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Foreigners own one third of Thailand?

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Blaming foreigners for Thailand's unequal land ownership system is one way to avoid dealing with the problem.

surveyor

Photo above of a surveyor. The maps used to define property boundaries and land ownership are the result of land surveying (Source: Wikipedia).

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EDITORIAL

Stop this land xenophobia

16/03/2012

It is certainly right to be concerned about how it is getting increasingly difficult for Thais to own a piece of land. But it is completely wrong to blame foreigners for Thailand's inequitable land ownership problem and land grabbing.

Ombudsman Siracha Charoenpanij made headlines on Tuesday when he claimed that a third of land in Thailand, or about 100 million rai, is now in foreigners' hands due to proxy ownership made possible by legal loopholes and corruption.

The figures, he said, come from a National Institute of Development Administration study which specifies that wealthy foreigners are using marriages to Thai women or nominees to buy prized properties, particularly in well-known beach resort towns.

This is a classic case of xenophobia based on false statistics. Let's do some simple maths.

Thailand covers about about 514,000 square kilometres, or 320 million rai. Of this, 120 million rai is private land, 55 million settlement land, 30 million government land and 115 million rai earmarked as forest land.

Where on earth can the 100 million rai owned by foreigners come from? Private land? How much can rich foreigners buy when most private land is already owned by a handful of big landlords.

Of course, there is 55 million rai of settlement land that can be snapped up. But most is in rural areas with little infrastructure support. Is this the kind of land foreigners are looking for? If the 100 million rai under foreign ownership figure is correct, is the study suggesting their properties are in forests or on government land.

If the Ombudsman had focused on the problem of nominee land ownership in resort towns only, his concerns would have been legitimate because the crux of the problem is corruption. But the Ombudsman's cautionary words ended up carrying no weight as he pointed fingers in the wrong direction about land grabbing, complete with unbelievable statistics.

If the Office of the Ombudsman really wants to solve the problem of landlessness, it should pay attention to another set of statistics.
 
Start with the fact that 90% of land owners have one rai or less while the remaining 10% of private land is owned by landlords. Seventy percent of this land is speculative, lying idle and unproductive when 4.8 million farmers are struggling with landlessness and not having enough land to till.

More farmers are also losing their land every day as farming is a loss-making business with rising investment costs and depressed farm prices. This is why the number of tenants has risen to nearly 60% of all farmers, according to the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry. Since land rents can be as high as a third of total investment costs, solving the land ownership problem is thus crucial to solving farmers' perennial indebtedness.

Land reform is the way to go. A progressive land tax, a land ownership ceiling, the setting up of a land bank to help the landless, community land ownership, a transparent and online land ownership data system - all these ideas have been repeatedly discussed. But they remain just that, ideas, because the rich and powerful do not want to see changes.

Without land reform, however, the disparity which is the root cause of the political divide and violence will always be ready to explode.

If the Ombudsman wants to be credible, deal with a progressive tax. Deal with landlords. Deal with corrupt officials. Stop making foreigners the scapegoats of Thailand's shamefully unequal land ownership system.

Land Reform Vocabulary

land tenure - the legal system for owning land in a country (See Wikipedia and Thailand in USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Portal and article)
land reform - the changing of laws on land ownership to make it easier for poor people to own land (See Wikipedia)

land surveying - the science of accurately determining the position of points, distances and angles on the surface of the Earth to make land maps and determine boundaries for ownership or governmental purposes (See Wikipedia)
surveyor - a skilled worker trained in the science of land surveying

xenophobia - a strong unreasonable fear of people from other countries (See Wikipedia)
land xenophobia - here: the unreasonable fear that foreigners are buying up all the land in your country

Stop this land xenophobia

concerned - worried about something มีความกังวล
inequitable - not fair (some people get better treatment than other people get)

It is certainly right to be concerned about how it is getting increasingly difficult for Thais to own a piece of land. But it is completely wrong to blame foreigners for Thailand's inequitable land ownership problem and land grabbing.

ombudsman - a person's whose job is to deal with complaints made about an organization
made headlines -
was the subject of a big story in newspapers
proxy
- a person or company who acts for another person or company; somebody who does things for someone else, an agent ตัวแทน
loopholes
- ways to get around a law; imperfections in a law that allow people to avoid the law (and do something the law was meant to prevent)
corruption - (See Wikipedia on bribery, corporate corruption, and political corruption)

Ombudsman Siracha Charoenpanij made headlines on Tuesday when he claimed that a third of land in Thailand, or about 100 million rai, is now in foreigners' hands due to proxy ownership made possible by legal loopholes and corruption.

figures - statistics, numbers describing the economy Trade balance The country's
wealthy - rich, has a lot of money and assets (money, land, and other valuable things) มั่งคั่ง ร่ำรวย

The figures, he said, come from a National Institute of Development Administration study which specifies that wealthy foreigners are using marriages to Thai women or nominees to buy prized properties, particularly in well-known beach resort towns.

classic case - meets the descrioption and definition exactly (and therefore is a very good example)
statistics - facts about something, described by counting them สถิติ

This is a classic case of xenophobia based on false statistics. Let's do some simple maths.

