Friday, February 16, 2007

Sonthi wants Shin Corp Back

Sonthi, the military leader who led the coup to topple Thaksin Shinawatra, has declared that he wants the telecommunications assets which were sold to Singapore's Temasek Holdings back in Thai hands.

Singapore's MFA, has started "seeking clarification," while Thailand's MFA has said the issue will "fade away." But I think the issue will fester, and will not "fade away."

1. This huge multi-billion dollar tangle shows that Temasek Holdings has too much capital on its hands. As its reserves have grown and grown, Singapore has to look in more and more places to invest its money; without the huge glut of capital, Temasek would probably have never had the need to buy a set of (politically sensitive) Thailand's prized national assets in order to grow its money. With more than S$100 billion under management, Temasek should seriously consider returning a decent amount of its equity to its shareholders i.e. the government of Singapore, and hence forth to the people of Singapore.

2. Even if the investment was made on a "purely financial basis" as the ministry of finance has claimed, Singapore cannot ignore the fact that any transaction of this sort of scale and that involves major political figures DOES have political ramifications. And, the fact that Temasek is owned by the ministry of finance and hence the government of Singapore means that it WILL be perceived by foreign bodies to be politically linked and controlled.

Whether Ho Ching likes it or not, she MUST consider in depth the political implications of her actions, and declaring that her investments are made "purely as financial investments" is simply giving bad excuses to avoid what has to be done on her job.

Indeed, knowing that Ho Ching's father-in-law likes Thaksin, it is no wonder that foreigners perceive that Temasek bought Thaksin's assets as a way of giving him an avenue to cash out. Whether or not there is politics going on behind the scenes (and yes, there probably is), Temasek will always be perceived as a political arm of the government, and never as an independent, privately owned company that is just concerned with the profit motive.

3. Why is Singapore's MFA getting involved in the incident? If Shin Corp is 'purely a financial investment' and Temasek and 'independent arm', what has the MFA to do with Sonthi's comment? Indeed, MFA's statement that it is 'surprised,' clearly demonstrates that there is more involved here than just a 'financial investment' - politicians are getting involved in 'private' business affairs.

4. Technically, Sonthi can roll in the tanks and take over Shin Corp by brute force. And should he? Maybe he should. That will teach the Singaporean politicians a good, hard-learnt lesson.

5. Of course, that doesn't mean that i endorse seizing assets which have been 'lawfully sold' and acquired - Sonthi's actions are probably not endorseable within a legal context. But given how Temasek and Thaksin have angered Thais by their insensitive and selfish actions, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that this hoo-ha has happened.

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