Monday, May 30, 2011

No more board meeting transcripts?

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that for many months there has no new posting under the label "Board meeting", announcing imminent changes to the local administrative units, mostly upgrades of TAO to municipalities. There even were municipal upgrades lately which I only learned about by the announcement in the Royal Gazette - Ang Sila became town in March - or recently by a posting in the 2bangkok forum when Rangsit was upgraded to a city municipality.

The reason for this is simply that there are no new board meeting transcripts on the website of the Legal Affairs Bureau since September last year. I have no idea if making these was discontinued intentionally - which would be very sad - or more likely that the website has become neglected. There was a massive redesign of the website earlier this year, which gave the site a much more modern look, and even added useful things like a RSS feed, but apparently after the change to the new content management system nothing was done anymore. The webmaster even did not notice for weeks that the direct URL gave an empty page, and only by luck I found the correct internal link to see the page. To make it worse, I tried to notify the webmaster (and ask about those transcripts) by the contact page, and only response I got as a bounce email. So the only way I saw to notify was the forum of the website, but apparently that isn't read by anyone either. Another example of the impossibility to contact anyone in the administration online.

I waited a lot before turning into this rant mode, but I am really sad that all attempts to help the webmaster went into the big nothing, and there this good source of information has become quiet. I will of course continue to monitor the website, as well as reading the new RSS feed to see if anything pops up. If they come back, it will be a lot of work to to work through more than hundred transcripts at once, not one or two a week as I could do in past. But other departments are even worse - I really would love to have similar transcripts for the board of name changes, but even the agenda of the meetings is impossible to find online.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sister cities of Bangkok

Partner cities of Aachen, Germany
If one believes Wikipedia, then Bangkok has quite an impressive long list of partner cities from all over the world - a total of 28 at the time of writing this article. While its of course possible that a major city like Bangkok does have relationships with so many other cities, it is a bit surprising that there are three cities in Australia in the list. Some of the entries even have references to news articles, so I had no reason so far to doubt that list.

But again kudos to my reader Ian, who spotted his hometown Perth on the list, and since he not heard about the twinning before checked with the website of the city council of Perth where he found it to be not listed. Alerted by him, I found Berlin to be on the list as well, and again the city website of Berlin does not mention it either. So after some searching I finally found the corresponding listing on the website of the Bangkok city council (BMA). According to that page, Bangkok has just 14 sister cities, in Thai เมืองพี่เมืองน้อง, just half of those listed in Wikipedia.
  • Washington DC, USA, started in 1962 [Details]
  • Beijing, China, started in 1993 [Details]
  • Budapest, Hungary, started in 1997 [Details]
  • Brisbane, Australia, started in 1997 [Details]
  • Moscow, Russia, started in 1997 [Details]
  • St. Petersburg, Russia, started in 1997 [Details]
  • Manila, Philippines, started in 1997 [Details]
  • Jakarta, Indonesia, started in 2002 [Details]
  • Hanoi, Vietnam, started in 2004 [Details]
  • Vientiane, Laos, started in 2004 [Details]
  • Astana, Kasachstan, started in 2004 [Details]
  • Fukuoka, Japan, started in 2006 [Details]
  • Seoul, South Korea, started in 2006 [Details]
  • Chaozhou, China, started in 2005 [Details]
But what about the other 14? As on Wikipedia there is no central fact checking, it is always possible that wrong information can be added - either intentionally as a kind of vandalism, or because of misunderstanding the facts by good faith editors. Or it is of course also possible that the list on the BMA website is out of date, and new sister cities like Ragunda in Sweden, which according to the reference on Wikipedia by a Swedish news article was started in 2005, might be simply not yet listed.

So I have added several {{Citation needed}} tags to the Wikipedia article to at least warn the reader that the information might be wrong. I somehow doubt whether asking anyone at BMA by email would give any result. Here in Germany its popular to have a sign listing the twin towns at the main road entering the town, like the one I photographed for Aachen and placed into this article, but never noticed any such in Thailand.

On the other hand, I found one Thai news from earlier this year that the governor of Bangkok has just signed a Letter of Intent with the Korean city Busan to start a partnership, this not listed on either lists. So it seems Bangkok is still collecting more sister cities.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Samut Prakan PAO Chairman elections

Last Sunday, the citizen of Samut Prakan province were called to elect a new chairman of the Provincial Administrative Organization, as the term for the previous chairman Amnuai Ratnithat (อำนวย รัศมิทัต) had resigned from his post, not too long before his term ended. He was elected in August 2007, so a chairman election was to be held end of this year anyway. Also this previous election was done prematurely, as in June 2007 his predecessor Somphon Asavahame (สมพร อัศวเหม) died before ending his term.

