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Thai Generals and Corruption; A modest proposal to privatize Thailand’s state enterprises

Thai Generals and Corruption

A modest proposal to privatize Thailand’s state enterprises.

Updated June 12, 2014 10:25 p.m. ET

The Thai junta sent out its spokesman, Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak, on Wednesday to tell foreign journalists to stop calling last month’s “military intervention” a coup. Also, he reminded the press corps that Thailand doesn’t have political prisoners, just people who have been invited to enjoy the military’s comfortable accommodations.

When the laughter died down, Col. Werachon reiterated the Thai junta’s plans to root out corruption from all government institutions. The generals will set up an inclusive Reform Council to come up with the plan.

We don’t doubt for a moment that Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has installed himself as acting Prime Minister, has the purest of motives. But previous military governments started out with similar ambitious promises and ended up just as corrupt as the politicians they replaced.

So here is one modest proposal for a reform that would do more to reduce corruption than all of Thailand’s 13 coups combined: privatize the state enterprises that dominate large parts of the economy. The rich profits they earn fuel Thailand’s patronage politics and encourage a “winner takes all” dynamic that has polarized the nation.

On May 31, the junta called in the heads of 56 large state companies, many of them appointed by the ousted government of Yingluck Shinawatra, and “invited” them to resign. But putting these cash cows back in the hands of the aristocratic elite will not solve corruption. Only privatization will remove the temptation for rent-seeking, and it will also force the companies to become more efficient and offer consumers lower prices.

That seems like a no-brainer. But then again, some cynics doubt that the generals really want to tackle corruption. Their bete noire, then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, planned in 2006 to privatize several of these companies, starting with the Electric Generating Authority of Thailand. His plans came to nought because he was overthrown in a coup, er, military intervention.

 

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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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