By Pooky, this blog economics journalist
- The headlines says this is a major issue:
One headline said, “Taksin fuel the flames of conflict.”
Another said, “Government sends in 5,000 armed forest reserves to meet Red Shirt.”
Another said, “100,000 of poor will be hurt.”
Yet another said, “Double Standard apparent.”
Yet another said, “Thai public prosecutor says Sorrayuth, not guilty.”
Those headlines, relates to the situation at a mountain, Yai Thieng, where rich-men and poor-men are hacking it out over land ownership.
- A Mountain Defines Thai Land:
If you just think this story is about law enforcement, well we have to disappoint you greatly, because in Thailand, there is no law and order to talk of that is similar to more developed countries. Here in Thailand, law and order are just levers for those in control to use.
The Thai land battle, involves the Red Shirt, a coalition of liberal forces in Thailand, going to occupy a mountain with about 30,000 protesters. That is because, a few years ago, the forestry officials took many poor-men to court and got them out of encroaching small pieces of the mountain that is a forest reserve.
- Rich Thais gets Impunity:
The problem, is that Thailand’s former prime minister of the 2006 coup people, Sorrayuth, that kicked the Red Shirt leader, Taksin, out, went to occupy-not small pieces-but a great big chunk of the same mountain. Well the forest reserve did nothing off course about this rich-man.
So obviously, the Red Shirt, already angry about the coup, sees this since way back as a double standard in applying justice in Thailand. And so, today, the Red Shirt plans to occupy the mountain in protest.
- The Seed of Conflict:
The rich in Thailand had long been buying up land in Thailand, to the extent that a Chula University researched found that most of it, in the entire Thailand, had gone from poor to the rich-much of it, happened before the last Thai financial crisis, where the bubble that was growing, boosted property prices that lead to massive speculation and the poor selling much of it away.
- Foreigners Pay the Price:
Then as the rich-Thai went on the accumulation drive, at prime tourist area-like Puuket and Samui, the rich Thais went and sold it to foreigners-against Thai laws forbidding foreign ownership of Thai land.
That news of foreigners buying up prime tourist area, through nominees, lead to a serous bout of xenophobia, where the current Thai government ordered the Thai FBI, to investigate foreigners with Thai wife, to see if the foreigners were using their Thai wife to buy-up land in Thailand.
“Much of Thailand is now in control of foreigners,” said Manager Weekly, after that xenophobia lead to a massive investigation in Thailand to see if Thai farm land have been bought up by foreign agricultural interest-who then have hired Thais as slave labor.
- Poor Men Fight for Survival:
Well, all of the above, have left a great many poor Thais to go and encroach on virgin Thai land, such as forest reserves. However, both the Thai King and Queen, are very strong proponent of protecting water resources, and thus they are against forest deterioration.
In fact, this is precisely what several academic mentioned, in their objection to the Thai King appointing Sorrayuth to the position of a privy council person to the Thai King. “Thailand can not afford to have someone who exploits forest reserves for personal gains,” said the statement back a few years ago to the Thai King.
- A far Right Government Reaction:
The far right government of the current Thai prime minister, Abhisit, is also in a bind.
After an intensive and detailed look at Thailand, they found very few evidence to support being so xenophobic against foreigners buying up Thai land. And the witch hunt died off. And instead, the Thai government said land registration in Thailand, will be digitalized to screen all future buying.
“They are going to do a background search of all Thai, when buying property, to see if they are linked to foreigners through family or business registry,” said Hank, a foreigner head of a Thai franchise of a property sales firms, who have been selling property in Thailand to rich foreigners through the law allowing Thai land to be rented to foreigners on the long-term.
Most foreign chambers of commerce in Bangkok are in a drive to extend the lease time.
- Wider Implications:
But apart from the foreign implications, there are also some significant implications for rich and poor Thais, in this battle for Thai land.
Academics have been pushing “Property Tax” in Thailand for a long time, as a way to increase land utilization, since much of the land in the rich-man holding are just sitting there doing nothing-as there is not cost associated with the holdings. But after the rich-man objection, the government is not following-up.
Then academics also proposed, in substitution, “productive Land Use Laws” to tax land that are not utilized, but then again the rich-man objected, and that was again frozen-ed by the current Thai government.
Then the Thailand as a state, also holds massive amount of land bank throughout Thailand, and again academics have called for them to be allocated to the poor for usage. But again, after rich-man objection, that is again frozen.
Thailand is one of the few countries globally that is seeing the area of forestry growing, as most around the world are being “Burned” for farm land. That is because mainly of the Thai King and Queen position on protecting forest reserves.
That have helped protect Thailand’s water resources, but it also means poor-men, have no way to to exploit forest for farming activity.
“Why is it that the rich and powerful people in Thailand can exploit and hold land with impunity, and the poor are being taken to court for doing the same,” asked Thailand’s opposition party, Puey Thai MP, Chartuporn.
- Wild Life Suffers:
Meanwhile as all the attention went focusing on Yai Thieng, some Thai press are reporting that wild life in Thailand are being greatly endangered.
“This super highway that the government is going build, will skirt Khao Yai National Park. That is going to get the park de-listed from the world heritage status and bring massive development to the entire area that will see wild elephants and rare Thai buffaloes died out,” said Thai Rath, a mass circulated daily.
- Thailand’s Best Academic Point of View:
A celebrated Thai, with UK’s top university degree on forestry issues, who have been working to get Thai children interested in animal life at small streams deep in Thailand’s forest, Aoi, told this blog years ago the following:
“There is no rich, poor, foreigners fighting in Thailand. The poor exploit mainly to sell to the rich, and the rich then sells the best to Thais and foreigners for development, and in the end the forest gets hurt along with the wild life.”
According to Aoi, on the line is massive track of land in “No-man’s land” that is being used by 100,000s of poor Thais for farming.
“The government is trying to let these holding to be sold legally, and that will be the end of Thailand when these poor Thais then going on another binge of encroachment-for another round of profit.”