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Those elusive influential persons

Most intriguing news of the week is that according to a parliamentary House committee there are only 180 "influential people" in the kingdom and in 10 provinces there are none at all. For those unfamiliar with the term "influential person" in Thailand, it is usually interpreted as someone who is powerful enough not to worry about the "long arm of the law" and can go about their sometimes shady business without fear of arrest.

Often termed “dark influences”, one of the skills of these people is that when large-scale crookery has taken place there tends to be a communal case of amnesia amongst eye-witnesses. To put it another way, it’s not a good idea to get on the wrong side of such a person.

According to the report there are also 625 formerly influential people who have agreed to not be influential anymore, which is jolly decent of them.

The reference to 10 provinces being absolutely free of influential people prompted a few raised eyebrows, but the names of the provinces were not released because the information was “classified”. Hmmm. There is of course the slightly worrying possibility some people might even be influential enough not to appear on any list.

Interestingly the politician providing the aforementioned list admits he was himself on a previous list of influential people but he is no longer influential and simply working for the greater good. Well done sir.

In alphabetical order

Reporting on influential people can be a delicate business for the media so if there is some kind of scandal you might not see actual names mentioned, but rather initials which can be fun.

There was a celebrated oil smuggling case in the 1990s in which the authorities initially referred to the suspects as a ‘Mr P’ and a ‘Mr T’. Things got a bit more interesting when it was announced that a ‘Mr V’ was also under suspicion. This prompted a shrill denial from a prominent ‘Mr V’ who protested he was a nice guy and not the mysterious ‘Mr V’.

Matters were complicated when a politician claimed a ‘Mr C’ and a ‘Mr M’ were actually the masterminds. Not so, argued another politician, the real crooks were ‘Mr B’ and ‘Mr N’. For a moment it looked like they might go through the entire alphabet.

It will come as no surprise that the culprit was never uncovered, although according to rumours it was ‘Mr X’.

Peek or leak?

Being an influential person can bring certain fringe benefits, even in small ways.

One of the more entertaining cases involved university entrance examinations a few years back when a high-ranking education official was accused of leaking question papers to “influential people”. After vehement denials the official admitted that he did have a quick “peek” some days before the exam, purely out of “curiosity”.

He assured the public that in no way did the papers reach the sons and daughters of influential people, heaven forbid. The public was not convinced and demanded action be taken. And indeed it was. The official in question was promoted.

Periscopes down again

After a decade of sometimes entertaining debate concerning the purchase of a submarine it seems plans have been “temporarily put on hold” and what we actually need is a frigate. Just make sure it’s got an engine.

It’s probably fair to say the idea of buying an expensive submersible never really caught on with the Thai public. It was always going to be difficult to convince taxpayers the wisdom of forking out billions of baht on something the kingdom has happily managed to do without for the past seven decades.

However, you can understand the navy’s frustration. They haven’t had a submarine since 1951 and that was a relic from World War II. Despite that, National Submarine Day has always been impeccably observed and an impressive state-of-the-art submarine base was completed at Sattahip in 2015. All that’s missing are the submarines.

Fishy foes

One question that constantly surfaced about the submarines is what role they would perform. There have been vague references to “protecting national interests”. But from whom?

It appears the only hostile forces likely to invade the Gulf of Thailand in coming years are man o’ war jellyfish which admittedly can be a bit aggressive. There could also be a threat from disgruntled dugongs, grumpy porpoises and perhaps a few uppity crabs.

You may recall that in the film Yellow Submarine the Beatles sub was attacked by the evil music-hating Blue Meanies.

Maybe naval intelligence has spotted some of these undesirable creatures lurking in the Gulf. In which case they will need all the subs and frigates they can get. It’s hard to think of anything worse than an invasion of the dreaded Blue Meanies.

In the dock

There have always been fears that any purchases of submarines could end up like the aircraft carrier that appears to have taken up almost permanent residence in a Sattahip dock and only experiences any real activity on Children’s Day.

Admittedly on occasions it has proved useful in rescue operations but it still looks rather forlorn, moping about the dock with nowhere to go.

It’s almost as if it’s waiting for some submarines to keep it company.

It can’t be much fun for the carrier’s 600-man crew either who are hardly experiencing a life on the ocean wave.

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