IF Thailand wants to be real democracy – as its various political leaders on all sides of the spectrum insist it should become – then it must allow genuine freedom of speech, and not the half-baked version we have now. This means lifting restrictions on all those institutions that currently forbid any kind of criticism. The country has enough laws to deal with libel and slander, along with some fairly harsh penalties. These are sufficient to make people extremely wary of any kind of defamation without resorting to blanker curbs on people’s honest opinions.
ONE of the biggest losers in the scandalous collapse of the LMIM property fund in Australia is Australia itself. It’s clear that many of the investors were originally attracted to the fund for the very sound reason that it was based on property in Australia, generally regarded as one of the world’s best governed, financially sound and most strictly regulated countries. But more than one year after LMIM was wound up with losses of some $3,000 million, its thousands of victims located in almost 70 different countries across the globe are still waiting for the Australian government and its various agencies to come up with a rational explanation of how such a failure – one of the biggest in Australian history – could have escaped its notice. They’re also waiting for the government to announce how it’s going to deal with LMIM’s boss, Peter Drake, who’s reportedly still at liberty to continue in employment, as well as his fellow board members, who were surely fully aware of the parlous state of the fund long before it actually collapsed. The victims are now anxious to know what kind of settlement they can expect from what’s left of Drake’s various business and personal assets, which are thought to be considerable. And finally, they want to know about their financial entitlements from the regulatory authorities.
The damage the LMIM fiasco has caused to Australia’s reputation as a safe haven for investors is incalculable. If this fund can collapse so easily, so can others. The sooner Australia gets to grip with this scandal, the better it will be for all – especially the many people whose lives have been shattered by the greed of a few.
HOW much of a difference will the Asean Economic Community (AEC) make to Thailand when it comes into being in late 2015? That’s a question so huge and all-embracing, it’s very tempting to suggest that no one really knows. As a free trade zone within the Asean member countries, it is expected to result in the free mobility of services, investments, capitalization and skilled labour. That’s the theory, but like the EU after which it is fashioned, it may not pan out quite so wonderfully in practice. In Europe, each country has always been able to impose its own rules and domestic taxes (look at the way France bans non-French ski instructors in its resorts, and the UK levies taxes on wine and spirits that are so high, Britons in their thousands cross the Channel daily to buy cheaper products in France, including English beer!). And there’s every reason to believe that AEC members will do the same, restricting goods, services and labour, whenever it suits them. The cultural and economic differences across the countries of Asean are so vast that it is extremely unlikely that any one of them will simply fling open their doors to outsiders. True, masses of Germans haven’t moved to France, Britons to Spain and so on, but with (mostly) free labour mobility in AEC, it is quite feasible that the already substantial flow of Burmese, Laotians, Cambodians and even Filipinos into Thailand could become a torrent. And that may not be welcomed by ordinary Thais.
SAD to say, but the quality life in Bangkok is now at an all-time low. Under the crush of so many people, and without proper planning, zoning and control, the city creaks and groans. The congestion gets worse. Bangkok’s expressways are massively inadequate for the number of vehicles plying them, many sidewalks are now so jammed with vendors that it’s easier for pedestrians to compete with cars and buses on the roads, unrestricted parking on side streets often makes it difficult for other vehicles to pass, the BTS and MRT are packed for much of the day and night, and queues are everywhere. Then there’s the fast-rising cost of everything from food and accommodation to travel and all kinds of daily necessities, the more frequent blackouts, the slower Internet, the noise and pollution of day and night construction, and the rudeness and impatience of people as frustration amplified by the heat sets in. Some may blame the political stand-off and the ineffectiveness of a ‘caretaker’ government for Bangkok’s ills. But the BMA officials remain above politics and show little inclination to ease the city’s woes. Neither do the police who nonetheless continue to harass motorcyclists and tourists suspected (mostly incorrectly) of wrongdoings.
Where’s the authority? Where are the plans to improve things? Where are the parks and the skywalks promised by the Governor? What’s happening to our once much-loved Bangkok?