A total of five candidates were running, hopefully correctly transcribed:
  1. Chonsawat Asavahame (ชนม์สวัสดิ์ อัศวเหม), son of former deputy interior minister Watthana Asavahame. Don't know how he is related with the former PAO chairman Somphon. Chonsawat was mayor of Samut Prakan city twice.
  2. Amnuai Rassamithat (อำนวย รัศมิทัต), according to the news article I used for this list he was PAO chairman before, but must have been before 2006. The PAO website sadly has no list of their former chairmen.
  3. Tanaphon Kharomprat (ธนภณ คารมปราชย์) of the New Politics Party.
  4. Phattarawat Apidennaphasay (ภัทรวดี อภิเด่นนภาลัย), affiliated with the UDD (red shirts). The only female candidate.
  5. Thonphat Thanthonpat (ธนภัท ธัญธนพัต), a local candidate
Richard Barrow, the most prolific English language blogger and tweeter in Thailand, has been life covering the vote counting on Twitter with many tweeted photos, but not until the counting was finished at 10 am on Monday. Several of the photos on the vote counting are collected in his blog. As reported by ThaiToday, the winner is candidate one, Chonsawat Asavahame, with 157,577 votes. Second has been candidate two with 148,717 votes. The third and last one with any significant number of votes has been candidate four with 114,218. Candidate three won just 4,138 votes, and number five only 2,186. A total of 848,111 citizen were called to votes, so the turnout was 54%. 28,060 chose the No vote on their ballot, another 11,208 were invalid. The result is now pending approval by the Election Commission, so if no complaints is raised it will become official in about one month.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Generic Email addresses for administration officers

A reader asked me on a way to contact the province governors and the mayors in order to get interviews for a thesis. Though I have my doubt there will be much response to his attempt, I could help him by remembering that on I had seen the email address of the district officers in a standardized way. For example the personnel page for Mueang Surat Thani lists the district officer with the address, and for those who know the geocodes for the districts used by the Ministry of Interior and the national standard TIS1099 will quickly recognize the 8401 as the code for the district.

From this, Google quickly let me find the full list of this kind of email addresses for Surat Thani province, which includes some personnel at the district level as well as some at the province level. The table below shows all the positions with their generic email address, one only has to exchange the XX with the code for the entity where that person works.
  • Province level
    • Province Governor (ผู้ว่าราชการจังหวัด)
    • Secretary of Province Governor (เลขาผู้ว่าราชการจังหวัด)
    • Deputy Province Governor (ปลัดจังหวัด)
    • Chief of Provincial Administration Group (จ่าจังหวัด)
    • Chief of Security Affairs Group (ป้องกันจังหวัด)
    • Chief of the Local Government Branch (ผู้ตรวจการส่วนท้องถิ่นจังหวัด)
    • Chief of the Finance and Accounting Branch (เสมียนตราจังหวัด)
  • District level
    • District head officer (นายอำเภอ)
    • Head of Registration (หัวหน้าฝ่ายทะเบียนและบัตรอำเภอ)
  • Municipalities
    • Municipal clerk (ปลัดเทศบาล)
    • Head of Registration (หัวหน้าฝ่ายทะเบียนและบัตรเทศบาล)
Interesting to note are the two municipality entries. These only cover the positions directly under the Department of Provincial Administration, whereas the mayor and most of the other personnel inside the municipal administration are independent. I really should research a bit the administrative structure within a municipal administration, but the fact that every municipality has two officers directly sent by the central government shows about how serious the government is with the decentralization.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Interview in ThaiZeit

My posting on the Wikipedia anniversary had caught the interest of one of the writers of the German language magazine Thaizeit published in Bangkok. He was doing an article on blogs, showcasing the most fascinating or readable ones like the ones authored by Richard Barrow or Bkk Greg, and since he thought the story behind my blog and the odd topic to be interesting he asked me for an email interview.

Only knowing the so-called newspapers spread to tourists or expats in Hua Hin or Pattaya I was a bit skeptical about it, but after looking at the website - where one can see the complete current issue of the printed magazine - I found that the content is much better than what I expected. And the website even has many more articles from older issues or which haven't been published yet, so it is definitely worth visiting for anyone speaking German. I just miss some RSS feeds, so I can easier find out about new content in my fields of interest.

Though neither the blog article nor the interview hasn't been published in the paper version yet - maybe the forthcoming June edition, then I can pick my proof copy personally in Bangkok - both are on their website for quite some time already. For those readers who cannot speak German, there's not much beyond what I wrote in January anyway. Quite notable is the headline which was chosen for the interview - "Einer muss den Job ja machen" (There needs to be someone to do that job), which quite nicely summarizes one of my motivations, the fact that there was a big void in the accessible information on the net on these topics.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On the way to Bangkok

In the next three weeks I will be traveling in Thailand again. The blog won't be quiet, I have prepare some postings to be auto-published during my absence, and since I will have internet access I may post a few news or photo blog articles as well. But obviously the bigger issues like new announcements in the Royal Gazette will have to wait till I return home and have more time and resources.

