Archive for December, 2013

December 31, 2013

Happy Holidays to everyone and Happy New Year 2014. Thanks

HappyHolidaysBanner2012-

DREAMS

Now here we go again                                    You say you want your freedom
Well who I am to keep you down                 It’s only right that you should
Play the way you feel it                                  But listen carefully to the sound
Of your loneliness                                           Like a heartbeat, drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering what you had
And what you lost
And what you had
And what you lost

[Chorus]

Thunder only happens when it’s raining                   Players only love you when they’re playing
Say women they will come and they will go              When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know

Now here I go again, I see the crystal visions            I keep my visions to myself
It’s only me                                                                       Who wants to wrap around your dreams and
Have you any dreams you’d like to sell?                    Dreams of loneliness
Like a heartbeat, drives you mad                                In the stillness of remembering what you had

And what you lost
What you had
And what you lost

[Chorus]

Thunder only happens when it’s raining
Players only love you when they’re playing
Say women they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know

Happy Holidays to everyone and Happy New Year 2014.

Thanks

20070705_laos_lg

December 30, 2013

Election stand-off may well be the beginning of the end of Thai democracy

Sin-ming Shaw mulls the ruinous impact of animosity between the Thaksin camp and its opponents

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1393154/democracy-thailand-its-death-throes

Sin-ming Shaw

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 5:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 1:48am

Thai soldiers wear gas masks as they stand guard at the Thai-Japan youth stadium in central Bangkok. Photo: Reuters

Thailand is once again being convulsed by extreme partisan politics, with the country’s polarisation playing out on Bangkok’s streets. The sense that Thailand has been through all of this before would be mildly reassuring were it not for a nagging fear that this decent and prosperous society may be set to destroy its democracy.

Much of the violence has been led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister. He has inspired thousands of demonstrators, many from his power base in the country’s south, to storm and occupy government buildings with the aim of unseating Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Suthep says that this is the first step in rooting out “Thaksinism” from the country’s political life.

On December 1, Suthep demanded – and received – a meeting with Yingluck in the presence of Thailand’s military chiefs. During the meeting, he gave her a two-day deadline to resign.

With the police failing to control the mobs in the streets without the help of the military, Yingluck decided to resign and dissolve parliament, declaring that she would lead a caretaker government until a new election is held on February 2.

The date was endorsed by a “reform forum”, established to resolve the crisis and comprising Bangkok’s elite, including the military. Suthep and his followers were dissatisfied, rejecting Yingluck even as an interim prime minister and demanding that the election be held after political reforms – the sort he would agree with – are implemented.

In fact, Suthep has called for a “people’s council” comprised of 400 unbiased representatives. The council would replace the Senate after the upper house nominates a new leader to be appointed by the king, thus obviating the need for elections in the near future. Wassana Nanuam, the military-affairs correspondent of the Bangkok Post, has described the move as a “silent” coup d’état: no tanks in the streets.

The Democrat Party, led by the former court-appointed prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, has separately announced a boycott of the February 2 election on the grounds that the party could not reform the country even if it participated. The Democrat Party last won a parliamentary majority in 1992.

While the military chiefs’ inclinations have been with Bangkok’s elite, they are being careful to keep their options open. Their unsuccessful stint in power following the military coup in 2010 appears to have taught them that they should wait to see if their political allies can break Thaksin’s electoral stranglehold, which has lasted 12 years and five general elections, before deciding what to do next.

Bangkok’s elite maintain that Thaksin and his allies have bought their electoral victories. But Freedom House, which tracks democracy and civil rights around the world, declared Yingluck’s landslide electoral victory in 2011 free and fair, a position supported by most Thailand experts.

Despite Thaksin’s corrupt image, a majority of mainly poorer Thais see him as their only alternative to the country’s out-of-touch urban elite. Indeed, Suthep’s insistence on delaying the election is an open admission that he and his allies cannot win a fair contest, and he has even gone so far as to suggest that, with the “right” leader, Thailand may not need elections at all in the future.

Nor is it clear that any reforms would satisfy the anti-Thaksin camp, except for those designed to deny Thaksin’s followers a parliamentary majority.

That said, Thaksin and his sister bear some responsibility for their recent misfortunes. Guilty of excessive hubris, their ability to empathise with the peasants and the urban poor is matched only by their disregard for the urban middle class and its members’ demand for clean government and rule of law.

