Monday, January 29, 2007

Foreign investors and officers getting fed up with Thai 2 step

For foreign investors in Thailand, it is time to bend over

"We know businesses welcome predictability. We know businesses like to see fairness and transparency, without selectivity," Surayud Chulanont said in a luncheon speech last week that could have come from any textbook on sound governance.

But many among the 700 diplomats and foreign businessmen at the shindig said such noble words from the general asked to fill the shoes of Thaksin Shinawatra after his removal in a September 19 coup were ringing increasingly hollow.

Within 10 minutes of Surayud sitting down, Commerce Minister Krikkrai Jirapaet appeared to contradict his boss, admitting that a drive to tighten up rules for overseas firms in the country was due to "political problems" -- a shorthand reference to Thaksin -- rather than the desire for better laws.

It then emerged that on the same day, Health Minister Mongkol na Songkhla was busy signing edicts to allow Thailand to break international patents on HIV/AIDS and heart disease drugs, a move that stunned the pharmaceutical industry.

Compounding the sense of outrage in an increasingly insecure foreign investment community, Mongkol declined to tell the drug companies what he was up to, diplomats and industry representatives said.

"We all know business likes certainty, but what you have here is increasing uncertainty, because there's just no policy," said one diplomat.

Is this the government's effort to be populist: 'We've got to keep Thaksin's support base on-side but don't want to actually spend any money, so let's give them cheaper drugs and just screw the foreigners'?" the diplomat said.

Enough said. Reuters said it for me.

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