By Stingray, Thai Intel’s national security journalist
“Since I joined the Thai military, there have been a bonus for soldiers around October. But for the past few years, since the crack-down on the Red Shirts protesters, the bonus stopped,” said Pong, the commander of the artillery unit.
Asked to speculate why has the bonus stopped after the crack-down on the Red Shirts, Pong said, there were a great deal of budget relating to the crack-down for use as a bonus to soldiers, like paid vacations-but most of it was corrupted away.
“There was a great deal of corruption in the bonus money back during and after the crack-down, and I think it gave the military a bitter taste…….The rumor in the military is that high-ranking soldiers pocketed a great deal of bonus money meant for the rank and file and many soldiers are un-happy with how the bonus did not reach them,” said Pong.
- That crack-down, caused the death of about 100 protesters, many shot to the head, in execution style sniper shot to the head. That Thai military, said it was following the order of the then, Abhisit government. The cases are in the Thai courts, long known to serve the Thai establishment.
Pong said the bonus in the Thai military is not much, but it was important for morale since soldiers would use the bonus to plan for their year-end activity. Pong said his bonus amounted to about US$400 to US$500 and it was enough to take his family back home to visit his parents, and take along some presents.
“I am staying in Bangkok this year because I just do not have the money,” said Pong.
Asked why was there no more bonus in the military now, like before the time of corruption with the crack-down bonus? Pong said, the military budget under the 2006 coup government was high. He said, under the 2006 coup government, Thailand began a drive to improve the technology stack of the Thai military. That drive continues to today, with the experience of war with Cambodia, the terrorism in the Deep South, and the trouble in the Pacific Waters, said Pong.
“Even with new and better equipment, the Army is just not taking on more soldiers. ……There seems to be a freeze in the number of soldiers,” said Pong.
Currently, with Yingluck as the prime minister, Thailand is continuing to increasing the quality of military equipment, and the budget has mostly gone there, but it is not a coup government so the military budget is not getting bigger, said Pong. He says his artillery unit is getting some very advance add-on equipment, and the work load have increased for every soldier in the unit to keep up with the technology. “The military is not taking in new soldiers but loading the new work on to existing soldiers,” said Pong.
Asked what is he doing to survive the poor pay at the military, Pong said he is taking on odd jobs inside the military. He says he is volunteering for extra duty to guard security sensitive area, for example, and work as a driver for senior soldiers, but adds that, the extra work is loading him up with new work on top of his normal duty.
“I plan to stay in the military for only a few more years. My plan is to return to the my family’s farming estate and work the farm,” says Pong.
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