It's that time of year again, and there's nothing humorous or light-hearted I can think of in relation to this topic.
I have to do my taxes.
There are a million reasons to make me grimace. Actually I would like nothing more than to be a good citizen and put my two satangs' worth into the country's coffers. I would be more than pleased to know I'm paying for the salaries of government officials _ the teachers and policemen and soldiers. I think they have a difficult job and I realise that their salaries are a pittance.
I know for a fact that my alcoholic housekeeper was being paid a higher salary than a teacher fresh out of college. And teachers, policemen and soldiers have families to care for _ their parents, or their wives and children, or all of the above.
It's not easy to survive on 4,000 to 5,000 baht a month. If you spent 100 baht a day on food, that wouldn't leave you very much for anything else such as transportation, accommodation or utilities. You would definitely have to fall back on the Thai culture of the extended family. I would actually be very happy if my hard-earned taxes went into raising the salaries of these professions. You hear so much about corrupt policemen, yet when you know how little they are being paid, you can't help thinking that it must take a truly strong-willed individual to resist the temptation.
And then you have the news about the former permanent secretary of Defence who was discovered to have amassed unusual wealth in the form of land and bank accounts in the name of his family members, and even his daughter's teacher.
Now the going rate for a permanent secretary is about 80,000 baht a month. There is absolutely no way he could have made 10 million baht in one year, or his wife made 100 million baht in the same year. But then maybe she made a living as a real estate agent, and the 100 million baht was commission earned from brisk sales. Perhaps we should even recruit her for our sales department! It might increase my chances of getting a higher year-end bonus!
I wonder whether these fine people are paying their due taxes? I certainly hope so. I wonder whether there are any other "unusually rich" people who should be paying their due taxes, and have somehow slipped through the eagle eyes of the Revenue Department, which seems to notice immediately if I forget to submit even one withholding tax slip.
And should I not grimace when I know my hard-earned money is going to help subsidise the rice pledging scheme, to buy tonnes of rice from farmers that will just sit and rot away in the silos because the inflated prices are higher than global market prices? Similary, I wouldn't want to be living next to the silos where all those red onions from the agricultural pledging scheme are stored. Rotting red onions do not produce the most aromatic of fragrances. But at least the farmers are happy, and that bodes well for the next election, I suppose.
And what about the free buses and trains, an ongoing populist policy aimed at gaining the support of the masses. Does it really achieve anything, other than gaining more votes? I really don't see people scrambling to get on free buses; I think people use them because that bus just happened to come along.
The public bus service allegedly loses 14 million baht a day, and giving free services is not helping in the least. This is partly due to the fact that some 700 buses out of a fleet of 3,500 are broken down and out of commission. I suppose you could find out how many free buses are running every day, and how much is being lost on free fares at 6.50 baht a ticket. Wouldn't that money be more useful fixing the broken down engines, so we could get those buses back on the road?
The same goes for trains in Thailand, which are in desperate need of a facelift. The tracks certainly need maintenance, or are we just going to continue letting accidents happen and fix the tracks afterwards? Railway crossings could do with better signage and barriers. How much could that cost? But then, Thailand is not known for taking preventative measures, hence the well-known saying "Let the buffalo escape before even thinking of building a pen".
And here we are, doubling our infrastructure budget to 4 trillion baht!
I don't even know how many zeros that is. The number has almost no meaning to me because my calculator can't handle so many digits. And I'm sure the moo ping vendor down the road will be similarly impressed. "Four trillion baht! Wow! So what numbers are you going for in this next lottery? I'll put 20 baht on 40 then."
So we are going to four high-speed railways and 10 electric railways (what did I just say about our old trains?), amongst other mega-projects.
Wonderful, but could someone just come down to my soi and fill in the sinkholes that appear almost every other day? Someone keeps stuffing them with sand and tar, and within the next 48 hours they sink again.
And I don't think I've ever driven to Hua Hin without seeing some sort of road surfacing work being done. Is it a matter of normal wear and tear, or low-grade materials and poor quality work? Is someone making a quick baht somewhere down the line?
Am I being too cynical?
I'm sorry for my foul mood, but as I said, it's that time of year again.
Like tearing off an adhesive plaster, you just have to wince and it's over... until next year.
Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the Features Editor of the Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Usnisa Sukhsvasti
Position: Features Editor