I haven't packed the schedule of the trip much this time, only want to check out the Ratchaburi National Museum by myself after Ian already spotted the interesting old provincial symbol there. As usual, if I come close to a district office or other administrative building I will catch it on photo. And also will try to visit few more of the district museums, but since I have done most of the one easily reachable ones already it won't be that many. Though not much likely to find anything on the blog topic, I'll visit several book stores as well adding new items to my library.

If any of my readers in Bangkok, Surat Thani or Phuket wants to meet me in person, just contact me and see if there'll be a chance to meet for a coffee, beer or whatever.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bueng Kan news

Again, some shorter news on the new province and it starting with being operational.

On May 3, the Royal Gazette contained the update on the province cluster regulation [Gazette], which now placed Bueng Kan into the cluster Upper Northeast 1 (ภาคตะวันออกเฉียงเหนือตอนบน 1) - not really surprising because Nong Khai was already in this cluster, so the boundaries of the cluster weren't changed, only the list of provinces within was extended.

In the cabinet meeting on May 4th, the nomination of Somphon Arunrotpanya (สมพงษ์ อรุณโรจน์ปัญญา) as first governor of Bueng Kan was approved. He already served as acting province governor since the province was established, but still was primary a deputy governor of Surin province.

And like for all other parts of Thailand, the Election Commission has announced the constituencies for Bueng Kan, which has been divided into two constituencies each covering four districts. Constituency One covers the districts Mueang Bueng Kan, So Phisai, Pak Khat and Bung Khla; Constituency Two the districts Seka, Phon Charoen, Si Wilai and Bueng Khon Long.

And finally, the province administration has started their website, same as all other provinces it has its own site in a domain. Well, actually, the name isn't yet known in the name servers, but it is found in the header graphics, right now the site can only be found at an IP address assigned to the Ministry of Education. There isn't much content yet, some news, the resume of the province governor and the history and geography of the province. And I was visitor number 472.

Monday, May 9, 2011

District officer transfer

Last week the anticipated district officer reshuffle was done, with the new appointments effective May 2nd. I have found lists with all the new assignments at the website, a special website from the Department of Provincial Administration for their Human resource management.

The transfers are split into three categories:
  • 27 district officer moves [List]
  • 95 promotions [List] - these are also transfers from one district office to another, but to one with a higher level in the hierarchy.
  • 2 acting officers move to new permanent positions [List]
The lists are not that exciting, but quite notable is the reaction of a few affected officers.
Department director-general Mongkol Surasajja on Wednesday signed an order transferring district chiefs and division directors, but some district chiefs will likely disobey the edict and are unlikely to report for their new assignments. There was also a question of whether Mr Mongkol had the authority to issue any directives. That is because the Office of the Civil Service Commission's merit system protection committee had earlier ordered the interior permanent secretary to cancel Mr Mongkol's appointment as chief of the department, which oversees local bodies. Source: Bangkok Post, May 6 2011, "District chiefs refuse transfer orders"
While there is no list of those who openly refuse the order, I would suspect these are mostly among those 27 transferred. And they must be betting of an election win for Phuea Thai, as otherwise they will have problems with their further career in the bureaucracy for sure.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Old emblem of Ratchaburi province

Again my reader Ian has provided me with something interesting he discovered while traveling around in Thailand. In the National Museum in Ratchaburi he discovered an old version of the provincial seal, showing a snake instead of the Royal regalia shown in the current version. The description at that emblem states and the unique Tinglish grammar
The symbol of the province firstly was the motif of snake laying around the mountain that King Rama VII, in 1924 A.D.,1 had given to the Wild Tiger Corps2 in Ratchaburi. Wild Tiger Corps where the camp was set up at Ngu3 Mountain. Later, the symbol of the province was changed to be the Royal Regalia of His Majesty the King that was designed by the Fine Arts Department.
When I wrote about the provincial emblems of the Thai Scouts, I already mentioned that Ratchaburi is one of four provinces where the Scouts emblem and the official provincial emblem differ, I knew no details about the Ratchaburi case. Sadly the text does not state which year that emblem became the emblem used by the province as well, and in which year the change was done. As far as I know, the provincial seals were officially adopted in 1940, that being the reason why the Cambodian and Lao provinces annexed in World War II also had one.

