to vote for Pheu Thai if they feel poorer now than they used to be.

A crowd of people from Yasothon, Amnat Charoen and Ubon Ratchathani thronged the Pheu Thai office in Ubon Ratchathani as the party opened applications for people in the three lower northeastern provinces.

Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Vechayachai told the applicants that the party was ready for the coming election as it wanted to solve the problems facing local people.

He said the party would use the experience gained during its previous term in government, before the 2014 coup, to help people live a good life with money in their pockets.

“In the upcoming election, people are free to choose any party. If you think you are richer now, just choose other parties,” he told the crowd.

“But if you think you are getting poorer now with no money left in your pockets, please vote for Pheu Thai to solve this problem. People want to see a better change, particularly better livelihoods. Now, let’s all hope the general election will be held as scheduled.”

Source Bangkok Post: Pheu Thai sees high applicant turnout

Wealth gap remains under Thai military rule

In theory, Thailand’s coup-installed military regime should be better placed than elected governments to push through unpopular legislation such as tax hikes without the democratic pressure of needing to please voting constituencies.

In practice, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has failed to implement any serious redistributive tax reforms after four years in power. With new polls looming in 2019, his junta government is running out of time to significantly address the kingdom’s yawning wealth gap.

When Prayut seized power in a May 2014 coup, one of his professed priorities was to implement tax reforms that guide Thailand towards a more equitable society. That vow was partly a response to mass “Red Shirt” demonstrations that rallied against the huge income gap between urban and rural areas.

The “Red Shirts” were mobilized by self-exiled, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire businessman-turned-politician whose populist policies delivered by three of his led or backed governments earned him strong support both among the urban and rural poor.

Prayut’s first finance minister, Sommai Phasee, whose last name ironically sounds like the Thai word for “tax”, was tasked with drafting tax legislation that would redress the rich-poor divide.

Prior to being removed in a 2015 Cabinet reshuffle, Sommai pushed through a watered-down inheritance tax, but was pressed by Prayut to postpone a more onerous land and building tax that would have more squarely hit Thai elites, the key backers of his coup-installed regime.

Continue reading Asia Times: Wealth gap remains under Thai junta rule

As debt levels rise, more Thais struggle to keep up

Leaflets touting quick loans abound in Bangkok. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Pimpa Panlao, 31, is struggling to pay off an 80,000-baht bank loan and spends a third of her income from selling women’s accessories at a Bangkok market to repay the loan.

“Business is bad and it’s very tough when you have debt,” Ms Pimpa told Reuters, who used part of the loan to finance her business. She is not alone.

With a debt mountain of 12.17 trillion baht at the end of March, the equivalent of 77.6% of gross domestic product, Thai households are among the biggest borrowers in Asia and they are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with payments.

In addition, their debt pain could increase because the central bank has signalled it is likely to follow other central banks around the world and raise interest rates from near-record lows.

Non-performing mortgages, defined as those that have not been serviced in more than three months, were 3.39% of total home loans at the end of the second quarter, the highest level since the end of the global financial crisis in 2009.

Auto loans that have been delinquent for one to three months rose to 7.25% at the end of June, the highest since September last year, and compared with 6.97% at the end of March.

Private consumption is a critical element driving the Thai economy, accounting for half of its $490 billion GDP.

Consumers continued to borrow at a robust pace in the second quarter, when overall consumer debt rose 8% from a year earlier. That included a 6.2% rise in mortgage loans and a 12.4% jump in car loans.

But the risk is that an increasing debt burden will drag on Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

Continue reading: Reuters


“Unequal wealth distribution, graft among major challenges facing Thailand”

Unequal wealth distribution is one of the most pressing problems facing Thailand with the richest one percent owning more than half of the total household wealth while entrenched corruption is threatening the country’s long-term growth, Governor of the Bank of Thailand Veerathai Santiprabhob said today.

He also said low financial literacy and high household debt level hamper the ability of individuals to pursue new opportunities and secure long-term financial security.

“Essentially, widening wealth and income inequality is a major contributor to the fragility of the Thai society and is frequently used as an excuse to draw public support for a number of costly and unsustainable populist policies,” Veerathai said in opening remarks at a forum on sustainable banking organized by the central bank.

He also pointed out that Thailand as an ageing society is facing a declining labour force. “And yet a number of public policies have focused on creating short-term stimulus rather than on encouraging the necessary adjustments to address long-term productivity issue,” he said, adding that the educational standards have not been able to prop up the low productivity level and lag behind in many important areas.

Another challenge facing Thailand is the environmental and ecological issues. He said continuing irresponsible actions—from massive burning of fossil fuels to excessive use of plastic containers—contributed to the overall deterioration of the global environment. “And, as we have observed, climate change has resulted in increasing frequency as well as severity of natural disasters. The painful experience of the great floods of 2011 should be a case in point, as these floods were the result of rampant deforestation, new developments blocking natural water ways, and clogged drainage system from careless waste disposal.” he said.

But it is entrenched corruption that Veerathai believes is a major obstacle to achieving long-term focus. “Paying bribes and granting favors are harmful practices that incur unnecessary costs and create distortions in resource allocation,” he said.

He pointed out that despite years of anti-corruption campaigns, Thailand’s level of corruption has been largely unchanged and blamed practices in the financial sector as part of the culprits of corruption.

Veerathai said these challenges are a result of actions taken without regard for moderation, responsibility and long-term consequences “and they should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”

“For without a proper remedy, we would be transferring unfair burden to future generations, thus impairing long-term sustainability and prosperity,” he said and called on all sectors to make collective efforts to address these challenges.

Veerathai urged the financial sector in particularly to take the lead in making changes toward sustainability that can be achieved if the focus is on long-term goals. He said the objective of the sustainable banking forum is to raise awareness of the various issues of sustainability and identify gaps within the financial sector.

“It is now up to all of us—financial institutions, policymakers, and leaders—to embrace sustainability and incorporate its guiding principles in our daily lives and business practices,” said.

Source: Thai PBS