settlement - a place where people come to live ชุมชน
settlement land - land that is not being used that is given to people to use for farming, homestead land
homestead principle
- "the homestead principle in law and in ethics is the principle by which one gains just ownership of an unowned resource by performing an act of original appropriation. Appropriation could be enacted by putting an unowned resource to active use" (See Wikipedia)
simple - easy to understand; not complicated ง่าย,ไม่ยุ่งยาก, ไม่ซับซ้อน
earmarked - use for a special purpose or programme

Thailand covers about about 514,000 square kilometres, or 320 million rai. Of this, 120 million rai is private land, 55 million settlement land, 30 million government land and 115 million rai earmarked as forest land.

handful - a small number (could fit in your hand) จำนวนน้อยมาก
landlords - the owners of land or real estate (here farmland)

Where on earth can the 100 million rai owned by foreigners come from? Private land? How much can rich foreigners buy when most private land is already owned by a handful of big landlords.

snapped up - grabbed, take quickly; buy quickly
rural - connected with the countryside outside big towns and cities ในชนบท, บ้านนอก
infrastructure - the high-cost facilities that everyone in the economy shares (water, roads, electricity, trains) สาธารณูปโภค
support - help สนับสนุน
infrastructure support - when there are infrastructure services such as publicly provided electricity and water life is easier (during droughts for example) and also business is possible on a piece of land
figure - an amount of money จำนวนเงิน

Of course, there is 55 million rai of settlement land that can be snapped up. But most is in rural areas with little infrastructure support. Is this the kind of land foreigners are looking for? If the 100 million rai under foreign ownership figure is correct, is the study suggesting their properties are in forests or on government land.

nominee - a legal arrangement whereby investments are held by a a person or company on behalf of the real owner ผู้รับถือหุ้นให้บุคคลอื่นที่ไม่ต้องการจะเปิดเผยตัวตน a person who acts for another person (usually to hide the other person's name and involvement)
concerns - worries ความกังวล
legitimate - correct according to the law ที่ถูกต้องตามกฎหมาย reasonable and acceptable ถูกต้องสมควร
weight - importance ความสำคัญ

If the Ombudsman had focused on the problem of nominee land ownership in resort towns only, his concerns would have been legitimate because the crux of the problem is corruption. But the Ombudsman's cautionary words ended up carrying no weight as he pointed fingers in the wrong direction about land grabbing, complete with unbelievable statistics.

speculative - buying, holding and then selling an asset such as land only to make a profit (example: the big landlord family bought and held the piece of land for 100 years and the family grew rich without working the land a single time)
lying idle - not being used; not working; not doing anything, not active อยู่นิ่ง ไม่ให้บริการ ซึ่งยังไม่ได้ใช้การ หยุดนิ่ง ไม่ดำิเนินการ
struggling - having serious difficulties มีความยุ่งยาก
struggling with landlessness

If the Office of the Ombudsman really wants to solve the problem of landlessness, it should pay attention to another set of statistics.
 
Start with the fact that 90% of land owners have one rai or less while the remaining 10% of private land is owned by landlords. Seventy percent of this land is speculative, lying idle and unproductive when 4.8 million farmers are struggling with landlessness and not having enough land to till.

investment - taking your money and putting it into projects to make a profit or earn interest (buying stock shares, bonds, real estate)
tenants - renters of land, apartment, office or other real estate ผู้เช่า
crucial - very important; extremely important because it effects the result of something สำคัญยิ่ง
perrenial - never ending; always exists or is the situation
indebtedness - owe money to people, must pay back money to people
perrenial indebtedness - always owing money to people

More farmers are also losing their land every day as farming is a loss-making business with rising investment costs and depressed farm prices. This is why the number of tenants has risen to nearly 60% of all farmers, according to the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry. Since land rents can be as high as a third of total investment costs, solving the land ownership problem is thus crucial to solving farmers' perennial indebtedness.

reform
- improvement; a change that is intended to correct a situation that is wrong or unfair การแก้ไข การปฏิรูป
land reform - a correction or improvement in an unfair land situation in a society
ceiling - an upper limit เพดาน ขีดจำกัด
community - local people, all the people who live in a local area or place ชุมชน
transparent - public can see what is happening (no hidden or secret parts) โปร่งใส
online - connected to the internet
data - facts or information used for making calculations or decisions ข้อมูล
land ownership data system

Land reform is the way to go. A progressive land tax, a land ownership ceiling, the setting up of a land bank to help the landless, community land ownership, a transparent and online land ownership data system - all these ideas have been repeatedly discussed. But they remain just that, ideas, because the rich and powerful do not want to see changes.

disparity - a big difference between two things
violence - physical force with the deliberate intention of causing damage to property or injury or death to people ความรุนแรง

Without land reform, however, the disparity which is the root cause of the political divide and violence will always be ready to explode.

credible
- able to be believed or trusted น่าเชื่อถือ
scapegoats - people punished for something not their fault (See Wikipedia)

If the Ombudsman wants to be credible, deal with a progressive tax. Deal with landlords. Deal with corrupt officials. Stop making foreigners the scapegoats of Thailand's shamefully unequal land ownership system.

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