The only book I have on this topic - ธงไทย เล่ม ๑ - only features the Boy Scout Monthon flags, which in the case of Monthon Ratchaburi is very similar to the provincial emblem, only the sword is missing. One possible explanation of this old emblem in relation with the 1940 adoption of provincial flags might be a misunderstanding, and it in fact just shows the Boy Scout emblem for Ratchaburi, and the real provincial emblem was the one taken from the Boy Scout Monthon flag. Or was the Monthon emblem adopted after 1940? Too bad Ian did not photograph the Thai description of that emblem, maybe that contains more information than the English translation. Another question is when were the Boy Scout provincial emblems actually adopted? If that was done contemporary with Monthon flags, there were emblems for the abolished provinces, though not official province emblems as those came in 1940. A lot of speculation at this time.

But one thing is for sure now - I really have to visit the town center of Ratchaburi to visit the museum myself, in past I only made a short stop at the city pillar shrine on the other side of Mae Klong river. Maybe already later this month when I will be in Thailand again.

1 1924 was still the reign of King Rama VI, who died in 1925. Either the name of the King is wrong, or the year.
2 Must mean the Wild Tiger Cubs, or Boy Scouts, as the Wild Tiger Corps only existed shortly 1911-12.
3 Ngu (งู) is Thai for snake

Update: Ian sent me the Thai text now as well, which confirms that Rama VII was a translation mistake, as the Thai text lists the full name of King Rama VI. It also says that the current emblem was adopted in 1966, so this emblem was the official one from 1940 till 1966.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Decentralization - or not?

Last week had two interesting new article on a single day, both around the buzzword decentralization.

At first, the opposition Phuea Thai party has announced her Thaksin-approved election program, and among utter nonsense like a town on land reclaimed from the sea (to be drowned with global warming) one point they kept from former member and leader Chavalit is the idea of giving the three southern Muslim dominated provinces some kind of autonomy or increased self-government.
Pheu Thai MP for Yala Sukarno Matha said yesterday the party would go ahead with the policy of establishing a Pattani City - as well as pushing for the drafting of a Pattani Bill to set up a new administrative zone covering the border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat.
He said the proposed law would allow local residents to elect their provincial governors and give more power to local administrations.
[Source: The Nation, April 27 2011, "Pheu Thai to retain Pattani City plan"]
As usual, the newspaper article does not contain any hard facts on what is actually meant by this, whether it means just an elected province governor, a change of the whole province administration into something like the Bangkok city administration, what this means to the already existing local government units like PAO, TAOs and municipalities. And to me the main question - why should only the three southernmost provinces get an improved local government - only because the insurgents shed the light on the lack of any powerful local administration?

This is where the second article comes in, same newspaper, same date.
A plan to decentralise local administration - proposed recently by the National Reform Committee led by former premier Anand Panyarachun - met fierce opposition and outrage from the Government Officers Association of Thailand yesterday.
They said if such reform was carried out, Thailand would cease to exist as a unitary state and collapse and lose its sovereignty.
[Source: The Nation, April 27 2011, "Strong opposition to reform plan"]
Now it is not that much surprising that the existing bureaucracy is quite happy with the status quo and don't want any loss of their powers towards local administrations. And quite some more interesting quotes from the same article.
Kamol said the proposed reform did not make sense, as local people would not be ready even "50 years from now".
Reminds me on what I read about the start of Thai democracy after the 1932 coup, with the parliament having appointed members until the voters get mature enough to choose correctly.
Senior members of the association claimed the plan would see an end to the role of the Interior Ministry in appointing village headmen, kamnans, as well as district chiefs and provincial governors.
Strangely, both village headmen as well as kamnan are elected, and that for a long time already. Its only that as they serve as subordinate within the central administration, they have to confirmed by the Ministry of Interior. Might be too much condensed writing in the article which lost this detail, but also distorted the facts then.
The association, which met and discussed the matter, concluded that local people were not ready to elect representatives at all levels and they had concerns that people running for local polls were corrupt. Local people needed to be supervised by the Interior Ministry's appointed officials, they argued.
"The worst thing would be to abolish [the appointed] village headmen and kamnan who are local representatives [of the Ministry]. Are those elected representatives really representing the people? Those who voted for the Tambon Administrative Organisations (TAO) chiefs were told they had already received money [for voting for a vote-buying candidate] so they couldn't make any demands [for assistance] afterwards. Our kamnans and village heads are different, however."
The appointed headmen are immune to vote-buying unlike the elected local administration? Well, at first the headmen are elected as well, and of course there have been (see e.g. the book Democracy, Development and Decentralization in Provincial Thailand by Daniel Arghiros) and with all likelihood still are illegal activities in these elections. Besides, it's a strange viewpoint to think of the cash given for votes being the only thing a politician is doing for his electorate, in a normal democracy someone is elected for the things he will do in the upcoming term in office.

It will be interesting to see if all the discussion around decentralization will continue after the next national elections are done, or if it was just empty promises to get more votes in the elections.