Sita a winner in governor election
Thaksin sweetens the pot for Sudarat after decreeing she should not stand for Bangkok governor - Many interpret Kittiratt's recent tour of the nation's treasures as a worrying sign - Taking on the Supreme Court would make most officials cower, but Fine Arts chief Sahawat has no choice
Although Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan is certain not to accept nomination from the Pheu Thai Party to run in the next Bangkok governor election, her future is not altogether uncertain.
Sudarat: Still held in high regard
She has not been neglected by the Dubai boss who insists she has outgrown the post of Bangkok governor.
He said the former deputy leader of the defunct Thai Rak Thai Party possesses too much acumen to be contesting a governor seat. She would be much better off assuming a bigger political role, although the boss stopped short of spelling out what job he might have in mind for her.
But while Khunying Sudarat may not, by her own choosing, be in the running for governor when the election takes place on March 3, her loyal aide has been picked for a highly sought-after post _ supposedly on the orders of Dubai and with the blessing of Khunying Sudarat.
A reliable source in the government says Sita Divari, a many-time former MP for Bangkok, is in waiting to become chairman of the Airports of Thailand (AoT) board.
The appointment is expected sooner rather than later.
With this expected career move to chairman of AoT, Mr Sita is on course to extract many superlatives from people. At 48, he will be the youngest chairman of one of the country's largest and most profitable state enterprises.
The source said the chairmanship could be a ''consolation prize'' and a trade-off for Khunying Sudarat's missed opportunity to vie for governor. She declined nomination on the grounds that she needed to finish a project to renovate the birthplace of Lord Buddha in Nepal.
It might keep her Bangkok faction in the Pheu Thai Party satisfied, at least for now.
Jirayu Huangsap, a faction member and a Bangkok MP, has said ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra has given his backing to deputy national police chief Pongsapat Phongcharoen's bid for Bangkok governor and that Pheu Thai MPs were right behind the police general.
For such a significant post as AoT board chairman to be dangled in front of Khunying Sudarat's faction carries a strong undertone that she still matters to Pheu Thai.
Mr Sita rose to prominence when he was named spokesman of the Thaksin Shinawatra I administration. The former jet fighter pilot was later appointed deputy secretary-general to Thaksin while he was prime minister and in this capacity it gave him the opportunity to work closely with Khunying Sudarat in the cabinet.
The AoT's top job will be Mr Sita's biggest jackpot after having served out a five-year political ban along with 110 other former Thai Rak Thai executives in May last year.
If all goes to plan, Mr Sita will take over from ACM Sumet Photimanee _ an old friend from the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School who has been AoT chairman barely two years _ at the end of the month.
However, ACM Sumeth may have underperformed, which has prompted the move, according to the source.
Mr Sita's appointment is expected to be sealed after the next AoT shareholder's meeting, at which those with a financial stake will need to be convinced of the need for a change at the top.
Whether Mr Sita fares any better as AoT chairman than ACM Sumeth will be something keenly observed. But it might be an exacting task for the former MP to work magic in his new role to meet the expectations of the Dubai boss.
Kittiratt's 'statue' of limitations
Taking time out from his hectic schedule, Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong has gone on a cultural excursion that, if legend holds true, could help to shore up the country's financial situation.
Early this month, Mr Kittiratt took a guided tour of a subject closest to his heart _ the nation's treasures _ accompanied by top-ranking officials of his ministry.
Kittiratt: Expecting a windfall
Their first stop was the national treasure office which displays a wide array of old and valuable minted coins inside the Grand Palace.
It was here that he also attended a rite to sanctify a replica of Phra Klang Mahasombadh, a statue commissioned in 1885 during the reign of King Chulalongkorn to safeguard the country's finances.
Presiding over the ceremony to bless the reproduced statues, intended to be a booster for the country's economic strength, was Phra Dharma Bavana Vikrom, abbot of Wat Traimitr Withayaram in Bangkok.
The prayer delivered at the ceremony on Jan 5 was particularly auspicious. It fell on a Saturday, a concurrence which is believed to double the amount of fortune for the country's finances and the general economy.
