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On Thailand, Ban Ki-moon Inviting General to GA Is Not Prejuding, ICP's Told

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 16 -- With military rule still in place in Thailand, on March 13 Inner City Press asked the UN if Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would raise the restoration of civilian rule and democracy when he meets Thailand's General at the disaster risk reduction conference in Japan, video here, transcript below.

  After a vague read-out by the UN, General Prayuth Chan-ocho's spokesman made much of Ban inviting the General to the UN General Assembly in September. So on March 16, Inner City Press asked the UN, transcript here:

Inner City Press: about the readout about the Secretary-General meeting with the Prime Minister/General of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-ocha. Contrary or amplifying the UN readout, the Deputy Spokesman for the Thai Government has said that the Secretary-General invited the General to attend the General Assembly in September.  So since like one of the topics was supposedly transition back to civilian rule, can you confirm that this invitation was made?  And does that mean acknowledging an acceptance by the Secretary-General that the so-called road map to transition back to civilian rule would not be completed by September?

Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq:  No, I can't confirm that.  What we have to say is what's in the readout.  What I can say about the invitations is the Secretary-General has been inviting all Governments to be represented at a high level for the September events.  So an invitation extended to Thailand would not be prejudging what the Government of Thailand will be like in September.  Even if there were a change in the Government of Thailand, the point remains the same, that we want Thailand as among… as well as the other Member States to be represented at the very highest level for the September events.

  Back on March 13 Inner City Press had asked:

Inner City Press: I want to know if you can confirm now before the weekend that the Secretary-General will be meeting with the, I guess, interim or military leader of Thailand while at this conference in Japan, General Chan-o-cha?  And I ask because there are public calls that the Secretary-General use such an opportunity.  Apparently they believe that he will be meeting with him to raise the need to return to democratic civilian rule in Thailand.  Is he going to meet, and will he be raising that?

Spokesman Dujarric:  This is an issue that the Secretary-General and others have raised in meetings with senior Thai officials.  If the meeting is confirmed, and once it has happened, we will issue a readout. 

    And now, on March 14 , there is the UN readout, in full:

Readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with
H.E. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand

The Secretary-General met yesterday with H.E. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand, on the margins of the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

They discussed disaster risk reduction and the climate change agenda, as well as the political transition and human rights in Thailand.

Sendai, Japan
15 March 2015

 What will Human Rights Watch, so desperate for access to Ban Ki-moon, say about this? Watch this site.

How does the International Monetary Fund describe and respond to a military coup? Just out of embargo is the IMF's Article IV report on Thailand, with this line:

"private investment is being hampered by low capacity utilization, weak external demand, and concerns over political uncertainty.”

Yeah, political uncertainty. Inner City Press, which puts questions every fortnight to the IMF, asked the UN about Thailand in 2014 and more recently.
 In fairness, here is the complete IMF paragraph:

At the conclusion of the visit, Mr. Breuer issued the following statement:

Staff estimates that real GDP expanded by around 0.5 percent in 2014. A modest recovery is expected to continue in 2015 with growth projected at 3.5 percent on account of some recovery in consumption, including from lower fuel prices, and in private investment as backlogs of project approvals have been largely cleared by various government agencies. Accommodative monetary policy will also support the recovery. Nonetheless, private investment is being hampered by low capacity utilization, weak external demand, and concerns over political uncertainty. Private consumption is also weakened by high household debt and tighter credit conditions. At the same time, global demand for Thailand’s exports is weak. The expansion of public investment has proven more difficult than expected, including the implementation of the stimulus package approved in October.”

 And here now is the full IMF press release. More recently, when the IMF held an embargoed press briefing on January 22, after the Houthi rebels in Yemen have held the Presidential palace for days, Inner City Press asked about the impact on the IMF's program with Yemen.

  IMF Deputy Spokesperson William Murray said that recent events are "not positive from an economic standpoint," but that the IMF's first review of its program will not be until the Spring.

  Where will the Houthis be then? And Hadi? And Saleh?