Yingluck must also take some blame for her clumsy handling of the current crisis. What ignited the protests was her attempt to amend an amnesty bill, originally intended as a grudging act of reconciliation between the country’s opposing “red” and “yellow” political camps. But, while the amnesty was to apply to lesser crimes committed from 2006 to 2011, Yingluck tried to extend it two years earlier and include capital crimes – a move rightly seen as a blatant attempt to absolve her brother and pave the way for his return to Thailand.

Thaksin’s supporters miscalculated in assuming that they could so easily abuse their parliamentary majority. Anger erupted among Bangkok’s middle classes, prompting Suthep to unleash his mobs.

The story is far from over. If recent history is any guide, the February election (assuming it is held) will sweep Thaksin’s allies back to power.

What follows will be fraught with risks of further instability, as poor rural Thais face off against wealthy urban elite, and polarisation intensifies between the north, where most people live, and the southern power base of the Democrat Party and Suthep, the street mobs’ leader.

Sin-ming Shaw, a former fellow at Oxford University, is an investor based in Asia and Argentina Copyright: Project Syndicate

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Election stand-off may well be the beginning of the end of Thai democracy
December 29, 2013

Laos is booming but cracks starting to show

Laos is booming but cracks starting to show

“We’re not any richer because of this dam. The only people who get anything, who get richer, are those in the government.”

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/business/12/29/13/laos-booming-cracks-starting-show

By Aubrey Belford and Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters
Posted at 12/29/2013 11:27 AM | Updated as of 12/29/2013 11:27 AM

A villager leads her buffalos in Khammouane province October 27, 2013. Photo by Audrey Belford, Reuters

VIENTIANE – For the Communists running Laos, the fruits of capitalism have never been so bountiful.

The Nam Phou fountain at the heart of the torpid capital, Vientiane, has transformed from a relic into a neon-lit phantasmagoria, surrounded by expensive restaurants. On the increasingly congested roads, the elite car choice is a Range Rover or, failing that, a Lexus.

This is the result of years of more than 8 percent growth, driven by commodities exports and a flood of investment from neighbouring China, Thailand and Vietnam. The Laos stock market, the world’s smallest, made its coy debut in 2011.

The boom in Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries, is not over, but serious cracks are starting to show. Economists warn the country of 6.7 million is facing the downside of a development model based on easy credit, resource exploitation and infrastructure mega projects.

“The economy is overheating,” Ashvin Ahuja, who led an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation to Laos in September, told Reuters.

The IMF has identified a range of problems.

A shortfall in government revenues coupled with ballooning expenditure – particularly rises in pay to public servants – has seen the fiscal deficit rise to about 6.5 percent of GDP. Inflation is projected to rise to about 7.5 percent by the end of the year, and up to 9.4 percent next year.

The country’s foreign exchange reserves are enough to cover just 80 percent of one month’s imports. Western banking and business sources, who insisted on anonymity, told Reuters that there had been a shortage of U.S. dollars for several months.

On the streets of Vientiane, frustration is growing as prices rise and incomes become precarious.

In August, a kilo of pork sold by Chantara Phommavongsee at Vientiane’s Thong Kan Kham market went for 68,000 kip, or about $8.60, she said. Fast-forward four months and it was selling for 75,000 kip. Civil servants are coming less often – the government had not paid them in months.

The black economy, meanwhile, is thriving. On weekends, smart customers drive across the Mekong River to Thailand, where prices are cheaper, Chanthara said. Some come back with goods for sale. “Cars, food, medicine, building materials,” Chantara reeled off the list. “All Thai.”

The normally reticent and secretive government appears to be listening.

Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong warned in September that “Laos is running a high level of debt and is at risk of a financial crisis” and ordered ministers to cut costs, according to the state-run Vientiane Times newspaper.

The government has delayed payments to some contractors, promised to curb salary rises and suspended a 760,000 kip monthly allowance for civil servants.

These measures have been welcomed by the IMF. But the fund has warned a major change of course is needed if the country wants to keep growing in the future.

MISSING OUT

Beneath the warnings of economists, there is a deeper critique from some quarters on the Lao development model: that the country is squandering its natural wealth and enriching its elite, while the majority is left behind.

One of the country’s traditional wealth generators, resource extraction, faces entrenched corruption. Commodities such as rubber and timber often pass out of the country with little or no tax being paid, thanks to an opaque network of political connections. At the same time, black market imports are flowing.

“Although all traditional economic indicators say Laos is doing okay, Laos is getting screwed,” a senior member of the Western business community in Vientiane told Reuters.

“Laos is missing out on an unquantified – by anyone, not the IMF, not the World Bank, anyone – amount of revenue.”