The ceremony, according to those familiar with the matter, will lend impetus to economic security, protect the country's coffers and make Thais richer.
It will also help to smooth the ''flow of riches'' into the country's piggy bank, the source added.
At the ceremony, gold statues of Phra Klang Mahasombadh and commemorative coins were produced with sponsorship from the Treasury Department.
After visiting the Grand Palace, Mr Kittiratt dropped in to the nearby National Museum and marvelled at the nine saviour statues of the country, highly respected for their divine powers to ward off misfortune and crisis.
Critics say the finance minister's tour spooked people nervous about what they feel is the country's economic precariousness.
The People's Alliance for Democracy has slammed the government for what it called the squandering of taxpayer's money by sourcing loans to finance budget-intensive projects costing hundreds of billions of baht.
The government's opponents say the country is riddled with debt and the seeking of divine intervention from a statue-blessing rite could be a sign that the finance minister's confidence is running low.
Intense criticism had already been levelled at the government over its vast borrowing to overhaul water management systems following the devastating floods of 2011.
Mr Kittiratt earlier estimated about a quarter of the 350 billion baht borrowed for water management projects will be disbursed this year.
The government is also finalising plans to authorise new spending of 2 trillion baht over the next seven years for public infrastructure.
The minister is also under attack over an anticipated unemployment crisis brought on by concerns over the closure of many small- and medium-sized businesses which could be forced under by the 300-baht minimum wage.
Mr Kittiratt, however, allays their concerns, saying the government has in place measures to help ease the impact of the wage hike on businesses.
Mr Kittiratt concedes certain businesses employing many blue-collar workers could find themselves in dire straits.
He said the time has come for Thailand to shift these industries to other countries where labour costs are cheaper.
Fine Arts chief battles Goliath
Fine Arts Department chief Sahawat Naenna probably never imagined that during his career in the bureaucracy he would have to take on that most paramount and powerful body, the Supreme Court.
But the ongoing demolition of its old courthouse, a complex of buildings constructed in the style of modern architecture of the 1930s, at Sanam Luang leaves him with no other choice.
''Only a few months after I took the position [of Fine Arts director-general], I had to deal with quite a few court cases, among them this case with the judiciary,'' he said. Mr Sahawat took up the post in October last year.
Sahawat: Fighting for heritage
Needless to say, the case with the Supreme Court is his toughest one. Few state agencies, if any, would dare tackle such an almighty institution.
Even the police were reluctant to take action in the case.
The Fine Arts legal team had to ''push'' the police to go to the courthouse and stop the ongoing demolition work.
''Will we be charged with encroaching?'' a hesitant police officer said, turning to the legal team who gave the officer an assurance that he had the authority to enter the premises _ and that's all there is to it, they said. But the demolition goes on.
Yet the complaint to the police forced the judiciary to come out and defend itself in public.
Mr Sahawat insists the judiciary must abide by the law _ the Historical Objects and Historical Buildings Act, in this case.
The department realised the courthouse's historical and architectural value in 2007 when a technical committee on conservation, comprising experts and former department heads, agreed to rate the structure 3.54 out of four as a place with high historical and architectural value.
''Any structure that gets four is automatically categorised as a national heritage structure,'' he said.
Even though the courthouse has yet to be listed as a historical building, it does not mean the judiciary can tear it down. Destroying unregistered historical structures is punishable by law _ seven years in jail and/or a 700,000 baht fine.
Mr Sahawat conceded the department's sluggish registration process is the problem.
''We have several thousand historical buildings on the waiting list. With a limited budget and manpower, we can only register a small number of buildings at a time,'' Mr Sahawat said.
No one knows how long the Fine Arts Department can continue to stand up to the legal behemoth.
Reliable sources say there is a ''signal'' from the top that the department chief should button his lip and not make any further moves in this demolition saga.
If that is true, it would mean a responsible government official is unable to fulfil his duty in protecting valuable buildings. And that would not bode well for national heritage or the country as a whole.