   Inner City Press also submitted questions on Sri Lanka and on Ebola and debt relief. On the latter, Murray spoke of an exceptional assistance program as with Haiti, but wouldn't specify debt relief. We'll have more on this.

 On Yemen, Murray referred back to the January 21 report and briefing by Masood Ahmed -- to which Inner City Press also submitted the question. In that briefing, Ahmed said:

"we are worried about the continued difficulties in Yemen, really because Yemen is already a country with a fragile economic recovery, with a large number of people living in poverty, and with already trying to cope with different shocks that the economy has undergone, and so this makes the uncertainty, makes it both harder to deal with those shocks and also it affects confidence, so that some of the private sector activity is affected.

"Of course we as an interactive institution don't have a view on the political developments in any country, but we can look at the economic consequences, which is what I was referring to. In terms of the implications for this on the price of oil, you know the price of oil, the markets build in both up side and down side risks into that price. So there's a risk of supply disruptions. That is one of the sources that can push up oil prices with the risk premium, not just from Yemen but also people have been concerned about supply disruptions in other oil producing countries, but there's also the risk that the world economy may turn out to be slower in terms of growth or there's a risk that in fact oil production may turn out to be higher in some countries than expected. If you remember, earlier on in 2014, people were expecting oil production in Libya to be relatively low for the year. As it happened, oil production actually increased at one point to 900, 1000 barrels a day and so that was unexpected. And some people say that was one of the reasons that was helping people to reestablish equilibrium in terms of their expectations. So I think that the market is always looking at both up side and down side risks and prices."

The IMF's Middle East and Central Asia Department Regional Economic Outlook Update as released on January 21, says “Yemen is at high risk because its banks are highly exposed to government debt against the backdrop of a weak fiscal position and limited financing options.”

    Referring to the demands for fuel subsidy cuts, the IMF report says “Yemen “is planning to increase non-oil revenue collection, contain the government wage bill, and continue fuel subsidy reform.” Is that still the case? How could the IMF know?
  Looking wider, the IMF report says that “conflicts, terrorism, and related security disruptions continue to be a prevailing concern in the region. Although airstrikes have slowed the advance of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), conflicts in Iraq and Syria persist, creating significant economic and political spillovers for neighboring countries (especially Jordan and Lebanon). The security situations in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen also remain challenging. Conflicts cast a shadow over the economic outlook for the MENAP region, not only because they disrupt economic activity; they also reduce political space for the much-needed reforms and delay the return of confidence to the MENAP region.”  

 On January 19-20, the IMF's Olivier Blanchard answered Inner City Press' question about the impact of falling oil prices on Africa by saying "Nigeria will have to adjust. I do not know at this stage whether they can adjust on their own or they might need a program from the Fund. If they did any member is welcome to come at this stage I have no information about it.”

    A Yemen-like program?

   To the IMF's World Economic Outlook Update press conference, Inner City Press had submitted this question: “Please summarize what the decline in oil prices may mean for countries in Africa, and what the IMF is prepared to do about those countries negatively impacted.”

    As the second online question taken, this question was put to Blanchard, who responded:

“Most African countries are importers and so are helped. Some countries are not and the main example is Nigeria. Nigeria will have to adjust. I do not know at this stage whether they can adjust on their own or they might need a program from the Fund. If they did any member is welcome to come at this stage I have no information about it.”

  Earlier on January 19, the UN Security Council issued a Presidential Statement about, but not funding, the fight against Boko Haram. Security Council sources leaving the meeting told Inner City Press that for funding, those in the region -- i.e. Nigeria -- should be looked to first.

  But if Nigeria may even need to apply for an IMF program, is it reasonable for the powers in the UN and it Permanent Five members of the Security Council to expect it to be entire responsible for fighting Boko Haram?

  We'll have more on this.

Footnote: while Blanchard's "main example" was Nigeria, what about Angola? What about Equatorial Guinea? To the north, what about Libya? Questions, questions...


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