Optimists point to headline figures, such as a one-third decrease in the poverty rate in the 15 years to 2008. Pessimists focus on other indicators: the tiny landlocked country has Southeast Asia’s highest incidence of child mortality and one of its lowest school enrolment rates.

The government is staking much of its future on large-scale infrastructure projects, including multi-billion dollar road and high-speed rail links intended to turn Laos into a crossroads of China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Even more ambitiously, the country is seeking to become “the battery of Southeast Asia” through the construction of a series of massive dams on its pristine rivers, despite howls of protest from environmentalists. The government plans to export most of the electricity.

There are 13 dams operating in the country, and another 70, such as the giant Thai-funded Xayaburi dam on the Mekong, in the construction, planning or feasibility stages. The country aims to produce 12,500 megawatts of power by 2020.

Julian Newman, campaigns director at the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, says many projects face the same problems that have plagued the export of commodities, with kickbacks and benefits flowing to business people and their allies in the Communist Party and government.

In some cases, contractors can earn a healthy sideline in illegally clearing forests near projects, Newman said.

Viraphonh Viravong, Laos’ Vice Minister of Energy and Mines, said the government was serious about rooting out corruption and that banks and international donors helped ensure the transparency of large scale projects.

“Wherever you go in this world, there is corruption. It exists not only in the least developed countries but in the most developed countries as well,” Viraphonh told Reuters by email.

Viraphonh said the government had last year imposed a moratorium on the granting of new large mining and plantation concessions, but would not rethink the pursuit of megaprojects.

“The Lao PDR is duty bound, morally and politically, to continue to harness the might of the rivers that flow through our country, to power cities, electrify rural areas and generate the necessary resources to overcome poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, illiteracy and for the greater good of our people,” he said.

NO RICHER

If any project shows that Laos can pull off its dream of dam-based development it’s Nam Theun 2, a massive 1,000 megawatt project in the country’s south.

With the backing of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the $1.45 billion dam went into operation in 2010 with a raft of measures to mitigate its environmental impact and contribute to local livelihoods.

For Nam Theun 2’s backers, the project is already a success. The dam is on track to earn $2 billion for the Lao government over 25 years, with monitoring in place to make sure the money does not evaporate. For the roughly 6,000 people displaced by the dam, life has also improved, said Meriem Gray, a spokeswoman for the World Bank.

Surveys done by the Nam Theun 2 Power Company found 87 percent of resettled villagers see themselves as better off, she said. School enrolments have also jumped, along with access to electricity and clean water.

Environmentalists, however, say the dam has been a disaster for the displaced, as well as 110,00 people reliant on downstream agriculture and fisheries.

A two-day visit by Reuters to the dam site also suggested the project’s achievements have been mixed at best.

Where villages once stood there is now a reservoir peppered with dead trees and stagnant water the colour of weak coffee. A narrow artificial peninsula hosts settlements for relocated locals.

In interviews with Reuters, residents repeated the same complaints. Power cuts are frequent, in spite of the nearby power plant. The 0.6 hectares of land granted to each family as part of the relocation deal was not enough to live off, they said, while fishing in the reservoir was often not good enough to provide an alternative livelihood.

One economic benefit that has arrived has been Laos’ traditional cash cow: black market resource extraction.

The project and the roads that have come with it have opened up the area to poaching and the near-eradication of valuable hardwoods from nearby forests, according to a recent independent report by a panel of experts commissioned by the World Bank.

Local people admitted to taking part in the illegal logging trade around Nam Theun 2 and claimed local government officials were complicit.

“We didn’t have to do this before moving here because we made a good living from the land,” said 43-year-old Wan, who told Reuters almost every family in his resettlement village was involved.

Mixay, the 45-year-old matriarch of a family of 10 in another village, echoed the sense of disappointment.

“I thought life would be much better, but it isn’t at all,” she said. “We’re not any richer because of this dam. The only people who get anything, who get richer, are those in the government.”

December 28, 2013

Parliament approves 14 laws, economic and budget reports

Parliament approves 14 laws, economic and budget reports

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Parliament.htm

By Times Reporters (Latest Update December 28, 2013)

The National Assembly (NA) has approved 14 laws along with the socio- economic development and spending reports for 2012-2013, and the audited budget expenditure report for 2011-2012.

The parliament members approved the resolution of the NA’s 6th ordinary session that began on December 9 at the closing ceremony yesterday.

Head of the NA’s Administrative Office and NA’s spokesman, Dr Ounkeo Vouthirath told local media in a press conference that the session also approved this year’s socio-economic development plan, targets and measures to achieve the targets.

Ms Pany Yathortou calls for the government to deliver good governance to prevent official corruption.

The parliament endorsed the government’s proposal to establish the former Xaysomboun special-administrative zone as a new province of Laos in the hope of speeding up development in the impoverished zone.

Of the 14 laws approved, six are new laws, while the rest are amended laws. The new laws are the Law on Military Prosecutor, Law on Military Court, Law on Public Security, Law on Child Trial Prosecution, Law on Biotechnology Security, and the Law on Vocational Education.

The eight amended laws are the Labour Law, Enterprise Law, Law on Accountancy, Law on Post, Law on Metrology, Law on Value added Tax, Law on Industrial Processing, and Law on National Heritage.

However, the amended Law on Water Resources could not be approved after the NA members realised that further improvement to the draft-amended law was needed.

During the session, the parliament also heard the report on the recovery effort the government had undertaken to normalise the living conditions of people in disaster affected areas.

In her closing remarks, NA president Pany Yarthortou, representing the NA members, praised the government for the achievements it has made, including maintaining high-level economic growth and political stability.

However, she stated, the parliamentary members believe that various challenges lie ahead, pressing the need for the government to address issues of concern.

In particular, she said, the improvement of the economic and investment structure as well as the bank loan structure has, in some respects, not followed the direction of the 7th five-year socio-economic development plan.

In this context, “The NA’s session proposed that the government should increase its guidance with the aim of securing and strengthening the macro-economy,” she told the government.

President Choummaly Sayasone, Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong and the government cabinet members also at tended the closing ceremony.

She asked the government to place a specific focus on addressing state debt and securing a sound financial position for the national economy, while excising frugal expenditure.

The government was asked to suspend investment on projects deemed as ‘less necessary’, but prioritise funds for rural development and poverty reduction schemes in a move to attain the millennium development goals.

The parliament also called for the government to make the most effective use of natural resources, with a view to environmental protection and sustainable development.

Ms Pany pressed the need for the government to improve and deliver good governance to prevent official corruption, while creating conditions favourable for business operations.

By Times Reporters (Latest Update December 28, 2013)

December 28, 2013

Govt to borrow US$263 million to address budget deficit

Govt to borrow US$263 million to address budget deficit

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Govt%20to%20borrow.htm

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy (Latest Update December 24, 2013)

The Lao government plans to borrow 2,105 billion kip (US$263 million) from local and international sources to address the budget deficit this fiscal year, according to a prime ministerial decree.

The decree on the implementation of the 2013/2014 socio-economic development plan shows that the government expects to borrow 1,804 billion kip (US$225.5 million) from international sources.

It will also sell 300 billion kip (US$37.5 million) worth of bonds to local and international investors so as they can use the money to address the budget deficit.

The Lao government plans to collect 15,726 billion kip (US$1.9 billion) in revenue this fiscal year to meet the growing demands of state expenditure, according to a prime ministerial decree.

The decree on the implementation of the 2013/2014 socio-economic development plan shows that 73.22 percent of the revenue will come from domestic sources including business taxes, import-export tariffs, land taxes, income from state enterprises and the sale of timbers.

The rest of the revenue will come from official development assistance (ODA) provided by development partners including Japan.

In the 2013/2014 fiscal year, the Lao government plans to spend 17,831 million kip (US$2.2 billion), which will force the government to borrow 2,105 billion kip (US$263 million) so as it will be able to secure funds for all planned expenditure projects.

The largest area of expenditure will be state investment, which will account for 44 percent of the state budget. Salaries for state employees will be the second largest area of expenditure, accounting for 19.33 percent of total expenditure.

Some 13 percent of total state expenditure will be allocated towards the payment of debt and 9 percent of the budget will be used for administrative purpose s.

Economists have cautioned that the budget deficit level is high. However, it is still within the acceptable range therefore it should not cause any significant impacts to the macro economy.

They also said that the country has a number of investment projects which will generate enough funds for the country to address the budget deficit in the longer tern.

The international community continues to provide financial and technical assistance to Laos despite the fact that it is facing economic difficulties.

Laos received US$777 million in financial and technical assistance from development partners in the 2012/2013 fiscal year, about 0.27 percent in excess of the annual target.

About 72 percent of the funds are in the form of grants while the rest are low interest loans. The Lao government has invested the money on some 883 development projects nationwide.

Most of the development projects aim to help Laos to achieve the millennium development goals, reduce poverty and escape least developed country status.

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy (Latest Update December 24, 2013)

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